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Working with difficult people – 4 tips for travel nurses

Most nurses do what they do because they want to take care of people. They endure long (and late) hours, high stress and lots of paperwork to keep everyone healthy. Generally, the people nurses work with – from patients to families to coworkers – make the job all worth it. But being in a hospital or clinic is stressful for everyone, and it can bring out the worst in people. Here’s how to deal with prickly patients, frustrated families, condescending coworkers, or sulky supervisors.

1. Difficult patients

Every nurse has had a patient who made never ending demands, or was insulting, or refused to listen. Often patients are a combination of these three personalities. When working with difficult patients, it’s important to remember where they’re coming from. Some patients are in a lot of pain, others have medication that makes them irritable, and others are scared about their situation. When patients are being impatient, take a breath, and work through what might be making them act that way. You might be able to find a way to cheer up the patient, and in turn make your job much easier.

It’s important to note that there’s always a line – you should never have to excessive endure abuse from patients. If a patient puts you too outside your comfort zone, talk to your supervisor and give yourself time to collect yourself before you see your next patient.

2. Difficult patient family members

Whether they’re a parent or a spouse, family members can be more difficult than the patients themselves. Sometimes they’ll demand to know more than you can tell them, or they’ll try to make decisions on behalf of the patient.

Working with difficult patients requires a mix of firmness and empathy. Be firm in your authority – you’re the one who went to nursing school, and medically, you know what’s best for the patient. Try your best to explain this to the families. But it’s equally important to remain empathetic. Families often behave this way because they want their loved one to get better as soon as possible. They can be just as scared as the patient, too. With some empathy, you can explain the the family members that medicine is a team effort that includes them. While maintaining your authority, work with the family member and the patient to find the best solution you can.


3. Difficult coworkers and supervisors

Speaking of teamwork, few things will block good teamwork than a grumpy coworker, and it’s even worse when it’s a supervisor. Some people have difficult personalities, and some people just have personalities that don’t mesh well with yours. For travel nurses, the more they work, the more likely they are to eventually run into a an unpleasant coworker or supervisor (but they’re more likely to run into amazing coworkers and supervisors as well!).

To best work with a coworker or supervisor, first try to assess why you aren’t getting along. Is it a personality conflict? Are there unresolved issues with the coworker? Addressing past issues means taking some time to clean them up, whether that means an apology or a conversation about how you feel. Personality conflicts generally come from differing perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that either perspective is better than the other. Find your common ground, your different strengths, and focus on those. Again, you and your coworker or supervisor are on a team – you’re both there to better the lives of your patients. That’s enough common ground to start off with, and you can build from there.

4. Wait – is it me?

This is perhaps the most important, but difficult, thing to consider when working with a prickly personality. Ask yourself what your own role might be in dealing with a prickly personality? If you’re stressed, your tolerance for prickly personalities will lower, so things might seem like a bigger deal than they are. Is there just a misunderstanding between you and the other person? A lack of communication can make relationships sour, but good communication can solve everything. And we hate to say this, but sometimes there’s a chance that your own personality is prickly. People will respond to prickly personalities with their own prickly personalities.

If you’re stressed, sad, or mad, take some time to realign those feelings. If you need a quick break, take it. If you need to deal with something outside of work, do so. Taking a few minutes to work these things out will be well worth it in the long run.



About the author


Kathleen Stone

Kathleen Stone is a writer for RNnetwork from Salt Lake City, Utah. In her spare time, she loves going to the desert, trying new foods and being with family.

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