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How Nurses Can Get Better at Managing Critical Situations in the Workplace

How Nurses Can Get Better at Managing Critical Situations in the Workplace

How Nurses Can Get Better at Managing Critical Situations in the Workplace – A critical situation is a challenge that requires healthcare providers to respond quickly and decisively. They might have to make difficult decisions about risk, emergency treatments, patient outcomes, and the organization of the operating room team.

It’s not always straightforward what to do in the face of one of these situations, and while they are rare, they do happen, and when they do happen, nurses can feel overwhelmed or stressed because it’s not a normal part of their job day-to-day. That is where Critical Situation Management comes in. The goal is to teach nurses how to reduce stressors proactively.

Major Causes of Critical Situations in Nursing

Critical situations in nursing arise for many reasons, including the most common:

  • Caregivers are forced to make decisions that lie outside their normal healthcare skillset.
  • There are too many patients for the number of available staff or resources.
  • Someone has been injured or is unconscious.
  • An emergency is a disease outbreak or a natural disaster, like a fire, flood, or earthquake.

In preparation for moments like these, it’s important to be equipped with good critical thinking skills which will help you solve problems quickly and make the best decisions possible given the available resources and circumstances.

This is a time when a nurse will call upon their training to handle the situation properly.

For example, if a nurse is working with older patients, they can become unresponsive when they get dehydrated. The nurse will need to quickly check the patient’s vital signs and hydration levels and determine the best next steps.

If the nurse has had training on how to handle older patients and taken a post-graduate program, like the adult gerontology ACNP, they’ll be able to make smart decisions about how to help the patient and reduce their risk of falling into a critical situation.

Good training is the best way to reduce the risk of a critical situation in nursing, and one of the best ways to mitigate the impact when it does arise.

What Is Critical Situation Management?

Critical Situation Management is a skill set a healthcare worker can develop to make more thoughtful and effective decisions during an emergency. It can be done on an ongoing basis, or as needed for specific incidents (like critical situations) to ensure nurses are prepared for any crisis that might come their way.

Critical Situation Management is built from three components: The Preparation Phase, The Intervention Phase, and The Aftermath Phase.

  • The Preparation Phase – To manage critical situations effectively, it is important to have training in advance.
  • The Intervention Phase – To act appropriately, the Nurse needs to know how to recognize critical situations.
  • The Aftermath Phase – This is where the nurse has made an effective decision, whether it was a good or bad one. Now, they need to teach other people and document what happened, to defend against potential lawsuits.

There are no right or wrong answers, but we must recognize our weaknesses and work on them in hopes of improving our performance and preventing those from happening again in the future.

Critical Situation Management in Action

The first step in reducing stress is getting ready for a critical situation before it happens.

Consider enrolling in an emergency response training course. This will help you recognize the warning signs of a potentially critical situation and give you the practical knowledge needed to act quickly and appropriately during any crisis.

A big part of critical situations is that it’s hard to predict what will happen. So, whether it’s an emergency training course or a more common method, like an online nurse safety course, be sure to register for these ahead of time so you’re prepared.

If your hospital offers staff training on how to handle emergencies, make the most of this opportunity by attending as often as possible and practicing their techniques with your colleagues in advance.

How to Reduce Stress in the First Place

Stress is an inevitable part of nursing and it’s one of the reasons we love our jobs. However, too much stress can cause problems.

There are a few things nurses can do that could reduce their level of stress:

Reduce Your Workload

Expect more work than you can handle, learn how to prioritize tasks, and then push yourself to stay on top of it all.

You’ll feel better about everything because you won’t be overwhelmed by all your responsibilities, but also, you’ll still have time for your personal life.

Take a Break Now and Again

The best way to reduce stress is to be active and get moving. By planning breaks, you’ll be able to stay engaged and feel good. This will translate into a calmer working environment and reduce the risk of you burning out later on.

Don’t Work Too Many Shifts with Long Hours

Work-life balance is important for nurses because working long hours will only keep stress levels high.

Don’t be afraid to say no to back-to-back night shifts, so you don’t become worn out and burnt out.

Have a Routine

One of the most important things to do when you have a lot to do is to have a routine to work with. It allows nurses to get into their routine and let it be something they can depend on without fail.

If they know they get off at 3 in the afternoon every Friday, they know what to expect when they return from that day of rest.

Learn to De-Stress.

Self-awareness is key, and the only way to develop this skill is through experience.

So, go out and do something fun while you’re taking care of your health because that’s the only way you can learn how to deal with your stress better.

