How to: Deal with angry patients

Written by Helen Le

If you’ve been in the nursing field for a while, encountering patients who are angry and hostile is not uncommon, and it’s important to keep your cool and address their issues as calmly as possible. Here are tips on what to do when handling aggressive patients.

Step 1: Remaining Calm

Angry and hostile patients can say things that can test any nurse’s compassion and patience, so it’s extremely important for nurses to remain calm. Begin by acknowledging your emotions but not letting it control you. These patients under stress often say things they don’t mean or are trying to pick a fight, so it’s important to keep cool and act professionally. They could also be under a lot of discomfort which could be a result of them lashing out. Try and focus on bettering the patient situation instead, no matter how difficult the patient may be.

Step 2: Take control of the situation

Try and prevent the situation from escalating by listening to what the patient has to say and provide your viewpoints without coming across as demeaning or inconsiderate. Statements such as “I understand your frustration” and “Might I present this option” show your empathy and willingness to address their frustration. Allowing the patient time to blow off steam can also help to release tension. Keep your distance further away from the patient as to not invade their personal space and relax your facial expressions and body language as to not look threatening or aggressive, for e.g. your arms should not be crossed but instead be at your sides or in front of you. Looking frustrated and stressed can also provoke the patient to further worry.

Speak in a firm quiet voice and in short simple sentences as to not complicate the patient and repeatedly affirm their discomfort. Apologise if any inconveniences were caused to provide discomfort to the patient.

Step 3: Call for help

If you are fearful of your own safety, notify security or the police, as your own safety is also important.

Remember that a patient acting rude and disrespectful is not a reflection of your ability as a nurse. As long as you do your best to diffuse the situation, that is okay, try and not take your patient’s comments personally.

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