Date Published: 1 May 2007

Death threats, bullying and verbal abuse: the lot of a student nurse

Nearly half of student nurses surveyed by a London University have been verbally abused while on their work experience placements, according to new research being presented at the Royal College of Nursing's 2007 International Research Conference today.

Terry Ferns, a senior lecturer, and Professor Liz Meerabeau at the University of Greenwich in London surveyed 114 third year student nurses in the south east of England. They found 46% had reported they had been verbally abused by patients, relatives or staff. More than a third (39%) had seen other students being verbally abused and 61% said they were aware of other students experiencing verbal abuse. Some students even said they had received death threats.

Mr Ferns, who has worked as a nurse in the acute sector, said:

Having worked in the NHS myself I was not all that surprised by what I found but what did surprise me is the extremely obscene nature and seriousness of the abuse that many student nurses are experiencing, including racial abuse and death threats.

_ Traditionally mental health and learning disability settings are seen as high risk areas for the abuse of healthcare workers but what this research shows is that student nurses are just as likely to receive abuse from patients and relatives in general medical and surgical wards. Abuse should not be seen as part and parcel of the job and it is vital that trusts ensure they make clear to the public what constitutes reasonable behaviour.

In his research paper “The exposure to verbal abuse of student nurses gaining placement experience” Mr Ferns cites examples of the sorts of abuse students were subjected to, including racist taunts, sexually orientated swearing and threats of physical and sexual violence.

Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said:

Student nurses should not have to endure any kind of abuse when they are supposed to be learning in a safe and supportive environment. At this crucial and formative time in their careers we need to make sure student nurses get the training and support they need from trusts and their mentors to be able to diffuse tense situations so they do not escalate. If not, we run the risk of losing their skills and talent for good. At a time when we are trying to attract new recruits to the profession, it is vital trusts ensure verbal abuse and violence in the workplace are not tolerated.


Source: Royal College of Nursing (RCN), UK.

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