What do you consider a danger on the job?
If you are a nurse or are considering a career as a nurse, you may think that violent or confused patients will be the most dangerous things you can face.
However, in this field, you must also consider the equipment around which you are working, the physical toll the job takes on your body, and the hours you are working in your estimation of danger.
Whether you are wanting to avoid some of the most dangerous nursing jobs or are looking for some additional excitement and adventure in your life, this list will give you a place to start.
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Most Dangerous Nursing Jobs
1. Emergency Room Nursing
Emergency room nursing seems to make almost every nursing-related list as it can be one of the busiest, most stressful and most diverse places to work in health care.
Here, you will see nearly every type of patient from every age group, including those with acute, life-threatening injuries and those suffering from flare-ups of chronic conditions.
The emergency room is often seen as the front door of the hospital. This means that you will never know who will show up next.
Violent individuals, individuals addicted to drugs, and many other potentially dangerous criminals can walk through those doors with no warning.
There have been plenty of stories about nurses getting caught up in violent situations in the emergency room.
Even though security is usually far higher here than it is anywhere else in the hospital, the occasional criminal can slip through the doors.
Other factors that have been named as making this a dangerous place to work include everything from the high incidence of communicable diseases and needle stick injuries to physical accidents and injuries due to poor ergonomics.
In fact, the rate of possible needle stick injuries is far higher in the emergency department than it is anywhere else.
If you are considering working in this department, you may even want to consider the frequency with which you will be wearing latex gloves and the amount of daily stress you will be facing, as these can be major factors relating to your overall health as well.
2. Correctional Facility Nursing
Correctional nurses work in prisons, jails, and other correctional institutions. Once again, these brave nurses are often working among previously violent offenders, and they must be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Adding to the problem is the often old and cramped facilities in which these nurses are frequently working.
Many facilities have not been remodeled in a long time, and nurses are often consigned to very small work areas with poor lighting and limited storage spaces. This is why environmental hazards can be higher than normal here.
In addition, correctional nurses often come into contact more often with needles and medications than many other nurses would.
This makes the potential for needle stick injuries high, especially if the facility has not invested money into needles with safety caps as many fail to do.
Nurses must also keep their supplies under lock and key as the desire for getting their hands onto contraband materials is quite high for many inmates.
3. Inpatient Psychiatric Nursing
My brush with inpatient psychiatric nursing was certainly a time to remember. The memory that has stayed with me the longest is the time I was cornered by a delusional and angry patient before being rescued by another staff member.
Clearly, psychiatric nursing is another area that is fraught with tension, concern, and multiple hazards. Once again, nurses must always be aware of their surroundings in these units although security is high in these medical areas.
According to one study, patient assaults are the top reason for nurses to be injured in this type of environment.
Some mentally ill patients can become violent at the drop of a hat. Distorted thinking, delusions and hallucinations can lead them to act out in dangerous ways both to themselves and others.
Even the simplest items left lying about can become dangerous weapons in the hands of one of these individuals.
Not only will the inpatient psychiatric nurse be providing medical care, but also he or she will be watching out for volatile behavior, incendiary words, and possible triggers for patients.
4. Critical Care Nursing
In my years of critical care nursing, it was rare to see a violent or dangerous patient in the hallway, and most of the stories bandied about the nurses’ station focused on the confused patients who would wander the halls.
However, this does not mean that critical care nursing is entirely safe. Once again, the high rate of needles, intravenous lines, and medications makes this a somewhat dangerous place to work because of the risk of exposure to blood and dangerous medications in high doses.
In addition, some critical care units take care of many patients with dangerous infections, such as MRSA and VRE, which could lead to exposure without proper usage of personal protective equipment.
The other primary danger of critical care nursing is related to the high amount of physical strength needed for this job.
Patients here are typically either quite weak or are sedated and unable to move at all by themselves.
Nurses must often work together to move patients and are required to move and use heavy and potentially dangerous equipment. This can lead to spinal injuries and long-term musculoskeletal pain.
5. Public Health Nursing
Public health nurses and community nurses have a wide range of responsibilities.
In some cases, depending on the area in which the nurse works and the type of patients he or she usually treats, the job can be low-key, non-stressful, and safe.
However, in some communities and in certain areas of the public health department, the level of nurse safety can quickly decrease.
