Staff gender and risk of assault on doctors and nurses.

R. L. Binder and D. E. McNiel,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law 22(4): 545-50, 1994.
Clinical staff on acute psychiatric inpatient units often are asked to provide care for potentially violent patients. Documentation of which staff are at greatest risk of being assaulted is a necessary step in developing interventions to reduce that risk. The present study evaluated the relationship between staff gender and the risk of becoming a victim of assault while taking into account the professional discipline of the staff victims. The sample included all medical staff (n = 120) and nursing staff (n = 83) who worked on a short-term psychiatric unit between August 1988 and May 1991. Seventy-two percent of the medical and nursing staff were female and 28 percent were male. Five hundred ten assaults were directed toward medical and nursing staff during the study period. Staff gender was not significantly associated with the risk of being a victim of violence for the staff as a whole, the doctors, or the nurses. Staff discipline, however, was strongly associated with risk of assault. Nurses as a group were significantly more likely to be assaulted than were doctors. The findings suggest that violent behavior is a significant occupational hazard on acute inpatient units, and that the role relationship with the patient is more important than the gender of the clinician as a predictor of who is most likely to be assaulted. The authors discuss the implications of the findings for administrative decisions regarding staffing.