No matter what career path someone is pursuing, there are always going to be certain things that make you dread going to work from time to time – do you have a stressful presentation Tuesday, or did you just get denied the promotion you requested? Typically, these things are minor, and are not enough to sway you from loving the job itself.
A nurse, for example, goes to work knowing that he or she might become covered in blood or bile at some point during their shift, but getting covered in bruises wasn’t part of the job description. Unfortunately, workplace violence is alive and well 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. Many people can’t even imagine this happening in their place of work, but nurses know it all too well. Needless to say, almost all medical facilities have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to physical or verbal abuse, but this doesn’t change the fact that patients are completely unpredictable.
Physical Violence vs. Verbal Abuse
Whether you are a nurse or you know a nurse, you’ll know there is no shortage of either physical or verbal abuse. Despite the fact that both are serious offenses, physical violence is a bit less common, adding to the shock factor when it occurs. Unfortunately, we are only beginning to document the cases of physical violence against nurses, but Medscape recalls 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 whom she thought was having a seizure 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 patient at a psychiatric hospital in Maine attacked a nurse with a chair, injuring her head.
- At the same Maine facility, a patient beat a nurse in the head and stabbed her with a pen.
It’s easy to think that these were just ‘freak accidents’, but it can truly happen to anyone. Actually, about 70 percent of emergency nurses report being physically harmed by a patient at one point in their career. While many believe that ER nurses are the most susceptible due to the unpredictability of incoming patients, nurses in other specialties don’t fall too far behind, and 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. Some patients are confused, some are in loads of pain, and some are just straight-up bullies, but either way, there’s no reason to verbally abuse the one person that is trying to provide a patient with the care that they need. Not to mention that when we say verbal abuse, it’s not just name-calling… this abuse is meant to harass and demean the nurse, saying anything and everything they can to try to upset their nurse.
What’s being done about workplace violence?
While it may not feel like much is being done to stop workplace violence, many states are making strides in standing up against physical and verbal abuse at work, but unfortunately, this isn’t always enough. 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, with the exception of extreme acts of physical violence.
Nurses can advocate for safer work places by educating themselves on workplace violence, and encouraging others to do the same.Although, many medical facilities are now offering training courses for nurses and other staff to help limit the amount of physical and verbal abuse, as well as learning how to properly handle the situation if it happens. The NIOSH also offers a free online course for nurses that would like to further their education on workplace violence.