When I tell people that I am a nurse, their response is almost always positive.
They will either say, “That is so wonderful! You get to help people!” or thank me for my work and tell me a story about a kind nurse that made a difference in their life or that of their loved ones. I can see them picturing me in white scrubs, holding patients’ hands, and offering comfort to those that need it most.
But that isn’t really my reality.
I mean, yes, I get to help people. And yes, I often offer comfort for those that are experiencing unimaginable tragedy. But I also am required to take annual Workplace Violence training where I learn to protect myself and escape in the case that I am choked, grabbed, or beaten by someone during my shift. Almost every day that I work, I experience some sort of verbal abuse, intimidation, harassment, or physical threat.
You know, just another day at the office.
If you’re a nurse or other healthcare worker, this isn’t news. But I bet you aren’t surprised if you experience these things during your regular work day. Sadly, many healthcare workers have grown to accept the abuse that we face almost every hour that we are in the clinical environment.
Violence in the workplace has become a massive problem facing healthcare workers across the United States.
In a 2014 study, nearly 80% of nurses surveyed reported being attacked while on the job in the last year. That is nearly 8-0 PERCENT. When I asked my non-healthcare worker husband when he was last attacked at work, he paused, looked at me funny and said, “I can’t recall.” This is not a standard concern for those outside of our industry.
In the eight years that I have been an emergency department nurse, I have been spat on, had my hair pulled, grabbed at, swung on, inappropriately touched, present during an attempted machete-assault, part of more team efforts to restrain violent patients than I can count, had my life threatened, and had the pleasure of once telling my husband that if I go missing to look for a certain person because they will know where my body will be. And all of that does not include the countless verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats that I’ve experienced almost every shift that I have ever worked. #thisismytruth
And I consider myself lucky.
I have never really been hurt on the job. Luckily, none of the threats have been acted on. I have seen more nurses and healthcare staff than I would care to think about seriously injured on the job or who have had to leave the medical field all together due to the effects of being a victim of violence in the workplace.
The public does sometimes hear about the violence. However, these usually are the most extreme cases, and only the ones that make it to the mass media. You may remember the viral video showing a patient beating on a group of nurses with a pipe pulled off his bed. Or possibly you saw the photo of the ED nurse who was stabbed repeatedly by a patient that she was caring for in the emergency department. Then there is the absolutely tragic story of Carlie Beaudin, a nurse practitioner at the Medical College of Wisconsin, who was violently murdered in the parking garage by the hospital where she worked in January of this year.\
Only one word comes to mind when I hear about these kind of events – STOP. This has to stop.
That’s great. Now it’s time to be the most respected.
It is time to use our voices to advocate for safer work environments and to share our stories.
There are many groups who have already started these efforts. It is time to organize and unify to get workplace protections in place. I have heard stories about hospitals who do not encourage their staff to report incidents of violence or abuse, about nurses being told not call the police when assaulted, and about cultures of “patient satisfaction first” coming before staff safety. Just writing these words makes my eye start to twitch with rage.
So, what can we do about it? How do I work to make the violence stop?
Below are a list of organizations who have started the work. They are groups that advocate for workplace safety for healthcare workers, provide trainings, support legislation to increase penalties for assailants, gather data to analyze and publish, and provide all sorts of resources from legal to mental health support. Check them out and see which might be helpful for you to get started in your journey to stop the violence against healthcare workers.
I also want to make a plug for a new campaign that I am working with – the Raise Your Hand (RYH) Campaign. This campaign was started by nurses and is being led by emergency department nurses to raise awareness, collect data, and provide insight into solutions regarding violence against healthcare workers that occurs in hospitals. We have a brand new website – CHECK IT OUT – where we are gathering stories from nurses and other healthcare workers who have experienced violence in the workplace so that our Research Committee can start to extract data to help us find evidence-based practices to help us combat this epidemic of violence.
If you have experienced abuse in the workplace, know that you are not alone, and it is NOT acceptable.
We have to work together to create a new nursing reality, really a new healthcare reality, where we can ask each other, “When was the last time that you were attacked at work?” and all respond, “I can’t recall” with a funny look on our face.
Raise Your Hand Campaign - https://www.raiseyourhandcampaign.com/
Silent No More Foundation - https://silentnomorefoundation.com/
Stop Healthcare Violence - https://stophealthcareviolence.org/
American Nurses Association “End Nurse Abuse” Campaign -
Emergency Nurses Association Workplace Violence Resources -
About the Author - Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL is an educator, speaker, blogger and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing world. New Thing Nurse is organized to provide support and guidance to aspiring nurses, newly graduated nurses, and veteran RNs looking to make a change in their life.
Whether it’s a new school, new job or new idea,
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