Nursing 101: Dealing with Difficult Doctors

Nursing 101: Dealing with Difficult Doctors

Communication skills are paramount when it comes to dealing with difficult doctors. In health care, your primary focus should be on providing quality patient care. 

Patients rely on doctors and nurses for safe and effective medical treatment. This unpleasant time for a patient becomes worse when you have a jerk doctor on your team. 

When a doctor disrupts the team through negativity and anger, it can impact how well you do your job as a nurse. Even if you don’t want to react, the underlying tension can be enough to turn the sweetest person sour.

It’s sad to say, but this study states that hostility and conflict in health care are higher than other general work sectors. Why? Well, a medical career doesn’t come without stressors. First, do no harm tends to get set aside when it comes to doctor/nurse conflicts. 

Let’s take a look at types of difficult doctors, what to do in a stressful situation, and how to leave if it’s just too much for you. 

Difficult Boss Types

The characterizations of bad boss types are my generalization only. Use these types as a guideline only. Some people are good at hiding things. The doctor you’re having issues with may fall into a few categories- not just one.

While I can’t say for sure I’ve got every base covered, the majority of difficult doctors can fit into one of these categories.

Mr./Mrs. Invisibility

When this doctor isn’t with a patient, you probably won’t see her/him at all. The doctor’s that don’t frequently communicate or show their faces are great! You’re probably thinking: why would she say that? 

If you want to be semi-independent and are okay working without receiving feedback, then this is the ideal difficult doctor type. 

However, if you want to work with a doctor as a team and collaborate on patient treatment plans, then I suggest you put in for a transfer.

The Mom/ Dad

The doctor who pulls the parental card may seem like a helpful boss. That’s not true, though. Doctors who act like your dad or mom are stunting your professional growth and development. 

Yes, being the protege’ nurse who gets’’s positive encouragement may give you warm-fuzzies at the beginning will shortly be followed by a wrath of unforgiving discipline if you fail. 


If you have ever taken a PSYCH 101 class, you know about Machiavellianism. This overbearing personality trait can make a decent doctor seem dreadful. These types focus only on their own goals and interests and thrive on power. 

The machiavellian will always put power and personal self-gain above meaningful relationships. Every. Single. Time. 

If you work with a doctor like this, there are a few things you can do to make your time together bearable. 

Most importantly: always be an adult and never partake in the mind games they enjoy playing. If you can’t avoid this difficult doctor type, it may be in your (and your patients’) best interest to find a new team.  

The Dreamer

Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows are what this type of doctor always sees. No matter the situation, the dreamer is creating unrealistic goals that go unattained or partially met. 

This type never seems to focus on one task because they are in their happy bubble, and they only surface to spout off unattainable goals.

What can you do? Well, help your boss by creating realistic goals that you and your team can complete. Your doctor may not verbalize it, but they are thankful that you can articulate them.

Micromanaging Maniac 

Most doctors hardly have the time to micromanage their team, let alone the nurses and everyone else in their ward. That’s not to say this type of difficult doctor doesn’t exist. 

These guys (or gals) have major trust issues, which means you don’t get to do anything by yourself. How could you be capable of doing the job you have experience in doing? In their eyes, you aren’t. Dealing with difficult doctors like this isn’t hard. All you need to do is show them that you are more than competent to do your job. 

The downside? When you shake off the micromanaging maniac, they will find another peer of yours to pester.

Don’t Pour Gasoline on a Fire

We are told from day one that two wrongs don’t make a right. Getting into a heated argument with the doctor on your team is not a great idea at all. If you get into it on a Tuesday, you’ll still have to work with him/her on Wednesday. 

Gossiping about your less than pleasant exchanges with this type is a big no-no if you want to keep the peace. Passive-aggressive behaviors linger in every toxic workplace, don’t lower yourself to that level and gossip. 

Keeping a firm grip on the type of tone you use is essential. Being upfront and speaking in a calm tone works best when building bridges with difficult doctors.

In a Nutshell

If you are dealing with a demanding boss and it is getting to you, reach out for help. Understanding your boss and their expectations to help them reach their own goals may sound like work, but it goes a long way.

Nurse/ doctor relationships that are full of conflict can negatively impact every party involved and the patients they treat.

There are several types of difficult doctors. Your boss may fall into one or more than one of these categories. Fight the urge to gossip to your coworkers about your situation as it only makes you look weak.

Everyone deserves to be respected and treated as a peer. Nursing is no exception. If you are in a position where you felt like you’ve tried everything, you might want to find the door.

While I am not suggesting that you quit your job, I am saying find a way to work on a different shift, or with a different doctor. 

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About the author

Heather Burton

Heather lives with her husband and two children in beautiful British Columbia. Her passion has always been to enhance the lives of others by helping them reach their own personal goals and accomplishments. Content management is her specialty, and writing is what she does best. Her love for helping others lead her to the cannabis scene where she saw an immense gap between patients and medicine that can help them.

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