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Carrington College Blog

What to do if you are having trouble with a patient

January 3, 2014

What should you do if you're having trouble with a patient?As you begin your nursing career, you may notice from time to time that you’re given an assignment that you find tough to handle. This is particularly true if you are ever given a patient whose condition lies outside of your expertise. You certainly don’t want to tell your boss that you’re not capable of handling it, but that can put you in a sticky situation.1 Here are your options:

Ask for advice

There’s no rule that says you have to go at it alone, so don’t be afraid to ask your fellow nurses or a CNA or mentor for some advice. Hospitals count on the nursing staff putting forth a team effort in order for everything to run smoothly, so there’s no sense in struggling all by yourself. It’s possible that one of your co-workers has more experience with this patient’s particular condition and may be able to help you with difficult tasks and teach you something in the process.2

Switch patients

If you find that your patient is so far outside of your scope of practice that you don’t even know where to begin, you may want to consider asking one of your co-workers to switch patients. Chances are that one of your fellow nurses has dealt with this situation before and will be better able to complete the task at hand. You will likely have the opportunity to help that nurse out of a jam someday, so don’t forget to return the favor!3

Say no

In order to prevent nursing burnout, sometimes you just need to say no. In fact, if the assignment you have been given is outside of your legal scope of practice as defined by your state’s nursing practice act, it is in your best interests to ask for a different patient, otherwise you may be liable for any harm that is caused. If you are truly concerned, speak up and talk to your charge nurse.4

1 Scrubs Magazine, ‘5 tricky hospital situations resolved,’ Jan. 1, 2013 –
2 Scrubs Magazine, ‘How do I deal with an overwhelming assignment?’ Feb. 17, 2012 –
3 Scrubs Magazine, ‘5 tricky hospital situations resolved,’ Jan. 1, 2013 –
4 Brooke, Penny, Lippincott’s Nursing Center, ‘Legally speaking, when can you say no?’ July 2009 –

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