As a nurse, it is inevitable that you will come across a patient who has extremely rude family members. It just happens. Unfortunately, most nursing schools don’t really prepare you for this aspect of the job. Instead, you’ll have to learn how to deal with these rude family members once you’re out working in the real world.
Dealing with an unruly family member can add to the stress and anxiety that you are already experiencing while working as a nurse. So in this article (and video), I’m going to share some tips and strategies that I’ve used when dealing with difficult family members of my patients.
Try to Understand Things from the Family Member’s Perspective
Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand that they are probably stressed for several reasons:
- Many times, they don’t know what’s going on. They can be concerned over the health of their loved one. They don’t know if that loved one is going to die or recover. That can be both devastating and stressful.
- They can be stressed about finances. Hospital visits aren’t cheap. Even if a patient has insurance, they can still pay thousands in deductibles or other costs. Thinking about these expenses can cause a lot of stress to the entire family.
- The family members might be stressed due to the uncertainty of the future care needs of the patient. Will the patient have ongoing health issues? Will the patient recover? Will the patient need to be moved to a long-term healthcare facility? These questions can cause a lot of stress, fear, and frustration as well.
So try to understand that your patient’s family members are probably going through a lot of emotions, and when that happens, people tend to lose their filter, which can lead to rude statements or aggressive behavior.
Don’t Become Aggressive or Swap Insults
As a rule, you never want to become aggressive, rude, or antagonistic toward a patient’s family members, even if they are being rude to you. It’s best to be kind and let any rude statements roll off of you.
As the old proverb goes: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
I have found that proverb to be true. In most cases, responding in a kind and gentle way will prevent further escalation of emotion, and in many cases, it will help a person calm down.
On the flip side, if you are rude back, it can come back to bite you. The patient’s family members can try to get you in trouble, or in severe cases, they can even become violent.
I once worked with a fantastic nurse who was attacked by a family member during her shift. She was a shift leader, and during the night shift, the floor was bombarded by several admissions at once. If you’ve ever worked in healthcare, you know that receiving several admissions can be very stressful and overwhelming.
Another patient was supposed to be admitted to that floor, and a family member had already come there waiting on that specific patient. However, at the last minute, the hospital decided to send that patient to another floor.
When the charge nurse heard about it, she made a comment that went something like this: “We dodged a bullet on that one.” A family member overheard her say that statement, and she not only began to verbally abuse the charge nurse, but she actually went so far as to slap her across the face!
Sadly, the charge nurse did not mean anything by that statement at all. She was just saying that her floor dodged a bullet because their resources were being overwhelmed, and that it was best for the patient to be moved to another unit anyway (so they could receive better care). She was a very sweet and caring nurse, and she would never say anything bad about a patient or neglect them in any way. She was not being rude, but the patient’s family member became aggressive over that one statement.
Therefore, you have to watch what you say around your patient’s family members.
Tips for Dealing with Rude Family Members
When you are faced with a rude family member of a patient, here are some things you can do to help the situation.
1. Greet everyone in the room and smile. Don’t ignore the patient’s family members. Instead, greet everyone with a smile. Being friendly can go a long way in establishing a good rapport with the patient and their guests.
2. Offer to get them a snack or drink. Many hospitals or healthcare facilities will have an area stocked with refreshments, such as coffee, snacks, etc. If this resource is available, offer something to the family members. This will make them feel appreciated, and they could be a little thirsty or hungry.
3. Ask them if they have any questions. One common frustration among family members is that they simply have no idea what is happening. Unfortunately, you have to be careful on this point, because there are privacy laws with which you must comply. Just because a family member (or guest) is in the patient’s room, it doesn’t mean the patient wants those individuals to have access to their health status.
Therefore, you have to get patient consent, and you must follow your healthcare facility’s protocols and local privacy laws on disclosing healthcare information before you use this tip. Nevertheless, if your patient gives consent, you can sit down and let the family member know what’s going on, the labs you’re running, the plan of care, etc. I have often found that they are often much nicer and less stressed after I do that.
Family Members Are Often an Overlooked Asset
Although a patient’s family members can cause you some grief, one thing that nurses sometimes forget is that the family members can often be one of your greatest assets. Those family members can give you valuable information about the patient. For example, they can tell you if the patient has pain in a certain area, how they are eating, etc.
In addition, family members can also participate in the care of the patient, which can help you out as a nurse. Many times, family members have offered to take the patient to the bathroom, change linens, or help move the patient, and this can be a huge help to the entire healthcare team.
You Can’t Please Everyone
Unfortunately, even if you are nice to the family members of your patients, offer them snacks, and answer their questions, some people are just impossible to please. They can still treat you with disrespect.
If that’s the case, you’ll just have to grit your teeth and try to get through it the best you can. Of course, if a person is being unreasonably rude, you’ll want to document it. It’s also a good idea to report it to your charge nurse or nurse manager so that you can be protected from any potential problems.
In the case of any potential aggression or violence, make sure to report it to your nurse manager/charge nurse immediately, document it, and/or notify security if necessary.
More New Nurse Tips
If you want more tips, be sure to check out our new nurse tips videos on YouTube.