Contributor: Serena Tobar MSN, RN-BC, CVRN, BC
My heart has been heavy the last few days. Every time I open my social media pages, I am reminded of the tragedy that occurred in Dallas on October 22, 2022. Two healthcare workers, a nurse and a social worker, were senselessly killed while only trying to provide care. A few days before this incident, a psychiatric nurse practitioner was stabbed to death by her patient. These incidents are mere drops in the bucket when it comes to violence against nurses.
In 2019, the American Journal for Managed Care published an article titled “Violence Against Healthcare Workers: A Rising Epidemic” by Wallace Stephens. The article discusses how workplace violence against healthcare workers has risen as reported by emergency department physicians. The article further points out that while 70% of staff reported acts of violence, only 3% pressed charges. Furthermore, the article points out that healthcare has become like factory work. Staffing challenges, sicker patients, and less resources have stretched healthcare’s limits. Expectations of family and patients are high, leaving healthcare workers unable to meet their demands. Being able to “manage” the workload simply isn’t enough.
A Press Ganey analysis showed that, on average, 2 nurses are attacked every hour in the United States. Attackers included patients, family member, coworkers, visitors and intruders (Putka, 2022). It is important to note, that not all workplace violence is physical. Verbal assaults occur more frequently than physical assaults and come most often from patients, followed by their family members and/or visitors (Kim et al., 2021).
I have been a nurse for over 20 years. In those years, I cannot recall a single year that went by without some form of assault. While mostly verbal, I have also experienced physical assault. In the course of providing care, I have been cursed at more times that I can even think. I have been told I am stupid. I have been slapped, kicked, pinched. I have been grabbed to the point of having bruises on my arms. All for the sake of patient care. While my positive nursing experiences far outweigh these negative ones, I found myself questioning if those were the reasons I left bedside nursing. Had it become too much for me?
I see the posts on social media. The RN badge with the black line through it. The show of support, solidarity. But I also know that this is temporary. We will forget. We will move on to the next thing. In honesty, what have we accomplished? Our profile showed how much we “cared”, for a day, maybe a week. What have we accomplished?
Nurses are one of the largest professions in the United States. There is the old saying “power in numbers”. We have the numbers. Why do we not have the power?
After the shooting that killed 2 healthcare workers in Dallas, American Nurses Association president Ernest Gant released this statement:
“We mourn for the individuals who horrifically lost their lives, and we extend heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims. Time is up. Violence against nurses is unacceptable. This must end now.”
Violence against healthcare workers must end. It is dangerous not only to those providing care, patients are suffering. We are suffering. We have the numbers. Now is the time to use those numbers. To gather and speak up against these violent acts. It is time to do more than change our social media profile picture for a day or two.
How can you make a difference? Talk to your legislators. Go to their offices. Write them letters. VOTE!. Time is up. It is now time to take action and become involved. It is time to use our power of numbers to make a difference for ourselves and future nurses.
Kim, S., Mayer, C., & Jones, C. B. (2021). Relationships between nurses’ experiences of workplace violence, emotional exhaustion and patient safety. Journal of Research in Nursing, 26(1-2), 35–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/1744987120960200
Stephens, W. (2019). Violence against healthcare workers: A rising epidemic. American Journal for Managed Care. https://www.ajmc.com/view/violence-against-healthcare-workers-a-rising-epidemic
Putka, S. (2022). Violence against nurses worse than ever, analysis finds. MedPage Today. https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/features/100679
About Serena Tobar MSN, RN-BC, CVRN, BC
Serena is a nurse education specialist with a passion for nurse advocacy. Serena is currently pursuing a PhD in Nursing Science at Texas Woman’s University. She earned her MSN-Nursing Education from the University of Houston in 2019. Serena is actively involved with Texas Nurses Association, including Nurse Day at The Capitol. We have the power, we just need to use it.