CNAs: 7 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Patients

Most CNAs can overlook the endless hours, sore feet, and constant running around if it makes their patients happy. However, not all patients/residents are happy, appreciative people. Every once in a while a patient comes along to test your compassion and patience and cause you to question your choice of career. Difficult patients can impair your ability to communicate vital information to their family members, and especially, to nurses and doctors on the patient care team. With a little forethought and strategic planning, you can often diffuse tense situations and turn each encounter into an opportunity to show compassion and win over a difficult patient.

Learning to work with difficult people is both an art and a science. Use the following tips for working effectively with difficult patients.

Remember your role
Your role as a CNA involves caring for those who are ill or disabled. Your resident may be sick, uncomfortable and frustrated with his inability to do simple things for himself. He may feel that caregivers and family members are overlooking his concerns. No one chooses to be sick or disabled. But you made the choice to work in direct care, so it’s your duty to honor your decision.

Be attentive
Again patients feel helpless, especially when it seems no one is listening. Make eye contact when communicating with the patient. Listen attentively as the patient speaks. Don’t look at your watch as if you have someplace to be – even if you have a list of tasks to complete. Be aware of what your actions say and watch closely for the patient’s non-verbal cues. If you discuss your plans for the patient and make adjustments based on his feedback, you will establish trust and break down the barriers to communication.

Keep your promises
Keep your promises to yourself and your patients. Nurse assistant training emphasizes the role of the job, which includes providing information, reassurance, and support to patients. If you made a commitment to do those things, an unbearable patient shouldn’t shake that commitment. Verbalize those commitments to the patient, emphasizing your commitment to promote wellness and provide safe and competent care.

Observe the setting
While patient safety is important, it’s also vital that you keep your safety in mind. Be mindful of the situation and pay attention to changes in the patient’s voice or pitch that indicate a potential threat. Call for assistance if you’re uncertain about the situation. An explosive patient can be a threat to you and other patients.

Speak up
If a patient says something offensive or is rude or insulting, you should let him know how you feel. In sharing your feelings, you should let him know that you won’t stand for rude remarks or insults. Ask questions to find out the reason for the insults – anger, insults, and overbearing behavior is usually a cover for other deep-seated feelings. It may be your responsibility to unearth the real problem to create an environment for effective communication.

Document relevant events
Keep detailed records of your encounters with an increasingly difficult patient. It also helps if you have witnesses during each encounter. Report all adverse situations to a supervisor, on the patient record, and on an incident report. Your records could prove helpful in the event of litigation involving the patient.

Don’t take it personal
Not all patients are able to make light of a complex circumstance. The abrasive behavior is a result of circumstance, so you should never take it personal. Communication is key when dealing with difficult personalities. Hopefully, your other patients will more than make up for the challenges, and with the right approach, you may be able to manage all patients with fairness and compassion.

Crystal G

Crystal is a certified Registered Nurse (RN) with a passion for writing about nursing education. Through her articles, Crystal shares insights and tips to help fellow nurses enhance their skills and stay updated with the latest developments in the field. With a focus on practical advice and relevant topics, Crystal's writing is a valuable resource for nursing professionals seeking to advance their careers.