Violence toward nurses, the work environment, and patient outcomes

Michael Roche, Donna Diers, Christine Duffield, Christine Catling-Paull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

294 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To relate nurses' self-rated perceptions of violence (emotional abuse, threat, or actual violence) on medical-surgical units to the nursing working environment and to patient outcomes.Design: Cross-sectional collection of data by surveys and primary data collection for 1-week periods on 94 nursing wards in 21 hospitals in two states of Australia.Methods: Nursing Work Index-Revised (NWI-R); Environmental Complexity Scale (ECS) PRN-80 (a measure of patient acuity); and a nursing survey with three questions on workplace violence; combined with primary data collection for staffing, skill mix, and patient outcomes (falls, medication errors).Findings: About one third of nurses participating (N=2,487, 80.3% response rate) perceived emotional abuse during the last five shifts worked. Reports of threats (14%) or actual violence (20%) were lower, but there was great variation among nursing units with some unit rates as high as 65%. Reported violence was associated with increased ward instability (lack of leadership; difficult MD and RN relationships). Violence was associated with unit operations: unanticipated changes in patient mix; proportion of patients awaiting placement; the discrepancy between nursing resources required from acuity measurement and those supplied; more tasks delayed; and increases in medication errors. Higher skill mix (percentage of registered nurses) and percentage of nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing degrees were associated with fewer reported perceptions of violence at the ward level. Intent to leave the present position was associated with perceptions of emotional violence but not with threat or actual assault.Conclusions: Violence is a fact of working life for nurses. Perceptions of violence were related to adverse patient outcomes through unstable or negative qualities of the working environment. Perceptions of violence affect job satisfaction.Clinical Relevance: In order to manage effectively the delivery of nursing care in hospitals, it is essential to understand the complexity of the nursing work environment, including the relationship of violence to patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-22
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nursing Scholarship
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


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