The strain abusive patients put on a nurse’s performance



“He was aggressive, confrontational. But more than that, his voice had an edge to it that, I’ll reluctantly admit, scared me.”

The above quote is from a New York Times Well blog post by Theresa Brown, R.N., describing a patient she was assigned that, it turns out, had a history of being violent in hospitals.

Brown, an author and Board Member of the Center for Health Media and Policy at the Bellevue School of Nursing, uses the remainder of the column to discuss the point at which a nurse’s personal safety comes before her job.

‘Safe’ becomes a mantra that embodies a set of values,” she writes, “and ‘that’s not safe’ is a warning phrase among nurses that can address staffing issues, medication questions, or decisions like whether a patient should be allowed to stroll to another floor, because he is frail or easily confused, or because of the IV medication he is getting.

With this patient I felt personally threatened—unsafe—which made me feel scarily distracted.

The issue of nurse safety was recently thrust into headlines after reports of nurse abuse by Robert F. Kennedy’s son, Douglas.

At the end of her column, Brown recounts that while it’s obviously a nurse’s job to take care of his or her patient—that care can be compromised when a nurse feels she is in danger.

“After all,” Brown concludes, “it’s my job to take care of patients, to keep them safe—this patient included. But I discovered it’s very hard to do that if I don’t feel safe myself.”

How hard is it for you to admit that you can’t handle a particular case on the job?

Theresa Brown, RN
Theresa Brown, RN, lives and works in the Pittsburgh area. She received her BSN from the University of Pittsburgh, and during what she calls her past life, a PhD in English from the University of Chicago.

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