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Nurse Sexual Misconduct Likely Much Higher Than Reported: Study

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According to a recent report released by a prominent consumer watchdog, nurses are rarely punished for sexual misconduct against patients. 

In a study published this week in the medical journal Public Health Nursing, researchers with Public Citizen indicate that just under 900 nurses had sexual misconduct reports over a 13-year period. The findings also indicate that only about half of all nurses involved in incidents that resulted in successful malpractice cases were ever disciplined by state nursing boards.

Researchers looked at reports from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), examining complaints of sexual-misconduct with nurses. They found 882 such reports from January 1, 2003, through June 30, 2016.

According to the findings, 63 percent of the nurses who received sexual misconduct reports were male, and most were between the ages of 35 to 54, and were registered or advanced practice nurses. The findings note that disciplinary actions were frequently more serious than other types of misconduct reports. However, of the 33 nurses linked to cases which resulted in malpractice payments, 48.5% were not disciplined by any state board.

Researchers indicate that the number of reports found is likely far lower than actual incidents being reported, which they say indicates that many nurses are likely getting away with sexual misconduct unpunished. The number of nurses reported only represents 0.6% of all nurses. The researchers said other data indicates that number is likely far too low.

“Our findings, along with other published evidence, suggest that many nurses in the U.S. who exploit their patients are not being held to account,” Azza AbuDagga, health services researcher for Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “When just a few of the country’s nurses are flagged for this exploitive behavior, something is clearly wrong.”

Victims of such assaults were usually female, and the most common age range was between 20 and 39 years of age. The most common injuries reported were emotional. Slightly more than half of the incidents occurred in an out-patient setting.

“Very few nurses have been reported to the NPDB due to sexual misconduct,” the researchers concluded. “We welcome a zero‐tolerance standard against sexual misconduct involving patients by all types of health care professionals, including nurses.”

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