No matter what job you have, there are always going to be certain things that make you dread going to work from time to time. Maybe you have a stressful presentation coming up, or you just got denied the promotion you had been dreaming about. Usually these things are just minor setbacks, and are not enough to sway you from loving the job itself.
As a nurse, you go to work expecting to get covered in blood or bile at some point in the shift. It’s the glory of the job – NOT! While these things aren’t fun, they are an anticipated part of the job and it’s what you signed up for. However, leaving work covered in bruises was never part of the job description. Unfortunately, workplace violence is common in the medical field, and nurses often take the brunt of it.
What is workplace violence?
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace. It’s hard for other people to imagine this happening in their workplace or office, but nurses know it all too well. Almost all medical facilities have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to physical or verbal abuse. This doesn’t change the fact that patients are completely unpredictable and even a policy often isn’t enough to protect nurses.
Physical abuse is extremely prevalent in the workplace. As a nurse, you have the most interaction with patients, but this is often a double-edged sword. The upside is that you have the privilege of providing essential care to patients. But the downside is that you’re the first person to make contact with patients. This puts you on the frontline, leaving you vulnerable if the patient turns violent. It’s not always patients either, sometimes it’s their family members or friends that initiate violence towards nurses. This adds another element of concern because nurses must be constantly alert.
In fact, nurses are 5 times more likely to be violently attacked than anyone else (in any industry!). A shocking 70% of nurses have been physically or verbally abused. This number is staggering enough on its own. But the hard truth is that a lot of workplace violence goes unreported – leading us to believe that that number is even higher.
The threat is real
To stress the severity of the situation and emphasize just how real the threat of workplace violence is, Medscape and WebMD recall some of the most serious cases that have occurred in the past few years:
- In Oklahoma, a man became angry with his father’s nurse when she removed his catheter and attacked her with a wrench.
- At a corrections facility in Michigan, a nurse was checking on a patient when he jumped up and attacked her.
- In Texas, a patient’s son accused his mother’s nurse of trying to kill her, and stabbed her. The nurse passed away.
- A nurse in Baton Rouge, LA had her head slammed into a desk by an irate patient. The nurse passed away a few days after the attack due to complications from the head injury.
It may be easy to think that these were just ‘freak accidents’, but it can truly happen to anyone. Many believe that ER nurses are the most susceptible due to the unpredictability of incoming patients. However, nurses in other specialties are equally at risk. Of all the workplace violence reported across all industries, healthcare workers account for 50% of it. The threat is real, and unfortunately nurses – and all healthcare workers for that matter – must be vigilant on the job. When it comes to verbal abuse, the numbers are even higher.
Remember the quirky saying we would recite to bullies in elementary school – sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Well, according to some nurses, the constant verbal abuse from patients can hurt worse than any physical violence. Yes, some patients are disoriented and confused, or in loads of pain, but some are just straight-up bullies. However, this doesn’t excuse poor behavior. There is no reason to verbally abuse the one person that is trying to provide a patient with the care that they need.
To make matters worse, it’s often not just immature name-calling. One San Francisco nurse recalls receiving death threats and racially charged comments from one of her patients. This verbal abuse is meant to harass, demean, and frighten – saying anything and everything they can to try to upset their nurse.
What’s being done about violence towards nurses?
Nurses come into their workplace to heal those that need help. Everyone would agree that you should feel safe and protected in your place of work. Many hospitals don’t want a reputation that workplace violence occurs under their watch. They often encourage nurses not to press charges so a PR issue isn’t created. Not only is this poor management, but it also sends a message to nurses that they should be doing more to prevent workplace violence, or at least being more proactive.
So, what’s the solution to put an end to violence towards nurses? There isn’t necessarily a “one size fits all” type of approach to put an end to workplace violence. One small step that may help create more awareness around the issue is to report every incident. Nurses often don’t report incidents of physical or verbal abuse because the process is time consuming. Doctors, nurses and other staff at medical facilities have become so accustom to workplace violence that it almost seems easier to just let it go. However, it’s important that every instance gets reported so that data can be collected and more attention can be placed of the issue.
Advocating for safety measures
Nurses can advocate for safer workplaces by demanding that hospitals provide extensive training to all staff. This is necessary to educate the staff on how to detect signs of violence before it occurs, de-escalation training in violent situations, and handling instances of verbal abuse. It’s also beneficial for hospitals and other medical facilities to invest in security guards. Knowing there is trained personnel that can assist in situations when patients turn violent is reassuring to staff. Just the presence of a security guard may prevent some patients from ever turning towards violence.
Have you experienced instances of violence towards nurses? We’d love to hear from you, let us know in the comments.