Coping with Verbal Abuse on the Job

It can come from patients, families, physicians, senior nurses, and close coworkers. Verbal abuse in healthcare settings is nothing new, and to some, it’s become a daily occurrence and just another “part of the job.” But it’s never okay for someone to lose control of their behavior and become verbally abusive, let alone escalate to physical aggression

Signs of Verbal Abuse

You experience verbal abuse when someone’s words cause distress, fear, or emotional pain. It can happen to you in so many ways, from:

  • screaming and shouting
  • threatening and intimidating 
  • insulting and name-calling
  • blaming and belittling
  • scolding and criticizing

Navigating verbal abuse from patients or their families can be difficult because of the nature of the job. There’s an ethical obligation to do no harm and show compassion to those that are suffering, and the abuser may be battling frustration and impatience, stress and fear, grief or anger, and other heightened emotions. But receiving excessive verbal abuse from others can cause long-lasting emotional and psychological impacts, pre- or post-shift anxiety, depression, or burnout. Receiving verbal abuse can make you feel: 

  • decreased self-esteem
  • agitation or changes in behavior
  • insomnia or trouble falling asleep
  • fear or nervousness
  • withdrawal and depression

How to Manage Verbal Abuse

Receiving verbal abuse is an unnecessary emotional burden for you to carry, let alone while you’re trying to provide care! It can feel frustrating or embarrassing to care for someone that belittles you, and it’s hard to ensure a proper assessment, treatment, and med administration while people raise their voices. If you find yourself in a troubling situation, there are some positive action steps you can take to address and respond to the abuse professionally.

  1. Do what you can to help de-escalate the situation. If you know what you’re walking into ahead of time, check out these ten helpful de-escalation tips and create a game plan to help quickly diffuse any situation that pops up on your shift. If the situation intensifies to severe verbal or physical aggression, resist the urge to engage back verbally, leave the room if needed, and get any supervisor involved. 
  2. Cover all your bases. While it’s important to show patience and grace to your patients, thoroughly document the abuse within 24 hours if you feel it is warranted. This is a chance to file a report of your side of the incident while the facts are still fresh. Describe the situation, type of abuse, observers and people involved, where and when it occurred, any important preceding factors, and any injuries.
  3. Talk it out with someone you trust. As a traveler, talking with others spreads awareness of the issue, offers emotional support, and may help you solve problems through shared experiences. Turn to a charge nurse, coworker or mentor, or therapist you feel safe with to discuss and process your emotions.

According to the American Nurses Association, one out of every four nurses is assaulted. While nurses and other healthcare professionals often need thick skin to get through a tough day, excessive verbal abuse is still a form of violence and can seriously impact mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. 

If you’re experiencing verbal abuse, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your recruiter about the free EAP services and other health and safety resources you can access as a traveler with Aureus Medical Group. 

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