How Violence in the Community Affects Nurses
Nurses spend their lives caring for others. They care for patients at work, take care of their families, and even look after their friends. It’s ingrained in their DNA. However, nurses also view their community as their “family” and take to heart any issues that arise.
There are different types of violence in the community that nurses encounter. Violence can involve child abuse, adult/dependent abuse, intimate partner violence, and violent crime. Nurses encounter violence throughout the continuum depending on where they work, from the emergency department to inpatient to primary care. Nurses themselves can also be victims of violence, either in their personal lives or at work.
Community violence is a public health issue that affects everyone, including nurses. It places a significant burden on healthcare not only because the victims of violence need treatment, but because education and prevention are also required. In an article published by the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN), 1.75 million people were treated in emergency departments in the United States as a result of assault in 2011. This number is astounding.
Emergency room nurses (as well as nurses in all care settings) are highly impacted on the job as they are on the front lines of healthcare. They intake and treat victims of assault, rape, abuse, and domestic violence. While nurses have a job to do to treat victims of violence, it also takes a mental toll on them. Nurses can feel depressed or hopeless when exposed to cases of violence. Additionally, they can become fearful and anxious after witnessing sometimes horrific circumstances. It’s essential that they have a healthy outlet for “caregiver stress” so it doesn't affect their home or personal lives.
Caring for victims of violence is one thing, but being a victim of violence is another. According to the same article published in the OJIN, in a survey conducted by the Emergency Nurse Association, 1 in 4 respondents report frequent physical violence on the job. It is so common that violence against nurses is considered an epidemic. Nurses living in particularly more turbulent communities are more at risk for workplace violence.
Being a victim of assault or abuse at work can affect nurses profoundly. They may question their role in healthcare, doubt their abilities as a nurse, become fearful or anxious about going to work, or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sadly, there is a school of thought that "it's just part of the job" and when it happens, nurses are expected to move on and continue to work. This is unhealthy for the nurse and can lead to low productivity and poor judgment, leading to medical errors.
In some cases, being the victim of, or being close to someone who is a victim of violence can actually affect nurses in a positive way. They may become advocates for victims' rights, lobby for policies that prevent violence, raise awareness, and push for reform in their community or work setting. Nurses are unique in that they are resilient and advocate for themselves as well as their patients and the communities they serve.