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.


  • As a midwife in Africa the article reflect much the life of Nurses in most of health facilities……we do much with all of our heart but we end up earn little plus abusive language from our client…

    Revolution is needed every where to ensure that these people are treated well in every aspect

  • As a student nurse in Africa, I have learnt skills of managing stress caused by all the highlighted drawbacks in the article. Nonetheless, the idea that nursing is caring clings in mu mind and hence i have learnt to help even if I dont benefit

  • Nurses make pretty good money, but not enough for what they deal with on a daily basis. Its the cnas who make deplorable wages for the work they do. Someone needs to step up and make sure these wages are increased. Its terrible. Some very qualified, caring, compassionate cnas make as little as 10$ an hour. Some care for up to 14 -20 patients a shift. More and more nursing homes are dealing with a very high number of severely demented Alzheimer’s patients because loved ones can no longer take care of them at home. Aides do most of the care on these patients and have the closest contact with them. Why are they not compensated better? Its terrible. And they wonder why there are extreme shortages that will only get worse.

    • As an RN I agree with you that nursing assistants should receive higher pay than they are getting for the work they do and I have advocated for that. We are often short of nursing assistants on the floor and end up doing their work along with our own. We need them and the patients need them but we are either short staffed for whole shifts or for part of the shift. They understandably will take their dinner break, but we usually cannot. We can (and do) do their work along with ours, but they cannot do ours.

  • “For the money”, right. That alone shows how little you have understood of what has been said. If you want sympathy get a dog. If you want to get well get a nurse.

  • The only nurse that I have ever had problems with are white nurses. They are so hateful and they lack sympathy. I find that white nurses seem to feel like their entitled and it’s obvious that they’re just in the profession for the money.

    • Sounds like your a little prejudice!!! Come do my job for one day then let’s see how you feel🤥!! we don’t judge you as a patient by the color of your skin or what you have done or do. We attempt to treat all our patients with respect and dignity. Your comment is very rude and closed minded.

    • I am not a nurse but i agree with u this comment is very rude may be her experienced with a white nurse is not good but dear all the nurses are not the same.

  • Why should we make one of the noblest professions to become most dangerous? We must do everything in our might to turnaround this trend and make it one of the most hospitable and welcoming profession. We must celebrate the biblical spirit of nursing and nurture it with gratitude.

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