Many nurses physically and emotionally abused
The Canadian Press
EDMONTON -- Nurses face high rates of emotional and physical abuse on the job, but most don't tell anyone about it, a new study indicates.
The amount of abuse nurses suffer is "surprisingly high and we're very disturbed about the under-reporting," said nursing professor Carole Estabrooks at the University of Alberta.
The abuse could affect the quality of care patients receive and make it difficult for hospitals to recruit and keep nurses, she added.
Patients were the most common source of abuse, but relatives, doctors and other nurses were also culprits.
The study of 6,500 hospital-based registered nurses in 1998 found:
- 38 per cent said they had been emotionally abused within their last five shifts.
- About 18 per cent said they had been threatened with assault.
- 17 per cent said they had been physically assaulted.
- Almost eight per cent said they suffered verbal sexual abuse.
- Half of one per cent said they had been sexually assaulted.
Fewer than half of those who said they had been abused reported it to anyone.
Estabrooks, the study's co-investigator, said the reasons for that are complicated, but probably have something to do with whether a nurse feels that taking abuse is part of the job.
Bev Dick, vice-president of the United Nurses of Alberta, said she sees a parallel with domestic abuse.
"We're dealing with something that goes back hundreds of years," she said. "Women have been socialized not to complain about these things. Nurses have been socialized even further."
Cuts in the 1990s made nurses more vulnerable to abuse because waiting times were longer in emergency rooms and nurses had less time to look after patients' needs, she said.
Estabrooks said she couldn't draw those conclusions based on the study.
Dick, a nurse for 27 years, said people do things to nurses they would never do to strangers.
"I've been punched and kicked and bitten and sworn at."
The study is part of a larger, international research project aimed at determining how the organization of nursing care affects patients. It is to be completed in August 2001.