Caring for the Violent Patient: An Ethical Dilemma

The DNP Essential, Scientific Underpinnings for practice, should include review and discussion on the philosophy of ethics and how it applies to nursing practice.

Workplace violence is a serious problem in current nursing practice which we are acutely made aware of almost daily on the news.   From 2002 to 2013, incidents of serious workplace violence (those requiring days off for the injured worker to recuperate) were four times more common in healthcare than in private industry on average (OSHA, 2015).

The American Nurses Association (ANA) believes that nurses are obligated to care for patients in a nondiscriminatory manner, with respect for all individuals (ANA, 2015).  However, the ANA also recognizes that there may be limits to the personal risk of harm nurses can be expected to accept as an ethical duty.   Different organizations have defined workplace violence in various ways.  The ANA defines harm as emotional, psychological, physical or spiritual harm.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines workplace violence as “violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty” (OSHA, 2015).

As incidents become more and more prevalent, it creates an ethical dilemma for healthcare workers that are charged with providing medical care, in a nondiscriminatory manner, to individuals that demonstrate or have a history of violence while maintaining a sense of security and safety in their role.  As DNP prepared nursing leaders, we are challenged to apply our knowledge of ethics, determine the appropriate ethical lens from which to view a situation, and offer expert guidance in the creation of policies at the organizational, state and national level that address this issue and protect healthcare workers of all disciplines.


American Nurses Association. (2015). Risk and responsibility for providing nursing care. Retrieved June 10, 2019, from

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2015). Guidelines for preventing workplace violence for health care and social service workers. Retrieved June 10, 2019, from


One thought on “Caring for the Violent Patient: An Ethical Dilemma

  1. Quite compelling statistics regarding the increasing number of health care workplace violence altercations! As you state, it is truly an ethical dilemma and the DNP practitioner can examine the issue from multiple ethical lenses but also offer guidance on an individual practitioner level or systems level.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.