The emergency room can be a dangerous place, if you’re a nurse


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News stories, official reports and patient anecdotes frequently highlight the perils and problems encountered by emergency room patients. Considerably fewer stories focus on the perils and problems posed to the people working there. A new study does that.

It found that more than half of emergency nurses say they’ve been physically assaulted on the job. One in four say it’s happened more than 20 times in the last three years. Some have been hit. Others have been pushed or scratched or kicked or spit upon. And verbal abuse? Far, far more common.


Much of the violence was attributed to patients or visitors who were addled by drugs or alcohol, and to psychiatric patients. Contributing factors included crowding, lengthy wait times and a shortage of nurses.

The study’s abstract says: ‘Approximately 25% of respondents reported experiencing physical violence more than 20 times in the past 3 years, and almost 20% reported experiencing verbal abuse more than 200 times during the same period. Respondents who experienced frequent physical violence and/or frequent verbal abuse indicated fear of retaliation and lack of support from hospital administration and ED management as barriers to reporting workplace violence.’

Conducted by the Emergency Nurses Assn., the survey was published in the July/August issue of the Journal of Nursing Administration.

Here’s the association’s release. And a fact sheet on the findings:

Plus a blog from someone who’s been there: ‘madness: tales of an emergency room nurse -- the adventures of a veteran nurse in an inner city ER’

A recent post: ‘Woman arrives for minor problem. Significant other of woman arrives during visit and drops off 5 children under 6 years old. He disappears. She tells nurse that he abuses her and that they had been living with his mother and she doesn’t want them there anymore. In other words, her and five kids have no place to go. It is evening. We can’t very well throw woman and five kids under six out on the street with nothing but the clothes on their backs. She has no relatives or friends to go to. Her family lives ‘up north’ about 3-4 hours away.’

The study and the first-hand experience reiterate, should it be necessary, that problems in our emergency rooms are not simple or easily fixed.

-- Tami Dennis