The Risks of Being a Nurse

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The history of nursing dates back to the mid-19th century, but nursing first began with a well-known, British nurse, Florence Nightingale. She is considered to be the founder of nursing and played an important role in wound care during the Crimean War. Nightingale established strong sanitation techniques at the time of the war, and it drastically reduced the number of deaths among soldiers. Also known as “The Lady with the Lamp”, Nightingale developed some very essential habits that are still used in the medical field today (D'Antonio & Buhler-Wilkerson 2019). In addition, there are several different terms that people define the nursing field as, so many people ask what the true definition of a nurse is. So, a nurse is a primary caregiver to the sick or disabled. They provide a broad range of support to the ill depending on the different qualifications. Furthermore, there are currently 2.86 million nurses in the workforce, and this number is steadily rising, says Statista. They work in various settings including hospitals, clinics, in the military and nursing homes. Through working in these diverse environments, nurses are held to high standards and endure life threatening risks such as mental health, physical strain and chemical exposure.

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Being a nurse is an enjoyable job, however, psychological strain tends to often take a toll. According to the article “Coping Strategies for Stressed Nurses”, it states that there are seventy percent of nurses that take on stress on a daily basis. They tend to develop serious illnesses such as anxiety. Anxiety is a medical condition that develops from excessive, emotional distress. This disorder is typically common in people who are easily triggered by a specific worry or stressor. The ADAA states, “anxiety affects over forty million people in the U.S. who are typically 18 years or older.” There are several types of anxiety such as panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and social anxiety disorder. Also, severe depression typically follows anxiety which can be deadly. A person who suffers from depression typically feels that they are hopeless and can develop suicidal thoughts. Therefore, a person who develops anxiety or even shows signs of it should seek immediate treatment. Moreover, overworked staff has been an ongoing issue in hospital settings. Nurses typically work 12 hour shifts and are overwhelmed by the intense pressure. Some nurses have begun to change their pathway due to the unbearable overload. For example, Minneapolis native, Carrie Mortrud, once dreamed of being a nurse to follow in the footsteps of her mom. After four years, she gained her nursing license and began working at a local hospital. Though, only after five years of entering the medical field, she quit her job and began seeking another job. (Shapiro). Mortrud concluded that her job became unenjoyable and eventually deterred her from continuing the job. Nevertheless, Carrie is among the millions of other medical professions who have fallen into the same situation. Overwork can also lead to other underlying issues such as work malpractice. These burnt out nurses are more prone to make mistakes such as administering the wrong medicine, the wrong dosage of medication, and even failing to alarm a doctor in the event of a serious emergency. Unfortunately, these errors can be life-threatening to a patient. For example, if a patient is given too much medicine, then they could result in an overdose, leading to fatal brain damage or even death (Fredrico and Staton). As a result, this issue has led to a shortage of nurses in the U.S. According to Sigma, as of today, the nursing shortage percentage is steadily increasing by 4.5 percent. The overload of the Baby Boomers is one of the leading causes to this issue, and there are more citizens over the age of 65 in the United States than ever before. This causes a higher demand for care services to the elderly people, not including adolescents and the younger population.

Violence against nurses has dramatically increased throughout the past few years. According to the American Nurses Association, 1 out of 4 nurses are assaulted on the job. They encounter all types of violence such as verbal abuse, physical abuse, and even threats.

For example, Maryland nurse, Angela Simpson, took a hard blow after she was struck in the head by an angry dementia patient. His IV had come out of his arm and she was only trying to help. After her experience, Simpson became aware that many more of these instances occurred amongst other healthcare professionals and decided to bring the situation to the light. In 2017, Angela started the Silent No More foundation. The organization’s capacity has continued to grow and they work closely with the government to implement protection laws to help lower the number of these experiences. Nevertheless, physical injury is a major risk that comes with nursing, and many of their daily tasks causes severe back trouble. Due excessive motions of lifting and transporting patients, nurses have been known to lead the charts in herniated disc impairments. A herniated disc is a spinal condition that develops over time from wear and tear on the back. It occurs when a rubbery disc in the spine is displaced and pinches a nerve causing severe pain. This condition typically causes a person to be hospitalized and often causes permanent nerve damage. So, while nurses play an important role in healthcare, their physical health is often challenged by the obstacles that they face.

