Workplace Violence in Healthcare Settings: Tips for Locum Tenens


A patient is upset because you won’t refill his or her pain pill prescription. Now the patient is yelling at you in the office. Suddenly they take it a step further and try to intimidate you into giving them more medicine. Perhaps they even start showing up day after day, even though they don’t have an appointment. Has something like this happened to you before? If so, you’re not alone. Each part of this scenario is a form of abuse. Workplace violence in healthcare settings is more common than you think. A recent study revealed how often clinicians are subjected to verbal and physical abuse at work. Here are some interesting facts about violence against healthcare workers. and tips for locum tenens doctors on how to overcome it.

Workplace Violence in Healthcare Settings: More Common Than You Think

workplace violence in healthcare settings

A Medscape Medical News poll, conducted in July, found that healthcare providers see and experience a variety of different forms of violence. The violence ranges from verbal abuse to physical altercations. Here are some statistics on workplace violence in healthcare settings that Medscape found through its poll:

  • 88 percent were verbally abused
  • 76 percent were intimidated
  • About 2/5 of the healthcare workers were victims of physical assault
  • 30 percent were sexually harassed
  • 92 percent witnessed verbal abuse
  • 81 percent witnessed intimidation
  • 55 percent witnessed a physical assault

These incidents were mostly a result of mentally ill patients, or patients suffering from substance abuse disorder. Medscape also discovered that the occurrences were the result of overcrowding (long wait times) or disgruntled employees. The fact that certain situations put you at higher risk for workplace violence in healthcare settings is no secret. Previous studies have also found that there are patient-related risk factors, such as if the patient has a history of substance abuse. There are also setting-related risk factors, such as if you’re working in a high-crime rate area or in a poorly lit room. So, as a locum tenens physician going into many different scenarios, what can you do to protect yourself?

Workplace Violence in Healthcare Settings: How to Prevent It

There are ways to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings. A federal organization, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, offers a comprehensive package of information. Here are three safety tips for locum tenens:

  1. If you’re working with a patient who is mentally ill or who you know is suffering from substance abuse, it’s important to familiarize yourself with crisis intervention skills. This includes knowing how to talk to someone who is anxious or on edge, like using calming language and perhaps making sure you are not alone in the room with the patient.
  2. You may not know ahead of time that the patient you’re seeing is going to lash out. This is why you should always pay attention to people and your surroundings. Is your new travel assignment in a high-crime area of the city? Is the hospital where you’re filling in understaffed and overcrowded? All of these situations put you at risk for a potentially frustrated or violent patient.
  3. The third tip for preventing workplace violence in healthcare settings is to stand your ground. If a patient becomes confrontational, even just verbally, don’t allow it. Make sure they know that you will not be bullied. But don’t play into their aggressive behavior. Try to keep the situation from escalating, and call security right away.

Have you experienced violence at work? As a locum tenens doctor, what are some strategies you use to make sure you’re safe in different healthcare settings?

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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