Nursing is One of America’s Most Dangerous Jobs

By Jennifer Landis | Published 2/25/2017 15

Nurses pulling heavy gurney 1200 x 800

No matter why you are there, to have a baby or recover from a heart attack, nobody really likes being in the hospital. Unfortunately, patients sometimes take out their frustrations about a hospital stay on the nursing staff. 

Sometimes, no matter how hard they work to provide good care, nurses are treated with indifference or even disdain by their patients. The truth is, though, people in hospitals don’t always understand the work and sacrifice of nurses nor do they understand how dangerous a job it can be.

The dangers of nursing

It’s not the first profession that comes to mind when people think of dangerous jobs, but it is inherently risky—and not just from frustrated patients. In fact, an NPR report called nursing one of the most dangerous jobs in America.

Forbes listed nursing assistants as the third-most dangerous field. Like other jobs that may seem more obviously dangerous, nurses must deal with the unexpected.

Whether working as an E.D. nurse or a nurse at an OBGYN practice, the work is hard on the body and mind. Mistakes mean endangering someone’s life. So, the mental pressure is a huge weight. Here are a few of the elements that make nursing so dangerous.

1. It’s physically demanding

Nurses are on their feet all day and that is tough. But it is only the beginning of the strain they put on their bodies.

They transport patients, sometimes having to physically move them from bed to bed. Even when using proper lifting techniques, the weight and occurrence of lifting put nurses at serious risk for back strain. And back pain is certainly painful enough to miss work when shifts are demanding.

2. Understaffing creates workplace issues

When there aren’t enough people to help run the ship, patients suffer. Nurses, often dealing with less help than they need, are forced to do more of the work.

Though most states regulate just how long a nursing shift can last when there’s more work than people, those who are working often have a day that’s too full.

Nurses are natural caregivers, and most will sacrifice their own well-being to care for their patients. When that happens, they become overworked and overtired. Yyet they are still trying to help cover missing shifts. One nurse’s mistake after such a day can lead to hazards for others.

3. Too much overtime

A chronic shortage of nurses means chronic overtime. Nurses who are already overworked due to staff shortages are often asked to work overtime. In some places, overtime is mandatory. Working too much for too long during a day can have dire consequences on someone’s health.

4. Workplace hazards

Hospitals are filled with workplace hazards. From exposure to highly contagious illnesses to their work with dangerous medical devices and the little-known hazard of surgical smoke, nurses are constantly in close proximity to danger.

Radiation, surgical smoke, and flawed equipment are just a few of the hazards nurses face in their daily jobs.

5. Hostile and combative patients

There are myriad reasons why patients act in a hostile manner toward nurses and hospital staff. Some are mentally unstable, some may be having reactions to medications, and some are simply confused.

Whatever causes a patient to become violent or abusive, it’s most often his or her nurse at the receiving end of it. Unfortunately, the rate at which nurses are being injured by patients is on the rise, according to U.S. News and World Report.

How to be a better patient

With all the issues nurses must contend with, patients, despite their own discomfort and suffering, must see nurses as people and treat them respectfully. A few things to keep in mind about nurses when you or a loved one is in for a hospital stay are:

1. Trust their judgment

They have your best interests at heart. When nurses refuse a patient another coffee or insist on prescribed medications, it’s because they’re invested in their patients’ recovery.

They want to see people in their charge recover and get home as soon as they can.

2. Don’t take it personally

A nurse likely has responsibility for anywhere from 2 to 8 patients at a time. If they seem brisk, it’s because they are taking care of a lot of people.

Don’t blame them for not spending more time with you. Another nurse or staff member is always a button-press away if you need it.

3. Recognize what’s in their control and what is not

You may need extra pain meds, but getting them to you may not be within the power of your nurse. Similarly, you may be constantly cold or too hot. They can bring you blankets and cups of ice, but they can’t make the hospital’s temperature change.

Nurses can take care of many things for their patients, but there are limits to their powers. Be considerate by understanding those limits.

4. Don’t scapegoat them

Patients are in the hospital because they’re suffering. That suffering can make people anxious and sometimes even mean.

It’s easy to blame the nearest person in the room for that pain, even if you don’t do it on purpose. It may take some effort but think of nurses as your friend and advocate, not your adversary.

It makes it much more difficult to blame someone when you see them trying to help you.

Empathy means a lot

After an experience in the hospital, many people say that, without the nurses, they don’t know how they would have made it.

Such sentiments often are realized in the comfort of home, when patients are feeling back in control of their lives. It may help to consider the work of the nurse before leaving the hospital, and take a minute to appreciate what nurses do to serve others.

The bottom line

Nurses are bound to treat their patients with dignity and respect, even when those sentiments are not reciprocated. Treating them with similar kindness should be a priority for all patients and the loved ones who visit them. After all, our lives depend on them.

Jennifer Landis


Jennifer Landis, writer and founder of Mindfulness Mama, has been writing for the last decade and holds a BA in journalism. She is an avid goal setter and achiever.

Jennifer’s proudest accomplishments include two all-natural births, running a marathon, successfully making a croquembouche, and running two half marathons.

In addition to The Doctor Weighs In, her writing has appeared in VeryWell Family, Fortune, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and Women’s Running. Tweet her your favorite health tips @JenniferELandis.


    Everything have beed said about the nursing profession and i thank God that I am a nurse.
    Indeed to be a nurse requires so much endless patience and unconditional love for ur patients.
    I am proud to say that Nursing is a very NOBLE PROFESSION.
    I am now retired and everytime i look back and remember what i have done makes me smile and say “I’ve done my part”

  • Yes, I am a nurse, and yes, I love taking care of people and helping make a difference in their recovery. I do not discriminate in regards to race, gender, age. I do treat my patients with kindness and respect. In return, my patients do not necessarily treat me with kindness and respect. I am a patient advocate with the absolute wellness of the patient in mind. I have stood up against doctors, and even disgruntled family members for the well-being of my patient. Some nights I go home with a smile on my face, and other nights I go home with a sore back, sore feet, frazzled hair, and a broken heart for what I have seen through my 12 hour shift. My lunches are almost always interrupted, and 15 minute breaks are just a dream. Still, I LOVE MY JOB, and I LOVE MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIFE OF MY PATIENTS. As far as the pay, I work my you-know-what off, I make a difference in people’s lives daily, I monitor lab results, some of which are life threatening. I monitor your heart activity, some of which is life threatening. I monitor your lung function, kidney function, neurological function, some of which is life threatening! I don’t complain of my pay, because this is a career I have chosen. I will admit, maybe next time I’ll be involved in a professional sport……then maybe I would be paid appropriately for what I do!!!!!

  • I have always had said this about all Nurses and their CNAs: They are the unsung heroes of a hospital. You can’t run efficiently a hospital without the Nurses and CNAs. I have a lot of trust in my Physician, but when it is all said and done it’s the Nursing Staff that I’m truly grateful. They put up with a lot of patients that are mean spirited, it’s a constant juggling act for them. I hope to be one of those patients that really appreciate all the hard work they do caring for all the patients.. The doctors would be in a world of hurt if there were no nursing staff to carry out their instructions for the patients care. Also I’m amazed on how a nurse will think out of the box without compromising regulations to access a situation and accommodate a patient’s need. A good nursing staff is priceless.

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