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J Emerg Nurs. 2000 Jun;26(3):210-5.

Attitudes of emergency nurses regarding patient assaults.

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The purpose of this study was to investigate the frequency of patient assaults on emergency nurses and to explore nurses' attitudes about patient assaults.


A convenience sample of ED nurses (N = 55) from 2 hospitals in the mid-south region of the United States was used. All subjects completed a 31-item questionnaire that assessed frequency of assaults and attitudes about patient assaults.


Eighty-two percent of nurses surveyed had been assaulted during their careers. In the preceding year, 56% of nurses had been assaulted; 29% of these assaults were unreported. The majority of nurses (73%) believed that being assaulted "goes with the job." Only 2 nurses (3.6%) felt safe from the possibility of patient assault at work "all of the time."


The high rate of patient assault and the subsequent underreporting of patient assault identified in our study are consistent with rates reported by other researchers. It is alarming that, although many of these other studies were conducted 10 or more years ago, the assault rates are nearly the same. Of the 45 nurses in this study who had been the victim of patient assaults, only 9 believed that reporting their assaults had been beneficial. Lack of support for nursing, whether it be from other nurses, management, the institution, or society, appears to be responsible for the vast underreporting of patient assaults. Nurses themselves are also unsure of how to proceed. Whereas 91% of the surveyed nurses stated that they believed they had a right to take legal action against an assaultive patient, only 65% stated that it was ethically appropriate and even less (33%) stated that they would actually press charges against an assaultive patient.

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