Have a Support System

Your loved ones are not there just to make sure you’re okay; they’re there for support and encouragement too.

They’ll provide a haven, which is one of the best things you can have when you’re feeling stressed out.

How to Handle Difficult Patients

As a nurse, you will likely come across a variety of patients who are difficult to work with. Some of these patients may be unable to help themselves, some may be elderly, and maybe even violent.

Before you or your colleagues have any intentions of harming these patients, you must have the right training and knowledge to support yourself.

What Is a Difficult Patient?

A difficult patient is any patient that presents challenges when it comes to their care. This can include nursing assistants, relatives, or even patients themselves. Difficult patients can arrive at the hospital as a patient and quickly become a problem.

How to Handle Difficult Patients: The Preparation Phase

The preparation phase of critical situations begins with the nurse preventing inappropriate behaviors by the patient. Preparation can be as simple as being polite, but firm, if it’s necessary. Here are some specific behaviors you want to avoid when working with difficult patients:

Be Aware of Your Surroundings and Do Not Put Yourself in Danger

Sometimes, a patient may not understand the implications their actions have on others or they may become violent due to their mental illness and have no control over their actions whatsoever.

Make Sure You Are Well Prepared for Any Unexpected Situation That May Arise

This could mean learning about their condition, assessing their level of danger and what is needed for that specific patient, having the right equipment on hand, and knowing how to use it.

How to Handle a Difficult Patient: The Intervention Phase

If a difficult patient presents threats of hurting both themselves and your coworkers or themselves, it’s time to take action. Your priority here will be to stop these threats as quickly as possible without causing harm or injury to the patient.

You should be prepared with your body and equipment and know what to do in an emergency. Here are some possible interventions that you might need to use with a difficult patient:

  • Inform them of the consequences of their actions and that they can no longer cause harm.
  • If you must physically restrain them, be sure you don’t cause any injury or further harm to the patient in question.
  • Calmly explain to them why they must stop doing whatever they are doing then ask if they understand.
  • If the patient persists, get help right away by calling for medical help or calling 911 for immediate assistance for the dangerous patient.
  • If you are unable to get medical help, write down an incident report on the situation, including your findings and what you did to resolve the issue.
  • Document your findings if you work as a nurse and make sure that an incident report is completed along with the other nurses involved.

How to Handle Difficult Patients: The Aftermath Phase

Following up on difficult patients can be one of the most important parts of nursing and you can expect to do this for months or even years if you work in a highly specialized area, such as intensive care, emergency care, or palliative care.

If you find yourself constantly dealing with difficult patients, you may want to consider switching careers to a different area of nursing unless you have the right training and support behind you to do the job.

Understand That You Are Not Alone

As a nurse, it’s important to realize that there is an entire team of people to help you in difficult situations.

If someone is going through something traumatic or being violent, they may need a lot of help to stop. Your colleagues are always there for support and will be right there with you when necessary.

It can be very stressful if you’re dealing with a difficult patient that is constantly causing problems. If you find yourself overwhelmed by such a situation, it’s time to take a step back and have a little time off.

Going on vacation or having an evening out with your friends and family can help calm you down and give you the energy and motivation to get through the day. They will support you in any way they can.

Changing Your Perspective on Your Job as a Nurse

One of the biggest ways for nurses to get through a stressful day is by forgetting about the small, daily tasks that pile up and dealing with them at the end of the day. The fastest way to become overwhelmed is to focus on every task individually, rather than looking at it as a whole.

You want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself both physically and mentally as well, so try not to get too caught up on minor tasks or things that aren’t extremely important for your job or patients.

As a nurse, you need to be able to take care of yourself first to do your best for the patient.

Nurses often take on the task of dealing with patients, their families, or even coworkers that cause problems. It’s crucial that you can handle anything that’s thrown your way without letting it affect you negatively.


Choosing to be a nurse was always going to be a difficult career path, but with the right training and knowledge, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think. As a nurse, it’s important to not only be physically prepared for anything but mentally prepared as well.

You should never feel afraid or threatened by anyone, whether that person is a patient or even a family member, and you should always feel comfortable in your surroundings with the right knowledge and equipment to protect yourself.

Dealing with difficult patients is part of many nursing jobs and can be stressful if you don’t know how to handle them properly. If possible, try taking some online courses to help prepare yourself for this possibility.

The new skills you learn will help you deal with future patients with ease and the ability to handle the situation will let you know that you can handle whatever is thrown your way.

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