For nursing assistants, dealing with tough and uncooperative patients is part of the job, but it can be seriously irritating. It’s understandable that they might make irrational demands or seem to complain a lot—they’re sick, uncomfortable, and in pain. But when a patient’s family members are the difficult ones to deal with, we somehow run out of reasons why we should put up with them. All the same, dealing with a patient’s difficult family members is also part of a CNA's day-to-day reality.
You’ll know you’ve met one when they:
Are controlling and overly demanding - Difficult family members micromanage everything and are into all the nitty-gritty details. They notice your brush strokes when you perform mouth care. They’ll want their loved one’s soup at the perfect temperature and consistency, and that means reheating it numerous times to their satisfaction. They also take the most time to interact with since they question every procedure. Everyone scrambles to their feet just to satisfy their demands.
Are argumentative - Because nothing goes unnoticed by a difficult family member’s eye, they can make a problem out of the smallest issue, which can easily escalate into a full-blown shouting match. They tend to insist on what they want, even when it’s against policies or safety protocols.
Take advantage of your compassion - They are well aware that you are a dedicated nursing assistant with a soft spot for sick patients. So, they take advantage of your kind heart and demand back-breaking tasks in short order “for the patient.” They may also continue to use up your time even after your shift has ended.
Are impossible to please - Difficult family members will make you feel you are incompetent and incapable of delivering quality work. They seem to complain constantly, and even your best efforts are somehow never good enough for them.
Are abusive - Abusive people do not think twice before being disrespectful to others. They hurl expletives without blinking. They also get physically abusive. They often don’t hesitate to shove, push, or kick.
Recognizing difficult family members is the easy part. What should a CNA do when you encounter one of them?
Give them some space - Understand they act the way they do because they are stressed by their loved one's health condition. Their behavior may be the result of anxiety, fear, or guilt, which they unknowingly project outward. Or sometimes, being hard on everyone is just part of their personality!
As a nursing assistant in the caring industry, have the patience to let go of small annoyances. Listen carefully and fulfill demands as long as it doesn’t compromise your license, your sanity, and most especially, patient safety.
Keep your calm - Let’s be realistic and accept that staying calm while being cursed at is very hard to do. But this tip is for your own sake and peace of mind. It takes self-discipline to practice calm, even while the other person is pushing all your anger buttons at once.
Set boundaries - Setting limits is a lifesaver for CNAs fighting burnout and emotional distress brought about by controlling relatives. Being at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak, does not make you anyone’s doormat! Firmly but respectfully say that your shift is almost over and you'll gladly make aware the incoming staff. Tell them that you are there to help and doing the best you can.
Stop abuse early in its tracks. When a patient’s family member goes too far, tell them directly that their words and behavior is abusive and needs to stop.
Seek support from a supervisor or manager - Many times, you need reinforcements to make a family member understand the situation. Don’t hesitate to call back up, like your nurse or manager, for example.
Dealing with a patient's difficult family member is part of any CNA's everyday challenges. The best advice is to maintain professionalism especially when the going gets tough!
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