These nurses are once again at high risk of coming into contact with numerous infectious diseases, medications and drugs, other toxic substances and even radiation.
Vaccination nurses may experience needle stick injuries at higher rates than many other nurses, and workplace stress and possible violence can hang heavy over the mental health of these nurses.
For community nurses who drive between patient homes, the risk of vehicular accidents is certainly increased.
These nurses may also have to deal with dangerous environments in patient homes, including secondary smoke inhalation.
6. Ambulatory Care Nursing
The hazards of working as a nurse in ambulatory care are similar to those of the emergency department except at a slightly lower level or risk.
Because ambulatory clinics are generally open to the clinic, nurses may never know who they will next see in the lobby or how their patients will present.
With nearly 9 million patient visits to ambulatory care centers every year, these nurses deal with plenty of different patients during every shift.
Nurses must work quickly and are often responsible for such patient care as providing vaccinations and giving single-dose medications.
In addition, nurses in these settings frequently come into contact with individuals who have infectious diseases, including skin infections, influenza, and other infections of the respiratory or digestive systems.
This can significantly raise their risk of becoming ill as well.
7. Oncology Nursing
The risk of medication, blood, and pathogen exposure is high in any inpatient nursing setting.
The chance for exposure to dangerous substances is often highest in the oncology department where nurses frequently work with chemotherapeutic agents and care for patients undergoing radiologic treatments.
Chemotherapy agents can easily make their way into the air or can contaminate surfaces. Nurses handling these items may find that they develop issues with their reproductive systems.
Although changes are finally coming to oncology departments in the form of closed medication delivery systems, lack of personal protective gear and insufficient education on dealing safely with therapeutic agents can leave these nurses at high risk of developing chronic and life-threatening problems.
8. Radiology Nursing
Radiology nurses work in hospital departments that specialize in radiologic studies, including X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and much more.
This can be an exciting field as nurses learn more about disease processes, but it can also be a dangerous field if the nurse and the entire radiology department do not take proper steps to mitigate risk.
Being exposed to too much ionizing radiation, which is the type used in most medical studies, can create serious health consequences over time.
Several types of cancer can be tied to radiation. In addition, mental health problems and pregnancy complications can sometimes be tied to long-term overexposure.
While this is not a problem for the average patient coming in for an occasional radiologic test, it can be a problem for nurses who work constantly in these environments if the appropriate safeguards are not put in place by the health care facility.
9. Infectious Disease Nursing
Every nurse is exposed to infectious diseases from patients.
However, those working specifically in infectious disease departments in clinics or inpatient settings are clearly at higher risk of being exposed to dangerous infectious agents than are their peers.
Infections can be spread through many methods, including aerosols and droplets. Some can even be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact.
When nurses in these departments are around individuals who are coughing or sneezing or who are touching common surfaces, they may contract dangerous diseases themselves.
In addition, infectious disease nurses who give injections or draw blood are at higher-than-normal risk of blood-borne infections.
Some of the pathogens known to have caused illnesses in nurses in the past include HIV, herpes, MERS, SARS coronavirus, varicella, MRSA, mumps, and rubella among many others.
10. Flight Nursing
Flight nurses are usually highly skilled individuals with backgrounds in emergency room or critical care nursing.
As you can imagine, being a flight nurse usually requires highly physical work in a very cramped environment.
Once you are up in the air, you are responsible for figuring out solutions and solving things that go wrong.
Because of this small environment, you may find that your risk for exposure to pathogens as well as the possibility of exposure to medications increases.
In addition, you have to add the risk of flying in a helicopter or small plane to the risk already associated with nursing.
If you have to fly a patient to a different hospital because the weather is making travel by road difficult, you may find that travel by air is equally bumpy and problematic.
According to the Washington Post, working as a nurse on a medical helicopter is second only to commercial fishing as the most dangerous job in the country.
While crashes have certainly decreased since 2009 when improved rules were put into place by the National Transportation Safety Board, flight nursing still remains a risky position.
Although studies show that a vast majority of nurses experience workplace violence each year and that nursing may be one of the more dangerous professions in the United States, it still remains a highly rewarding one for a vast majority of individuals.
These days, many health care facilities are taking steps to minimize violence and injuries for their staff.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is nursing a dangerous profession?
While nursing is not the most dangerous job in the country, it is a job that is riskier than most jobs. Some of the risks include needle sticks and risks of bodily harm.