The risk of toxic exposures in the nursing field is tremendous. According to the Sentinel Watch, nurses are exposed to more hazardous chemicals and diseases than any other healthcare profession. The myth is that the government provides proper protection for healthcare professionals, however, this is inaccurate. For example, the United States is currently facing a gruesome pandemic across the country called the coronavirus. The disease weakens the immune system and causes severe illness in the older population. Symptoms of this deadly disease are very similar to ones from the flu. These include shortness of breath, aches and pains, sore throat, and even nausea. Moreover, the United States government fails to provide the proper gear for the doctors and other medical professionals that are risking their lives to save the lives of others. As a result, many nurses are contracting the disease causing poll numbers to skyrocket. For instance, on March 18, New York nurse, Kious Kelly, revealed some heartbreaking news to his sister, Marya Sherron, that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Kelly fought for his life on a ventilator at the hospital. Unfortunately, only after a week of contracting the virus, he was pronounced dead. Kious’s sister later concluded that, “his death could have been prevented because he was healthy”. However, he was not appropriately protected (Sengupta). In addition, many studies have been conducted that have proven that chemical exposure is a common factor in medical settings. For example, ethylene oxide and formaldehyde are popular chemicals used in hospitals for sterilization. Though, according to an experiment conducted by Dr. Santovito, it was proven that these two substances were detrimental to the human body and its DNA. He exposed ten healthy nurses to the chemicals. Santovtio later proved that the chemicals caused chromosomal breaks and DNA breaks after exposure. Also, the tests showed that the chemicals killed cells that are essential for body growth.

In the late 1900s, the cholera began to spread rapidly across Africa. Cholera is a deadly disease that is contracted from drinking contaminated water. This disease spread so far across the continent due to poor sanitation and the lack of health laws. Within hours of notification of this crisis, many medical supplies were sent over for relief. Also, many medical volunteers and nurses flew over to help provide aid to the helpless people. Also, strict protocols and precautions were taken when handling this disease. For example, the nurses were ordered to properly suit up in the required equipment to protect themselves and even were restricted from entering some parts of Africa. However, many doctors and medical professionals still tested positive for the disease when returning to the United States. This outbreak shows the life-threatening responsibilities that nurses encounter while on the job.

Subsequently, being a nurse is uniquely a huge contribution to the way that our society is able to function, and a sickly person’s recovery is in the hands of the absolute caretaker, the nurse. However, the world fails to realize the burdens that come with this field of work. Nurses are often pressured to perform to the best of their abilities even when they are not able to. As a result, they develop illnesses and conditions that are most often detriment to their health. Moreover, there are many ways to fix the ongoing issues that are within the nursing field such as implementing laws and regulations that will improve the overall well-being of nurses. For instance, nurses work long hours and there is no limit to how many hours that a nurse can work. Placing regulations on work time could help relieve some of the stress that they endure and improve their mental health. Also, providing better quality protection will decrease the amount of hazardous exposures that these healthcare professionals face. So, while these issues tackled on by nurses will never be completely resolved, the amount of effort that is made to make a change will impact the outcome of the healthcare system in the near future.

Works Cited

  1. D'Antonio, Patricia, and Karen Buhler-Wilkerson. “Nursing.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Feb. 2019,
  2. Elflein, John. “Registered Nurses Number U.S. 2001-2016.” Statista, 6 Nov. 2019,
  3. Facts on the Nursing Shortage in North America, Sigma Theta International Honors Society of Nursing , 2020,
  4. “Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 2010,
  5. Jordan , Timothy R. “Coping Strategies for Stressed Nurses.” University of Texas at Arlington Online, 17 Apr. 2018,
  6. “Nurses Face Workplace Hazards.” The Sentinel Watch, 5 Mar. 2020,
  7. “Overworked Nurses Are a Safety Risk in Hospitals.” Schochor, Federico and Staton, P.A., 12 Sept. 2018,
  8. Santovito, A., et al. “Chromosomal Damage in Peripheral Blood Lymphocytes from Nurses
  9. Occupationally Exposed to Chemicals.” Human & Experimental Toxicology, vol. 33, no. 9, Sept. 2014, pp. 897–903. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0960327113512338.
  10. EBSCOhost. Sengupta, Somini. “A N.Y. Nurse Dies. Angry Co-Workers Blame a Lack of Protective Gear.”
  11. The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2020,
  12. Shapiro, Joseph P. “Nurses Are Overworked, Stressed, and Hard to Find.” U.S. News & World Report, vol. 130, no. 24, June 2001, p. 54.
  13. EBSCOhost. “Workplace Violence.” ANA,

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