Violence against doctors, nurses, carers, and other healthcare professionals is on the rise. Federal statistics record an average of 50 such attacks each day in the United States alone. That’s likely an underestimate because of persistent ‘underreporting’.
Nurses say they often ignore it and state “it is just part of the job” or are discouraged from reporting them. Some nurses claim they get little or no support if they want to press charges. “Patients who attack healthcare professionals often get off easily, because some hospitals don’t want to take action against these attackers,” a registered nurse told me when she shared her personal experiences.
Here are a few first-person stories from healthcare professionals who have been attacked by patients.
By ’G’ – a full time nurse for 17 years and member of the American Nurses Association:
I was attacked by a patient one Friday night as I worked in the emergency department. A very intoxicated female patient was brought in. She was agitated, aggressive, and clearly did not want to be in the hospital. She screamed at the doctor and demanded to leave the hospital at once.
The doctor said that the patient should be restrained since she presented a danger to others. Another nurse asked me to help, so I put on some gloves. As I did that, she suddenly stood behind me and started kicking the other nurse, who was standing nearby and talking to her. I stepped towards the patient and used my forearm against her chest to push her back. She opened her arms and started scratching and biting me. This was a very frightening moment for me.
When it was over, I asked my supervisor if I could go home because the bites and scratches burned, and my neck hurt. I was told “no” and that I had to stay until the end of my shift.
I chose not to let this stop me from being the best nurse I can be, but these days I’m on higher alert. I try not to go into an agitated patient’s room alone, and I’m quicker to call security. I also try not to work on Friday and Saturday nights, because there are more intoxicated patients in the emergency department.
By ‘M’ - a high experienced registered nurse in Oklahoma (USA):
As a nurse for more than 25 years, I have seen many incidents of patient violence directed against healthcare workers. I’ve also personally been punched, scratched, bitten, and pushed hard several times.
As part of a special team aimed at identifying potentially dangerous or violent patients, I had to undergo some training about how to de-escalate a confrontation, and how to use certain holds so a patient couldn’t hurt me. It’s been helpful, but I really think that all nurses need that type of training. I don’t understand why nurses learn so little, if anything, about this in nursing school.
My scariest episode happened during a night shift. It is a time when confused patients or patients with Alzheimer’s disease are likely to be wandering. I saw an older man walking across the hall and head for a female patient’s room. Thinking he might have gotten confused or turned around, I said, “Excuse me, I think you are going in the wrong direction. Could you please head back to your room?”
I carefully tried to lead the man back to his room. He immediately hit me, knocking me to the ground and he then continued to beat me. I was able to roll away and call for help. It took several nurses to calm him down. My back was sore for several days.
By ‘J’ – a nurse who has been working in in emergency departments in southern California for 25 years:
I have many personal stories of attacks by patients. One time I was walking down the hall in the emergency department. A patient came out of a triage room and began hitting a security guard. I moved to help, and the patient turned to me and started becoming physically aggressive. He didn’t stop until other nurses came to my rescue.
I’ve been bitten, scratched, pinched, spit on, and verbally abused so many times. I’ve had my head banged against a wall. I’ve been hit with an IV pole. A patient with AIDS once pulled out his IV and tried to splash his blood on me.