Assaults on nurses in the emergency department have long been viewed as part of the job. But this "culture of acceptance" comes with a high price tag, not least of which is the cost to replace nurses when they quit.
More than half of ED nurses have been hit, kicked, spit on, or scratched at work, and more than 70% have been yelled at, cursed at, intimidated, or threatened with sexual violence. Many don't feel safe at work, and one-third have considered leaving their jobs or emergency nursing altogether, according to a 2009 study.
Some people argue that violence in the ED is just part of the job for nurses. Maybe it is. It's certainly part of the job for other professionals, such as police officers, who often deal with unpredictable people in tense situations. In the ED, people are hurt, sick, scared, and sometimes intoxicated, making it a powder keg of potential violence.
But just because violence can sometimes be expected doesn't mean it should be tolerated, says Deena Brecher, MSN, RN, APN, ACNS-BC, CEN, CPEN, president of the Emergency Nurses Association. She points out that when a police officer is attacked in the line of duty, you better believe that the assailant is prosecuted and punished.
No one ever expects a cop not to press charges because violence "is just part of the job." Brecher adds that, "In some cases it's a felony to hit a stripper, but not a nurse."
Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.