- A report on nurse suicides recently found the profession has a higher rate of death by suicide compared to the general population.
- Nursing is one of the fastest growing occupations in the US, yet nurses work long hours and often face physical abuse on the job.
- Nursing is one of many occupations with growing rates of suicide.
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Nurses — who typically work long hours and may face abuse on the job — are more likely to take their own lives, a new study finds.
Researchers from the University of California-San Diego recently conducted the first nationwide investigation into nurse suicides in more than 20 years. They found that male and female nurses both have higher rates of suicide than the general US population.
The nurse suicide epidemic is consistent with increasing rates of suicide across the country. The US suicide rate spiked in recent years, increasing by 28% in the past two decades, and the rate of suicide is the highest its been since World War II.
For nurses, hardships on the job include working long hours due to nationwide worker shortages, plus dealing with physical and verbal abuse on the job.
Here’s what the high rate of suicide among nurses tells us about the crisis facing one of the nation’s most in-demand jobs.
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Nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country — yet nationwide nurse shortages cause them to work long hours with little time for rest.
Nurse practitioner is the sixth fastest-growing career in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are also expected to grow at a pace higher than the national average by 2026. As baby boomers get older, more nurses will need to provide medical care for them.
Despite the job opportunity, many hospitals are struggling to fill roles — and the problem is expected to get much worse. By 2030, the US will have hundreds of thousands of vacant RN jobs, particularly in the South and West Coast, according to a 2012 paper from the University of Nebraska.
Since nursing is a relatively high-paying profession — registered nurses make $71,730 per year — the job’s high-demands could be turning workers away. Many nurses are also reaching retirement age, and enrollment at nursing schools has dipped.
The shortage has caused nurses to work 12-hour shifts and overtime, researchers at New York University found. Nurses told Business Insider they sometimes don’t even have time to use the bathroom during their workdays.
Nurses, facing difficulties on the job, are now taking their own lives at rates higher than the general population.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Researchers from the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine conducted the first national longitudinal investigation on nurse suicide in over 20 years, and published their results in June 2019.
The researchers found a suicide incidence of 11.97 per 100,000 people among female nurses. For American women in general, the incidence is 7.58 per 100,000 people. Women overwhelmingly make up the profession, but male nurses are also more likely to commit suicide than men in general, the study found.
"Nurses are known not to care for themselves as much as they care for others," Davidson, a nurse scientist, told the publication. "It’s just a part of who we are."
Along with working long hours, nurses often face physical, verbal, and emotional abuse on the job.
One of the most pressing problems facing nurses is abuse on the job, American Nurse Association spokesperson Shannon McClendon told Business Insider in an interview. ANA, a nurse union, says 1 in every 4 nurses is physically assaulted on the job, consistent with other research pointing toward high rates of nurse abuse.
Patients typically abuse nurses, especially people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Assaults range from getting cursed at to grabbing and kicking, according to a 2014 survey of more than 5,000 nurses. Visitors have also been reported to abuse nurses. Emergency nurses had the highest likelihood of experiencing abusive behavior.
While many nurses face abuse on the job, few report their experiences, ANA finds — in part because there are no federal rules mandating hospitals protect nurses from violence. Movements such as the #SilentNoMore campaign are attempting to shed light on the hardships facing the profession.
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