As a nurse, you already know you have to deal with various kinds of patients, from those who have physical limitations up to those diagnosed with mental illnesses. Learning the best way to handle challenging patients will help you grow into a more professional nurse, with the aptitude to manage multiple patient conditions.

In Part I, we looked at several pointers for nurses to handle psychiatric patients. In the second part of this series, let's take a look at how to best handle patients with physical challenges.

Patients with physical disability

Patients with physical disability are usually defined as those who are unable to perform an activity independently as a result of their physical ability, such as walking, bathing, etc. Caring for patients who are physically disabled can also prove to be a challenging task for nurses who have little experience in handling them.

Physical and ambulatory support for patients

Unlike psychiatric patients who need more emotional and spiritual support, patients who have physical limitations, due to physical illness or surgeries, require more intense physical and ambulatory support. Although patients are encouraged to ambulate by their own, greater attention and support is highly needed during the initial phase of their recovery, so as a nurse you should be especially attentive when the patient first starts in their recovery process.

This is in line with the goals of restorative care, where the patient should able to regain maximum functional status and manage to enhance quality of life through self-independence.

Take note of physiotherapy sessions and rehabilitation

Due to physical weakness, patients would have difficulties in movement which may further hinder them in performing daily activities. Thus, it is common seeing these patients having a packed schedule filled with physiotherapy and rehabilitation sessions. When patients are still receiving treatment and care at the hospital, the nurse will usually help refer them to the physiotherapy unit to get the initial proposed treatments. Otherwise, the physiotherapist would come and assess the patient’s limitation themselves to suggest appropriate walking aids and plan for the right exercises or activities needed by patients.

In rehabilitation services, patients will be trained to regulate some necessary changes in their lifestyle and learn to function with their limitation. As a nurse, you can support them by noting their schedule and aid them in achieving the objective of restoring the patient’s health to the fullest possible.

Be prepared to provide heavy nursing care

Working in medical, surgical or orthopaedic departments, which constitute of mostly patients with physical disability, require nurses to perform heavier nursing duties. For example, a patient who has a pressure ulcer on their back will require regular wound management and change of positions. With such a heavy workload involved, the nurse will also need to be in top physical condition to successfully carry out the complex processes required. It is also necessary to stay aware of the proper positions when performing physical tasks to prevent injuries for themselves or the patients.

Every patient condition has its own unique points, making them challenging in their own way to handle, but whatever comes your way, always bear in mind that professional nursing care and fulfillment of their needs is what needs to come first. MIMS

Read more:
Nurses: handling patients with challenging conditions – part I
Malaysia’s MOH plans community-based approach for psychiatric nursing homes
Pros and cons of working as a Psychiatric Nurse

Psychotherapy to Treat Depression. (n.d). retrieved from
Rueve, M.E., & Welton, R.S. (2008). Violence and Mental Illness. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 5(5), 34–48.
General Information on Physical Disabilities (n.d). retrieved from