6 things to do if a patient assaults you

Susanna Kahr

Working in healthcare is stressful enough, without having to fear being attacked in your place of work. But, sadly, violence against hospital employees is on the rise throughout the nation, with more and more nurses, doctors and healthcare workers being attacked by either patients or their families. Here we talk about the ‘epidemic of violence against healthcare employees’ and suggest 6 ways to help yourself if you are assaulted by a patient. 

Violence against healthcare workers has been going on for decades but it has generally been accepted as a workplace hazard and something you just have to live with. In fact, the American Journal of Managed Care found that only 30% of nurses and 26% of emergency department physicians have reported incidents of violence. But, healthcare employees no longer have to suffer in silence. 

In recent years, the violence against healthcare workers has increased so much in recent years, that high-level doctors are now calling it an epidemic of violence. The numbers speak for themselves. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently found that incidents of serious workplace violence are four times more common in health care than in private industry! 

In fact, according to the American Journal of Managed Care, 75% of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults occur annually in healthcare settings. And, a poll undertaken by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that nearly half of the emergency physicians who responded said that they had been physically assaulted, with more than 60 percent of them saying that the assault occurred within the previous year.  It’s gotten so bad that 32 states now categorize physical assaults against nurses as a felony, which can actually land the offender in jail for more than a year. This is good news for everyone working in healthcare because it raises awareness and helps healthcare workers to speak up and be taken seriously.

If you are assaulted, for any reason, by a patient or their family members, then there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself, here are 6. 

Remain calm

The moment in which the assault happens will be a big shock, you might feel angry, devastated, afraid or even guilty, but the most important thing for you to do is to breathe and stay as calm as possible. It may not be the first time a patient has assaulted you either verbally or physically, which might make you feel defeated or aggressive, but keeping calm will help you to tackle the other tasks you need to do and recall the incident when needed. 

“The patients were great kids, some verbal, some not, but each one made you feel wonderful by their abilities to learn.” – anonymous employer review at Learning Arts

Report the incident to your supervisors

Report the incident to your supervisors at the earliest opportunity. You’ll need to tell them what happened and why and you’ll probably have to fill out some paperwork. This first case of reporting the incident is a good opportunity for you to recall what happened, however painful, and help you to understand the series of events so you can repeat this to others. 

Talk about the incident

Whatever you do, don’t bottle it up. Keeping an assault to yourself, even if you’ve accepted it as part of your job doesn’t help anyone. The more open you are about it, the more you force your employers to make changes to help you and your colleagues. Talking about the incident will also help you to come to terms with it and deal with feelings of anxiety, anger or stress. 

“When I was going through an issue, co-workers all reached out to see how I was doing.” – anonymous employer review at Northwell Health

File a worker’s compensation claim.

You’re entitled to worker’s compensation if you’re injured at work by an external cause, so you should absolutely ensure that you get it. Filing for this will mean that you can have your medical expenses paid and cover any psychological or psychiatric treatment if needed. You’re also entitled to claim any missed wages if you have to take some time off, and compensation should you be left permanently scarred or disfigured. If you need help filling out the paperwork, make sure to ask your supervisors to assist you. 

Evaluate the incident

Take some time to really dissect the incident to work out what happened and why. Think about things like whether the patient had shown signs of escalating aggression before, whether a supervisor being there could have stopped the assault from happening and whether there were factors in the environment that meant you couldn’t escape. If you feel able to, communicate your feedback with your team and try to work on proactive solutions that could help you all in the future. You should also consider whether your workplace or colleagues are particularly hostile, if you’re repeatedly finding yourself in violent situations then it might be time to find a new job. 

“Other hospitals have contracts that include time off with pay (does not come out of employees sick time), after being assaulted by a patient. We have had some significant assaults this year, and find this would be truly beneficial.” – anonymous employer review at Cape Cod Healthcare

Pursue criminal charges

If you feel like you need to press charges against your attacker, then you need to go to the local police and file a report. The police will then decide how to investigate the incident and decide whether or not to arrest your attacker. Just make sure that you get a copy of any police or investigation reports and that all reports are forwarded to your HR department. 


If you’re feeling stressed out then you need to ensure that you get the support that you need. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you to alleviate the stress you feel. 



What’s the situation like for you at work? Is your employer doing enough to try to stop violence against you and your team? Let us know in a review on kununu