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Hospitals ‘must take note’ of rates of domestic violence among healthcare workers

It happens to clinicians too.

That’s one of the key messages of a study investigating intimate partner and family violence among female healthcare workers in Australia.

For the study, Elizabeth McLindon from the University of Melbourne and the Royal Women’s Hospital and her team surveyed 471 female nurses, midwives, doctors and allied health professionals in an Australian tertiary hospital.

They uncovered that almost half of the participants (45 per cent) have experienced family violence, while one in nine experienced abuse and violence by a partner in the previous 12 months. Violence occurred across a women’s lifetime, the study also showed.

"Intimate partner and family violence, including sexual assault, are frequent traumas in the lives of participating women health professionals," the study read.

Its authors said while employment can be highly protective for someone experiencing violence, it can also be a risk. They wrote: "Attendance may be disrupted, as well as one’s capacity while at work."

Hospitals should take note of the findings, McLindon said, especially given that healthcare workers often provide frontline support for patients experiencing intimate partner and family violence.

"Healthcare organisations rarely consider what it means if the health professional is impacted by fear and violence in their home and are asked to intervene sensitively with patients affected by these same issues," the study read.

McLindon said this might result in some workers going the extra mile to support survivor patients, but added: "For some women, it could also trigger personal trauma to hear stories of other people’s experiences of violence."

She said hospitals must support nurses and other healthcare workers to ensure their wellbeing is not negatively impacted by their day to day work.

This, in turn, might also help them to help survivor patients, McLindon added.

“Hospitals should implement greater workplace supports that include workplace manager training to respond to disclosures from staff, special leave provision, staff counselling services, family violence training and online resources.”

Study co-author and University of Melbourne Professor Kelsey Hegarty, from the Royal Women’s Hospital Centre of Family Violence Prevention, said domestic and family violence affects all women in the community, even those with high education and financially secure employment.

“As women who experience violence are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicide attempts, sleeping and eating disorders, lower self-esteem and alcohol and other drugs misuse compared to women who live free from violence, it is crucial that healthcare staff are supported to have access to services that assist them in their experience of family violence,” Hegarty said.

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