Every nurse deals with uncooperative, angry, needy, or — let’s face it — just plain unpleasant patients from time to time. It’s part of the job.

    Here are a few tips to help you keep your head on straight next time you encounter a patient who’s pushing your cortisol level into the red zone.

    1. Take a deep, calming breath and put a smile on your face. Whatever the patient’s issue is, it’s not about you (usually). A complaint about something you did or didn’t do may not really be about you at all, so don’t take it personally. The real reason they’re wearing out the call button may be anxiety about being in the hospital, worry about their diagnosis, fear of an upcoming procedure, or concern for their family. Or maybe they’re just lonely and need a little TLC right now.
    2. Find the source of concern. Put yourself in their place if you can, and try to see the issue from their perspective. Listen to their story without interruption, and validate their concern with empathy and an expressed desire to remedy the problem. Start a conversation with a response that conveys your understanding of the situation and explain how or why it exists and what you or the two of you together can do to make it better.
    3. Keep the encounter civil. Sometimes a very angry patient will shout at you and may insult you with unpleasant or even profane personal comments. It’s important for you to remain calm and not escalate the situation. Instead, keep your voice level and your language professional. Remind the patient that you are a fellow human who deserves to be treated with respect, just as they do. Be firm about your boundaries without being judgmental or accusatory.
    4. Don’t let the encounter spoil your day. Even if you’re having a bad day, they no doubt consider theirs worse, simply because they’re in the hospital and you’re of the hospital. If they lash out with unkind words or give you attitude, a genuinely empathetic response — or maybe a gentle wisecrack — from you can often lighten their mood and reassure them that they’re in good hands. And if that doesn’t change the dynamic, remember No. 1 above: it isn’t you. Just move on to your next task knowing you’ve done your best for them and will do your best for the next patient in your charge.
    5. Be kind to yourself, too. After a stressful day, give yourself some “me” time. Take advantage of the local sights and attractions, make after-work plans with colleagues, or recharge your mood with a fast game of tennis, relaxing massage, or yoga class — whatever spells unwinding to you. A little self-pampering will go a long way to making your next shift a fresh start for all concerned.

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