You’ve finished your shift and stayed late to chart. It’s after midnight and you’re walking to your car or the bus stop. It seems like you’re all alone. You hear footsteps behind you. They’re fast and coming closer—it sounds like the person is running. Suddenly, a jogger runs by you and turns the corner, leaving you with your heart beating fast. Do you know what you would have done—should have done—if someone actually had attacked you?
Like many frontline workers, nurses can be exposed to physical danger in numerous ways. A home healthcare nurse doesn’t always know the type of home she’ll be entering. A clinic nurse doesn’t know if the patients will become angry or get out of control, and sometimes relatives in hospitals can get out of control, too. Nurses also come and go from healthcare facilities at odd hours of the day and night, increasing safety issues.
So what do nurses need to know about personal safety? Actually, there are two important tenets: 1) Avoid being a victim and 2) know what to do if you are attacked.
Avoid becoming a victim
How many nurses do you see leaving the hospital late, chatting on a phone, rummaging through a bag, listening to an mp3 player or looking down as they make their way home? All of these behaviors scream I’m not paying attention, so if you try to attack, you’ll catch me off guard.
- Chatting on the phone. If you’re talking on the phone, you’re likely not paying much attention to your environment, which is the number one issue when it comes to personal safety. You must always be aware of what is going on around you. Some women feel that if they’re talking on the phone, a potential attacker will think twice because they can scream into the phone. But if you think about it, the person on the other end of the phone can’t see what’s going on and can’t stop the attack, so it’s a false sense of security.
- Rummaging through your bag. Although it’s a generalization, it’s a pretty good one: Nurses carry big bags! Whether it’s your purse or a work bag, don’t rummage through it as you leave the building or while you’re standing at a bus stop. If you need your keys or bus tickets, get them out before you go out the door. If you’re searching for something else, wait until you’re in your (locked) car or the bus. Looking through your bag leaves you unaware of your surroundings—again, making you an easy target.
- Listening to an mp3 player. Guess what? Walking down the street while you listen to music also makes you less aware of your surroundings. And, depending on the level of the music, you may not hear if someone is approaching you.
- Looking down while walking. There’s a type of walk that makes people look more like a target than other people: It’s the walking slowly, wandering, looking down type of walk. People who walk with a purpose—who act as if they know where they’re going, and are seen to be looking around them so they’re aware of their surroundings—are less appealing to attackers. They want the ones who look as if they’re lost in their own little world.