How to Respond to Rude Doctors (While Still Getting What You Want)

The best way to deal with a rude doctor is calmly and respectfully. Any other approach could make a situation worse. Particularly if the doctor in question is stressed (not unusual) or just having a busy day.

Here’s how best to respond to a rude doctor:

  1. Take a deep breath and try and calm your emotions
  2. Try not to take it personally
  3. Explain yourself clearly
  4. Use plain and simple language
  5. Be as honest as possible
  6. Avoid being combative or rude back

That should stop things escalating!

Responding to rude doctors, unfortunately, is something a lot of us – medical students and patients – might have to do in our lifetimes. I know I’ve had a couple of incidents here and there, but perhaps I’ve got a heads up on the average patient. Especially given the amount of time I spend in the company of them in class and on the wards!

Still it’s not exactly great to deal with. And, you’ll be glad to know, I’m trying my best to avoid becoming one too.

But it’s still a topic I’d like to talk about on the site. Namely, because I think it can impact both patients and students negatively. Add to the overwhelm of the situation and make matters worse.

So here’s how I’d recommend going about it.

How Do You Handle a Difficult Doctor?

The best approach on handling a rude or difficult doctor is going to be case-dependent. Healthcare staff – nurses, medical students, ward operators etc – are going to be a lot more exposed due to the nature of their job. And the lack of a prompt escape!

Healthcare Staff Tips on Dealing with Rude Doctors

  • Do your best to maintain a professional relationship for the sake of others around you (as well as patients)
  • Report any inappropriate behaviour that is out of line with company policy (you shouldn’t have to be subject to abuse)
  • Take control of the conversation in an effective manner; be honest with the doctor in question and how they’re making you feel
  • Attempt to understand the reason for the rude behaviour (often times you’re just collateral not the cause)

Of course doing all these things can be challenging, so network with those around you for support too.

As a medical student I’ve had some heavy experiences with rude lecturers or teachers in my first years of med school. Especially in the lead-up to exams or the finals themselves – when professors are notoriously cranky due to the long-list of students ahead of them.

Personally, I always find the calm and quiet approach to work the best.

Patient Tips on Dealing with Rude Doctors

Patients too might best handle a difficult doctor by remaining calm and answering a doctor’s questions as best and clearly as they can. Also trying to not take things too personally could help.

But I appreciate that’s difficult given the vulnerability of the situation!

Here are some more tips for them though from the med-student/doctor side-of-the-fence.

  • Give as much complete information as you can
  • Be honest with your answers (your doctor is there to help)
  • Tell your doctor if their approach is intimidating you/upsetting you
  • Report your doctor to another member of staff if the situation doesn’t improve

Sometimes a badly behaved patient can be the cause for a doctor or medical student’s rudeness. So the onus doesn’t always fall on us.

My Personal Experiences of Dealing with Anger or Annoyance as a Medical Student

Sadly, what a lot of people forget, is that doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, medical students etc are just as much humans as their patients. And that we can, at times, be emotional creatures too.

Last year (year 3 of medicine) I had my first semester on the wards. It was also the first time I was seeing patients and interacting with them on a daily basis.

Somedays? You just wake up tired, annoyed or not in the mood. But you do your best anyway, despite your body language sometimes betraying you. None of this, usually, has anything to do with the patient.

And everything to do with the mountains of work and crazy schedule that lay before you.

So, what I want to say here, in defence of medics (as a broad class), is that when we are rude it’s not (99% of times) ever about the patient. Despite you maybe thinking otherwise.

Please remember that.

Can You Sue a Doctor for Being Rude?

According to US-based law you can only sue a doctor for malpractice. Or delivering care below the expected standard. Making a report to your State Government (see Medicare).

This rule is also the same in most of the world too – including my native UK and Bulgaria (where I study).

Patients then, unfortunately, can’t really do much about a doctor or healthcare worker being rude to them other than reporting them or telling them directly.

Colleagues however, who might work with rude doctors, always have the possibility of leaving their job or switching department if it does become untenable. But that approach seems rather sad to me. Especially if it can be dealt with appropriately internally.

Patients, I guess, in private healthcare systems at least, can also vote with their money. Going to another doctor with their cash if they feel they’re not being appropriately treated by their current one.

Sadly this isn’t a luxury most patients in social healthcare systems have however.

What Should You Not Say to a Doctor

As far as avoiding the situation and not irking your doctor in the first place, the rules are uniform for both patients, medical students and almost everybody else.

Here’s what you shouldn’t say:

  • Any untruths that impede them from providing effective treatment
  • Anything loud, profane or offensive that’s likely to provoke a situation
  • Delay major details until the end of a conversation

And while there’s a general set of annoyances, things like approaching a doctor off shift etc. it’s unlikely to know if they’ll respond rudely in these types of circumstances.

While you can also ignore all these rules entirely and a doctor will still treat you with courtesy and respect.

Because that’s how most of us are trained!


Dealing with a rude doctor can affect all people in healthcare; colleagues, patients, med students alike. Here’s what to remember if faced with the problem:

  • Behave in a manner unlikely to make matters worse
  • Understand it’s probably not you that’s the cause of the problem (doctors are tired, stressed and often over-worked)
  • Take appropriate action if it leaves a lasting impact (report the incident)

Behaving this way is much more likely to get you the treatment you want and need!


Beckers Hospital Review