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Conexus Medstaff offers international nurses a few helpful tips on handling difficult patients and conflict.
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USA Nursing Jobs: How Nurses (RN) Handle Difficult Patients

  • Publish Date: Posted over 5 years ago
  • Author:by Kate Andrews

We know nurses don’t intend to cause conflict with their patients, however in the real world of nursing this is something that is unavoidable. Regardless of where you are in the world, as an RN you will likely have to deal with difficult patients throughout your career. It is a simple fact of life that wherever there are people, there will be conflict. That’s even more so when you are dealing with patients who may be in pain or are experiencing stress or anxiety. Nevertheless, this doesn’t make it easier for you as a registered nurse.

What’s important in nursing isn’t necessarily the conflict itself; rather, how the situation is dealt with. Difficult patients can test your compassion and patience. However, there are a number of ways to deal with difficult patients, many of which are based on good communication techniques.

Below are some simple strategies on how to deal with difficult patients.

Be proactive

Learn to recognize the early signs of a patient become frustrated or upset so that you can address any issues at an early stage and avoid matters from escalating unnecessarily.

Deal with the conflict

Don’t avoid it or shy away and pass your patient on to another nurse colleague. You should remain calm and take control of the situation with confidence remembering to avoid using any negative language. Avoiding the patient will only further increase stress and heighten hostility. It’s important to be open and honest.

Be aware of your body language

Body language is just as important as verbal communication. You want to be approachable and not come across in a way that makes you look hard and cold. A good tip is to avoid crossing your arms as this may come across as negative and defensive.


Listen to what the patient has to say by engaging in conversation with them – mostly patients just want to be heard. Repeat what the problem is so that the patient knows you understand and then explain the situation and what you can do to help. It is also important to maintain eye contact.


Everyone is entitled to their option, even you, however instead of getting into an argument with a patient, calmly acknowledge that you are aware of the problem, apologize for any inconvenience or upset it has caused them and reassure the patient that you will take care of the issue.

Be empathetic

It’s not easy to be in the hospital, in pain and away from home and your loved ones. Use this opportunity to connect with the patient. Remember to treat all patients with respect and show them that you care about them and are interested in their needs by explaining that you understand their frustrations and will do all you can to help overcome the issue.

Don’t stand for abuse

If you ever feel like you are being physically threatened by a patient, report it. It is not in a nurse's job description to be verbally or physically abused by a patient or other member of staff. 

Take a minute to yourself

It’s normal to feel upset or angry when you have had to deal with an unpleasant patient, but it’s important to not take it personally. Tell yourself that nursing isn’t easy, but you can handle it! Take some time to relax by doing something you love, or by taking a deep breath before starting again – your mental health is important too!

The Conexus MedStaff award-winning U.S. Ready learning program educates Registered Nurses on how to deal with difficult patients as well as other forms of conflict in the workplace. Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for more information coming soon.