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Workplace Violence Against Nurses — Neither Inevitable Nor Acceptable

March 17, 2010

I’ve read about hospital nurses dealing with violence at work, but I always told myself that was something that happened in the emergency room or the psych ward. In oncology, I reasoned, we have relationships with our patients, and I have always felt safe with them.

So begins a harrowing—and remarkably nonjudgmental— story of a really bad day at work, written by Theresa Brown, a nurse who blogs regularly for the NY Times. (AJN will be featuring a profile of Brown in the May issue.)

Unhappy coincidence: It so happens that AJN published a Viewpoint essay on workplace violence in the March issue. Here’s how it starts:

I was working in the ED one day when a patient looked up and threatened to kill me. Grabbing my hand, he squeezed it until I thought it would break. It took several staff members to restrain him and force him to let go. I’ll never forget how he looked into my eyes and smiled as I screamed in pain.

Some of my colleagues said I should file a police report; others told me to get used to this type of behavior and toughen up. I called the police, and although they took my statement, they wouldn’t arrest the patient because he hadn’t inflicted “serious bodily injury.”

Marco Musso/via Flickr

The author, Jessica Leigh, offers advice to those who have faced workplace violence as nurses, and makes several recommendations for influencing policies at your hospital or facility, as well as for pushing for legislation to make such violence against health care workers a serious crime.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

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5 comments

  1. Teresa Brown’s post in the NY Times illuminates the tip of the iceberg. As a student nurse, I was grabbed by my hair from behind by a mentally ill person at a hospital where I was doing a clinical rotation. I was rescued by a classmate and passerby. Early in my career, a coworker brought an automatic handgun to work, stating he needed it to protect himself from the dangers of workplace violence (he was dismissed). Then there was the patient who brought a butcher knife in his back pocket for an appointment. When security took the knife, the patient told me I shouldn’t worry about the knife, because he could beat me to death with his crutch if he wanted to. These incidents took place at different hospitals in different cities.
    Teresa’s instinct was to protect her patients, and that’s the piece that makes this particular kind of violence so confusing when it occurs. You want to do what’s right for the patient, and so it takes a few moments to realize that you are the one in danger. I’ve been lucky to not be seriously injured so far, and I’m glad that Teresa was not either.

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  2. I have been assulted by another coworker (nurse) and a patient. In 15213. If you want to interview me for a story please contact. I would be happy to share a few stories to get the word out about workplace bully/violence situations.

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  3. My brother is a doctor. Well a pathologist and this is probably one of the reasons he chose such profession because there is no source for violence:)

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  4. Wow. I had no idea that nurses faced that kind of danger just trying to do their jobs.I think nurses themselves are going to have to be pro-active in protecting themselves. Maybe taking self defense classes or even carrying pepper spray or stun guns. No one should have to worry about being assualted at work.

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  5. [...] 7. Workplace Violence Against Nurses — Neither Inevitable Nor Acceptable A look at some helpful articles that have addressed aspects of this perenially troubling issue. [...]

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