Michele du Plessis
Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers have all experienced abuse by patients, their families and friends. It is common to hear the sad stories of patients being rude or aggressive towards the doctor or nurses, especially in the state-owned hospitals or clinics.
A recent study to gain a deeper understanding of how healthcare workers experience and understand workplace violence perpetrated by patients, aimed to make recommendations to reduce this kind of behaviour.
The WHO, as quoted by O’Brien et al. (2008:31), defines workplace violence as: ‘Incidents where staff are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to their work … involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being or health’. Nurses and doctors are experiencing physical threats, verbal abuse and psychological and imminent violence regularly.
Verbal abuse, which refers to the intentional use of language that humiliates, degrades or indicates a lack of respect for the dignity and worth of an individual that creates fear, intimidation and anger in the nurse. Physical violence, which refers to beating, kicking, slapping, stabbing, shooting, pushing, pinching, scratching and biting that cause physical, sexual or psychological harm to the worker. Psychological violence or emotional abuse, which refers to behaviour that humiliates, degrades or indicates a lack of respect for the dignity and worth of an individual.
How do they cope? They tend to ‘normalise’ abusive patient behaviour because of the perception that workplace abuse ‘comes with the territory’, which resulted in under-reporting. However, perpetrators received compromised care by being avoided, ignored or given only minimal nursing care. Coping mechanisms ranged from using colleagues as sounding boards, helping out with duties, taking a smoke break and using friends and family to get it ‘off their chest’. The tolerance of non-physical violence and the absence of policies to deal with the violence, contribute to under-reporting.
Recommendation from the report includes Regular support in the form of education and training in the management of workplace violence; individual and group counselling services to reduce the negative consequences of workplace violence and clear policy guidelines that specify reporting and monitoring procedures.”*
What can we do when we need to visit the doctor or the hospital? Be kind and respectful to your doctor or nurse and treat them like you would want to be treated. After all, you visit them for help and treatment.
*Information from the study done by Maureen Kelly (University of Stellenbosch), who conducted the research. Hester Julie (University of the Western Cape) was the research supervisor and corrected and refined the manuscript.