Unfortunately, this is a topic we have to discuss.
Physical violence against nurses in the workplace is a real and devastating issue.
I did a quick Google search on some statistics (keep in mind these are not the most current and are not empiric evidence):
- Forty-eight percent of all nonfatal injuries from occupational assaults and violent acts occurred in healthcare and social service settings.
- Nurses are the most likely of all healthcare workers to be assaulted.
- Rates of violence are 13.2 physical and 38.8 nonphysical incidents per 100 persons per year.
- The highest rates of violence are reported by ED nurses.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace.
These facts alone are disturbing and heartbreaking. A profession that prides itself on speaking for the patient when they can’t speak for themselves is the profession that suffers the most.
The bottom line is that all of us need to be prepared. All of us need to be aware. All of us need to NOT be afraid to do our job.
Now, I’m no fool. I know that being a male nurse precludes me from the majority of these problems, but I’m nothing special. Those who are violent don’t really care what gender you are, but I’m willing to bet women experience this violence far more than the men.
That said, I thought I’d share some advice on how to prevent violence at the bedside that may help every nurse out there. Here are five ways.
1. Awareness. Just acknowledging the existence of workplace violence gives you a leg up. This is one of the few instances where ignorance is not bliss. Do your homework. Know the at-risk patient populations. Accept and understand which (nursing) environments have a higher occurrence of violence.
2. Don’t be afraid. Fear is a horrible thing. It will change everything about you and your job. Fear is not a real thing; the violence is. Don’t assume the worst in people. Don’t assume the worst in every scenario.
3. Communicate your feelings. Communicate your feelings to your coworkers, to your charge nurse, to your administrators. If something angers you, let someone know. If something scares you, let someone know. Overcommunicating is really the best policy. And be very clear about your feelings—don’t beat around the bush. Brutal honesty is the best policy here.
4. Strength in numbers. Recruit help. Grab your coworker. Grab an unlicensed professional (assistant or aide). Heck, grab anyone. You need to have reinforcements. You also need to have witnesses. Teamwork is not just for physical labor; it also applies to preventing violence.
5. Trust your gut. If something feels “off” or “not right” or “unsafe,” then reassess yourself and your actions. If a patient gives you that “uncomfortable feeling,” tell someone. Remember the old adage “Put on your own mask first.” Be sure to take care of yourself first. Do not willingly or blindly put yourself in an unsafe situation simply because it’s “your job.” Your personal safety comes first.
In the end, the best offense is a good defense. Arm yourself with knowledge, have a plan and be sure to share your experiences. The only way we can truly diminish and eventually eliminate this tragic act is to stick together. Did I mention there is strength in numbers?
Stay tuned: In my next post, I share some tips on how to respond to this violence while it’s happening.