Singled Out for Wearing Scrubs: Protecting Yourself from Public Attacks

According to the CDC, nurses and healthcare providers make up around 11% of all COVID-19 infections. Providers spend their time caring for infected patients, so it’s no surprise that more of them are getting infected compared to the general public. However, this means nurses and other providers may be targeted for potentially spreading the virus throughout their local communities. Care providers are also still going to work while much of the rest of the world stays in quarantine, making them one of the most public faces of the response to the pandemic.

We’ve seen several reports of nurses and providers getting attacked on the streets, in grocery stores, and on public transportation– even as they go above and beyond to protect their communities. If you have been harassed or targeted in public for wearing scrubs, you’re not alone.

Stories of Being Attacked on the Street

Mexican officials are investigating a recent attack on three sisters, including two nurses for the Mexican Social Security Institute and a hospital administrator, in the northern border state of Coahuila. They appear to have been strangled to death, but the motive remains a mystery. Mexican authorities believe it may have been a robbery, but the country is also seeing a rise in the number of reported attacks and assaults on healthcare providers, so it’s possible that they were targeted simply for wearing scrubs.

Nurses and providers throughout Mexico and other developing nations have been attacked or singled out for wearing medical uniforms. Some have been kicked off public transportation, others have had cleaning fluids dumped on them as they walk down the street, and others have been physically hit or attacked as they go to and from work.

Last week in West Virginia, a man was arrested for assault and battery after intentionally spitting and coughing on a nurse. The man became violent after being told he could not accompany his wife into a treatment ward to limit the spread of infection. It’s incidents like these that keep healthcare providers up at night.

Why Would Someone Attack a Healthcare Provider?

It’s unclear why someone would attack a nurse or provider who is putting their life on the line to save others. Much of the general public has been quick to praise nurses and essential workers as heroes, but others may be worried about getting exposed to the virus because of them.

A global health crisis can bring out the worst in some people. The fear of being infected may lead someone to attack or lash out at healthcare workers. Some people may not want to get too close to those wearing scrubs if they believe they could be carrying the virus on their clothes.

Others may be simply reacting to the uncertainty of the moment. Millions of individuals are now out of work due to the pandemic. Some people may be so desperate that they feel they need to rob or mug others on the street.

Tips for Protecting Yourself in Public

Nurses often see human beings at their worst, including during incidents of violence. Before the pandemic, 76% of registered nurses reported experiencing workplace violence. In fact, 54.2% of nurses experienced verbal abuse from patients and 29.9% experienced physical abuse.

However, dealing with possible incidents of violence and verbal abuse on the street is not the same as dealing with these issues on the job. When you’re out in public, you don’t have the comfort and support of your co-workers.

If you’re worried about your personal safety when going out in public, use these tips to give yourself more peace of mind:

  • Avoid wearing scrubs out in public if you are worried about your safety. Wear civilian clothing to and from work and change into scrubs as soon as you arrive at your destination.
  • If someone harasses you or accuses you of spreading the virus, try telling them that you are doing your best to protect yourself and others from the disease. Wear gloves and a face mask at all times.
  • Consider traveling in pairs to and from work. Talk to your supervisor about switching shifts or adjusting your arrival time if it means you can take the train or bus to work with a colleague instead of commuting alone.
  • Bring along pepper spray, even if it’s just for show, to help yourself feel more at ease when out in public.
  • Try to schedule your commute during the daytime, if possible, to avoid traveling alone at night.
  • Talk to your employer about possibly arranging a ride to and from work, or from the bus station to work if you don’t want to walk alone.
  • Stay as alert as possible. If you feel unsafe, avoid looking down at your phone. Keep your head up and be aware of your surroundings.

No one should have to worry about their personal safety as they go to and from work, especially when they are putting their health and safety at risk for patients. Hopefully, these kinds of attacks will remain infrequent, but you may get more attention than usual when wearing scrubs out in public. Keep these ideas in mind and stay alert when commuting to and from work.

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