When working in the medical field, it’s very important to know how to deal with difficult patients.

As a Respiratory Therapist, you’re absolutely going to come across difficult patients throughout your career. Honestly, probably much more often than you anticipate. There are a variety of reasons that could cause a patient to behave disruptively, including pain, stress, and anxiety. When these situations do occur, you will need to know how to deal with difficult patients without losing your cool (or your job). 

To start, you need to figure out how to recognize the early signs that a patient is becoming angry or disturbed. If the patient is upset, more times than not you are going to know about it. You can always tell by the tone of their voice or their facial expressions. So when you encounter these patients, you must act in a professional manner and strive to calm them down before the situation gets out of control.

To help with that, here are 8 important tips for Respiratory Therapists and other medical professionals on how to deal with difficult patients:

1. Empathize with the patient

One of the best methods to comfort an angry or difficult patient is by using sympathy and empathy. Show them you understand and care about what they are going through. Being a Respiratory Therapist in the hospital setting is definitely not easy. But just remember that it can also be very difficult for the patient as well, especially those who are experiencing pain or anxiety.

Rather than being defensive, try to be empathetic with the patient and provide your undivided support for the pain that they are experiencing. Help them understand that they are heard and that you’re going to do everything you can to meet their needs.

2. Always stay calm, cool, and collected

When dealing with difficult patients, remaining calm is definitely in your best interest. At some point, you will definitely have a patient act disrespectfully towards you. It’s just simply something that is going to happen, and when it does, you must remain cool. If you try to retaliate back, you’re only going to make the situation worse.

Rather, just take a step back, clear your head, take some deep breaths, relax, and respond in a professional and respectful manner.

3. Don’t take it personally

It’s inevitable that you will come across a patient that will treat you disrespectfully. It’s easy to get angry when dealing with such difficult patients but reacting disruptively will only make the situation worse.

Rather, remind yourself that the patient is not annoyed with you personally. It’s really not about you. It’s more likely that the patient is responding to painful conditions and circumstances and only taking their frustrations out on you because you happen to be present.

If you approach the situation with this mindset, you will be more able to handle the situation in an appropriate manner.

4. Form a connection with the patient

Forming a connection with your patients can make all the difference in the world. Once you do come across a patient that is acting out, just by having a bond with that patient will drastically increase the chances of you being able to disarm the situation.

Talk to your patients. Ask questions and really form a bond with them. Because when the situation does escalate, the patient is more likely to trust you and hear what you have to say.

5. Never argue with your patients

Agitated patients may attempt to maneuver you into an argument. While you are completely entitled to voice your opinion, it’s important to do so respectfully.

Rather than clarifying why they are not getting the consideration they need, or why their solutions were late, just simply apologize and promise the patient that you will take care their need the best that you can. Whatever you do, just don’t argue. It’s not worth it and it will only make matters worse.

6. Set boundaries and stand your ground

You always want to do what you can to help your patients, but you must do so within a set of boundaries. Never let the patient push you around. For example, if you put in orders for the patient to receive breathing treatments every six hours, stick to that schedule!

Sometimes the patient will ask for things just because they think they can get them. Just remember that you have the final say. Set your rules and don’t back down.

7. Keep stress to a minimum

It is harder to be proficient and sympathetic when you’re stressed out, am I right? Got something going on at home? No worries, that’s normal for most of us. But it’s crucially important that you don’t carry it with you to work. Because by doing so, if you show up for work under stress or in a bad mood, you are much more likely to handle a difficult patient in the manner that will only make matters worse. 

I know sometimes this is easier said than done but if possible, keep those stress levels to a minimum.

8. It’s okay to ask for help

You don’t have to try to be superman (or superwoman). Sometimes you just can’t do it all by yourself, and it’s okay to ask for help. When a patient is acting out, just having another authority figure present can change the current state of the situation.

It gives you more confidence just knowing that there is someone else present to have your back. You can always call the nurse for help if you have to. Usually they’re more than happy to help, and besides, that’s what they are here for.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! Unfortunately, dealing with difficult patients just come with the territory when it comes to working in the medical field, especially as a Respiratory Therapist. While it’s definitely not one of the perks of the job, it’s pretty much unavoidable. But just because a patient is behaving disrespectfully doesn’t mean that you have to do the same.

Just follow these eight tips that I have shared with you today and you will now be able to handle difficult patients like a pro. Breathe easy, my friend!


The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article: