Workplace violence should not be part of the job

By | 2021-05-07T15:12:42-04:00 August 17th, 2017|Tags: , |0 Comments

Eliminating workplace violence and nurses’ safety should sit high on everyone’s list of priorities

“Got stabbed in the neck,” is all I heard, as a colleague explained why Grace, a popular OR nurse, wouldn’t be joining us at a bar where we sometimes congregated after work.

I learned that Grace was trying to calm a patient who was arguing with her boyfriend as she was wheeled into the preoperative area on a stretcher. The argument exploded, and the boyfriend pulled a knife, lunged, and missed his girlfriend, but struck Grace in her carotid artery. Having a colleague almost die from just coming to work and doing her job shook me to the core.

I was a novice nurse, still new to working at, according to the people who worked there, the “greatest hospital in the world”. It sat on the edge of a tough inner-city neighborhood.

Grace recovered and, eventually, so did I.

Later I spoke with a veteran nurse of the hospital and told her how much the event had disturbed me. Her response? “Bob, suck it up. It’s our job.” I believe she was angry at having been appointed as preceptor and was liberally dispensing the rough advice that had shaped and damaged her career. Her nursing specialty was bullying and belittling new grads. Luckily, I realized this and quickly moved out of her sphere of influence.

Nurses often at risk

As nurses, we work in one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation. Violence is just one of the hazards that pepper our work. We must also cope with the incredible physical demands of hard work as well as exhaustion from long hours, unscheduled overtime and changing shifts. In the course of the job, we face the constant risk of illness from exposure to infectious diseases and noxious agents; injury, especially musculoskeletal harm and needle sticks, as well as other accidents with sharps. Couple these threats with routine on-the-job ethical and moral issues that can lead to poor performance burnout, mistakes, illness, and more, and you have the perfect storm that can shipwreck the best career.

In the circle of caring that we create around our patients, we nurses sometimes take our safety for granted. But patients come to us with all manner of baggage, and that sometimes includes horrific violence. Even some of our colleagues surround us with their own issues, which include expertise in bullying and belittling. It’s not my everyday reality, but to some, it’s part of their workday routine. Given the enormity of these problems and their presence in current literature, we at decided it was time to address how to deal with violence and bullying on the job.

In the Workplace Violence in Nursing resource guide, we present an overview of the violence that stems from patients and families, the challenges to reducing such episodes, and what nurses and others are doing to protect healthcare staff. We also discuss what hospital units are most prone to these instances as well as similar problems with violence that arise in community and home health settings. In the guide, we also turn to the damage that arises from nurses when they bully each other. We define the problem and how to report and ultimately prevent it.

For patients and their families to turn on their caregivers is awful. But for caregivers to turn on each other is sickening. As a nursing profession, we need to widen our circle of caring beyond patients and their families to include colleagues. Turn to other nurses today, compliment their work and tell them how much you appreciate them.


Courses Related to ‘Workplace violence’

CE130-60: Preventing Violence in the Healthcare Setting (1 contact hr)
Violence in healthcare reflects the chaos of a broader work environment. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines workplace violence as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed toward persons at work or on duty.” Experts not only agree on the extent of violence in the healthcare setting, but they also concur on its best treatment — education and prevention. Nurses heighten their awareness and expertise in dealing with violence in their professional settings by learning to identify risk factors and warning signs and by applying interventions that could shield their patients and themselves from harm.

WEB296: Nurse Bullying: Stereotype or Reality? What Can We Do About It? (1 contact hr)
October is Bullying Prevention Month. Have you ever felt bullied in the workplace? How has the “nurses eat their young” idiom survived through nursing history? In the past few years, interesting research has emerged ranging from workplace aggression to incivility to nurse bullying. Knowledge is power. Become equipped to professionally challenge bullying in the workplace and empowered to demonstrate good examples of nursing leadership in our profession!


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Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN, is founder and CEO of the Forum for Shared Governance and a former editor for As a presenter at professional conferences, Hess often addresses participants on how to find the right job and steps for building a successful career.

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