When working in the medical field, it’s crucially 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 begin with, you need to figure out how to recognize the early signs a patient is becoming angry or disturbed. If they are upset, more times than not you are going to know about it. You can tell by the tone of their voice or their facial expressions. When you encounter these patients, you must act in a professional manner and calm them down before the situation gets out of control.

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

1. Empathize with them

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 a hospital is definitely not easy. But just remember that it can also be very difficult for patients who are experiencing pain or anxiety as well.

Rather than being defensive, try to be empathetic with them 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. Stay calm, cool, and collected

When dealing with difficult patients, remaining calm is definitely in your best interest. You will have a patient act disrespectfully towards you. It’s just simply one of those things that’s 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 treats 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 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 them

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

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

5. Never argue back

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 of it 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 the stress to a minimum

It is harder to be proficient and sympathetic when you are stressed out. Got something going on at home?

It’s crucial that you leave it there because if you come to work already stressed out or in a bad mood, you are much less likely to handle a difficult patient in the manner that you should. I know this is easier said than done at times but if possible, keep those stress levels as low as possible.

8. It’s okay to ask for help

Don’t 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 just gives you more confidence just knowing that there is someone else present to have your back. Call the nurse for help if you have to. That’s what they are there for.


Difficult patients just come with the territory. While it’s definitely not one of the perks of working as a Respiratory Therapist, it’s pretty much unavoidable. But just because a patient is behaving disrespectfully doesn’t mean that you have to do the same.

Follow these eight tips and you will be able to handle difficult patients like a pro. It also helps to be an ethical Respiratory Therapist as well.