How Do Nurses Go From Healing to Hurting?

Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

Alumna Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

Cases of abuse in nursing are few and far between, but sadly they do exist. How can a person who swore at graduation to uphold the Florence Nightingale Pledge then go on to harm a patient?

To many it is almost inconceivable that any nursing professional could intently inflict pain on a patient entrusted in their care. Often patients are too sick, weak or incoherent to defend themselves. Occasionally the media will publicize an abuse incident, as was the case in a Dallas nursing home not too long ago. But such things could happen in any nursing home in any city.

Physical harm may leave signs of abuse, while neglect can take an emotional toll on patients and families. Both offenses are punishable by law and equally disturbing, which raises the question: How does a nurse reach this point of not only no longer caring, but overtly inflicting harm?

Some will argue that the profession’s long, odd hours; a nursing shortage; and incompetence all play a role. This post is not written to explore the reasons why abuse exists, but merely to awaken our realization that abuse should not be tolerated.

It is the responsibility of all nurses to care for themselves first and foremost. Nurses should avoid working long hours, alternating between nights and days too frequently, and taking on more patients than they feel comfortable caring for during a shift.

If you are a nurse manager, you can help reduce the stress of staff nurses by evenly distributing the acuity of patients, having an open door policy for nurses to vent their frustrations, applauding teamwork and encouraging nurses to report suspected cases of neglect or abuse.

As nurses, we work hard to support one another, and it is difficult to recognize and even harder to report a fellow nurse. However, the patients should always be our first priority lest we forget the following oath we made.

“I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly: To pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”

—Shannan Needleman, BSN 1994

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