So you arrive on time to clinicals – good job! You are in dress code – awesome! You have all your supplies, a pen, your stethoscope – ready to go save some lives! You get up to the floor, find your patient assignment and BAM – you find out you have to work with “Nurse Ratchet” today! So what do you do? Run for the hills? Cry? – no, there’s no crying in nursing school (at least not in public)! Instead, you are going to figure out how to manage a challenging nurse!

Nursing Students

Be Confident!

Stand tall, walk with pride and be confident that its going to be a great day! I call this working against the “weak gazelle theory” – the lion always takes out the weakest of the gazelle pack – don’t let that be you! Bullies and mean people rarely go after people who they think will fight back – they wouldn’t be a successful bully. So know what you know and show it. Don’t be pompous and rude, just confident!

Set Clear Expectations

You should have a general idea of your objectives for your clinical day. I like to encourage my students to make personal daily goals each week (ok, I make them do it each week). Not only are you able to hone into what you still need to accomplish, but you can share that with your nurse. For example, let the nurse know you are able to manage one to two patients, but are still struggling on priming IV tubing and have not given a subcutaneous injection yet. This allows the nurse to be on the look out and makes them a partner in your learning experience. There is nothing worse than having a student be assigned to me and have no direction for their day – the nurse is busy and shouldn’t have to babysit you.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Often a student has a bad experience with a nurse and that particular nurse gets labelled as a “bad one” or “mean one”. You can’t always trust your peers’ assessments of the staff. I frequently have one student love a particular nurse, but the next student working with them has a terrible experience.  I always function with the theory that everyone is nice, until otherwise proven wrong. Also, just because they didn’t greet you with a joyful smile and hugs, doesn’t mean they don’t want you, maybe you just caught them off guard. Which brings us to the next secret….

Don’t Interrupt Report

Report is a very important part of the patient care hand off. Remember, one nurse is tired, trying to go home and the other is trying to glean as much information from the tired nurse. Just wait patiently until they are done to introduce yourself. In fact, be proactive and start writing down your report on all the patients – maybe you will find a better, more interesting one than you were originally assigned. Plus, now you will know the whole assignment and will be even more helpful.

Be Helpful – Show Your Value

Most nurses are very busy, especially at the beginning of the shift and there is nothing worse than dragging around dead weight. Don’t be the dead weight. Depending on what level you are in your schooling, get right to your tasks. If you are taking one patient, tell the nurse right away, that you are good to go for all patient care and go see your patient. You don’t need to follow the nurse around – you are a student learning to be a nurse, not a nurse helper. Don’t hear me wrong here – if your nurse needs help, then you help them. But, you can take care of the patient you are assigned, so go do it! As mentioned before, let the nurse know all that you can do and what you plan to accomplish during your time assisting with patient care. Make them love you!! (Hey, it could lead to a job also – remember, every day is a job interview!)

Don’t Be Rude Back

So, maybe your nurse isn’t the friendliest soul on the planet, but that DOES NOT give you liberty to be rude back. First, and foremost, that is just not professional and is a quick ticket to getting kicked out of clinicals for the day, if not forever. It is just not worth it. I tell my students all the time, “I don’t care how rude they are to you, there is no excuse to be rude back.” Just smile and move on. Don’t take it personally, its not worth the agony it will bring you. I hate to break this to you as it often comes as a shock to most nursing students, but nurses are people and some people are just rude, therefore, there might be rude nurses. But rise above and make the right choice and kill them with kindness!

Ask To Be Moved

If the nurse just is unbearable and it is impeding your learning, then maybe it is time to move on. No one deserves to be treated with disrespect, especially a student. Not to mention, some one in authority needs to know about the nurses behavior. Get your instructor involved and let them fight that battle. (My least favorite thing to do…but sometimes has to be done.)  I have had nurses flat out tell my students they don’t want them for the day. Again, don’t take it personally, just move on. Locate the charge nurse or your instructor and explain the situation. However, you better have pretty good evidence besides, “I just don’t think she likes me.”

So, you see, there are ways to manage a challenging nurse. Most of it starts with you and your attitude. Have you had a challenging situation and solution? Please leave your comments and lets keep the conversation going!!

If you would like to read more about nurses behaving badly, you might want to check out

This post was written as part of the Nurse Blog Carnival If you are interested in participating find out more details and sign up here.

If you enjoyed these tips, please check out Five Tips to Survive Nursing School Clinicals!

Thanks for visiting! Be safe, take care & wash your hands!

Comments (13)

  1. susan brown


    Very good advice….useful even when no longer a student & become the experienced nurse mentoring other students…..

  2. Gail


    This advice is applicable to many nursing situations, not just for students. Thanks for sharing in the Nurse Blog Carnival.

  3. Melissa keener


    I loved this post! Thank you for creating it! I’m a nursing student in fundamentals and am starting my rotation in 2 weeks. I was a little worried about the, “nurses eat their young” stories, but now I’m feeling more confident that I can handle a situation if it arises! Thank you, thank you!

    • Joan RN


      Thank you for your kind words! Such an exciting time for you! Take it all in – you get what you put in! Please don’t hesitate if I can be of any help or if there are any topics you would be interested. Also, please subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss anything! Good luck and hope to chat again!

  4. Semperfichic818


    These are awesome tips for nurses on the floor but what about your nursing instructor? I had my instructor leave me in tears because of the way she bullied me – including telling me that I was basically a child. Nobody deserves to be talked to like that.

    • Joan RN


      Thank you for your kind words. I could not agree with you more – no one deserves to be treated with disrespect, especially from someone in authority. I am sorry to hear of your negative experience. I hope it was reported?

      You present an interesting point – I am going to think on this a bit and will probably give it a go at some tips!! After living the experience, is there any advice you would like to offer? Would you be willing to contribute to a blog post?? Let’s talk some more!!

      Thanks for visiting!!

  5. Reply

    What a fabulous post with actionable and insightful tips. As you mention, the most important aspect of dealing with any difficult situation or challenging person is attitude. Your attitude is the one thing you truly have control of despite any outcomes. Such an important concept to learn for all aspects of life, both personally and professionally.

  6. Pingback: Top 10 posts of 2015 - The Nurse Teacher

    • Joan RN


      Thanks for visiting – its going to be an exciting & challenging time for you! Please don’t hesitate if there is anything I can help you with or topics you would like to see covered! Good luck & stay the course!

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