Workplace Violence: Nurses are Not Immune

It's hard to imagine that nurses helping others can be victims of violence.

A frequently cited statistic from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is that 48% of all nonfatal injuries caused by workplace violence were sustained by healthcare and social service workers. Most of the injuries occurred in hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, and residential care agencies. Nurses were injured most often, followed by aides, orderlies, and home care attendants.

When I taught in a school of nursing and conducted admissions interviews, I remember being surprised by the look on prospective students' faces when I asked them if they had considered the risks--as well as the benefits--of a nursing career. I would rattle off a list of potential risks that included the risk of workplace violence and watch as this information sunk in. Very few prospective nursing students had ever considered this possibility.

The data on workplace violence is sparse and based on studies conducted five or more years ago. A 2006 survey report by the Emergency Nurses Association found that 86% of respondents reported that they had been victims of violence in the workplace during the prior three years. Nineteen percent reported that violence in the workplace happened frequently.

Emergency department nurses are not alone in encountering violence. Nurse friends of mine who work in various departments and diverse organizations, have observed and/or been the victims of violence in the workplace. In some cases, what I consider to be violent behavior (eg, spitting in a nurse's face) was called "annoying" patient behavior. There is universal agreement, however, that nurses who spend their days helping others, should not be on the receiving end of violence that occurs in the workplace. But this unfortunately has become a reality.