8 SECRETS TO DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PATIENTS

There are many kinds of patients. Some are kind and grateful, while others are impatient and angry.  It's very easy to condemn, criticize, and complain. But at the end of the day, this doesn't make our job easier. Our patients won't change, but we can.  

#1 Choose your attitude

Dr. Victor E. Frankl, in his book Man's Search for Meaning, wrote:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We always have the power to choose our attitude no matter what the situation. 

#2  Don't take anything personally

In the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, he writes: 

"Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. The opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds. Their point of view comes from all the programming they received during domestication."


#3 See the person as someone's child

Dr. Holly Latty-Mann, president and co-founder of the Leadership Trust, shares this wisdom:

"Imagine that the person in front of you is one of your children. How would you want your child to be treated?  If you don't have children, imagine this person as an infant held lovingly by their parents.  Give them the best YOU, even if they are not being their best self." 

#4  Get rid of "should"

Having expectations of others, especially a worried, scared patient, is a setup for failure. Tony Robbins writes:

“The more rules you have about how people have to be, how life has to be for you to be happy, the less happy you’re going to be.”


#5  Breathe Deeply

 Your body has a built-in stress reliever and that is your breathing.  When encountering the difficult patient, take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly several times. It will activate your parasympathetic system (relaxation) response instead of the sympathetic fight-or-flight system.  

Take a deep breath and imagine your lungs giving your heart a big hug. 

#6  Love your patients

Patients come to us when they are scared, anxious, worried, and in pain.  In particular, in the ER, we deal with people in their worst state.  In his book True Love, Robert Fulghum writes: 

"Most of us need love the most when we're the most unlovable."

#7  Take care of yourself  

When we hop on a flight and the flight attendants tell us about emergency landings, they remind us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping another put it on.  It's crucial to take of yourself, so that you can deal with the challenges of our work.  James Altucher shares the "Daily Practice" of prioritizing four domains to care for yourself: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. 

#8 At the end of the day, you're still a doctor or nurse

According to Harris Polls, physicians and nurses rank in the top five most respected professions.  Know that you are a part of a valued and respected profession by society, no matter what any one individual may feel about you.