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Self-Defense for Nurses

While no nurse should ever not come home from work or leave injured, it’s a sad fact that violent events occur in hospitals and other healthcare facilities every day.

Up to 75% of ALL reported workplace violence incidences occur in healthcare.  That’s out of every workplace in America.

Over 50% of nurses report being verbally assaulted, while 21% report being physically assaulted.

It’s no wonder that many nurses are looking to self-defense classes to keep them safe.  Here are a couple of the key companies that specialize in healthcare self-defense (in no particular order):

MOAB International

Offers courses focused on de-escalation training and a variety of techniques for both self-defense and violence control.  Hospital administration can pick and choose what their colleagues need, meaning no program is the same.  In some facilities, areas with higher levels of violence get more training, while sites will low incidences of violence will receive less.  The program is highly successful and is based on a train the trainer system where MOAB instructors teach a select group of professionals at the hospital.  Those trainers will teach everyone in the hospital system.

Crisis Prevention Training (CPI)

This company offers a similar line of courses but focuses less on physical defense/offensive skills and more on de-escalation. In addition, there are options for higher-level physical skills and unique classes focused on the care of dementia patients.  This program also incorporates a train the trainer technique.


This company offers workplace violence prevention, de-escalation, and specific training for behavioral health and home health agencies. In addition, this company provides a variety of training, including virtual and shorter 2-hour in-person sessions.

Health agencies may also create their defensive training.  Some states have started to mandate defensive or de-escalation training for staff members.  Regardless of the program used, employees should feel comfortable defending themselves.  If your hospital doesn’t offer defensive training, you can look into self-defense classes.  This list discusses the top 7 types of self-defense training.

Be advised, though, that legally you have a higher responsibility to keep your patient safe, even those who are violent.  Unless your life is on the line, the least aggressive moves possible should be used to defend yourself or control the patient.  That said, your hospital likely has a policy on what you can do.  The moves you learn in a self-defense class may not be approved by your hospital.  If you want to keep your job, you need to follow the rules.

That said, regardless of the hospital’s policy, the court of law is likely to exonerate your actions if they were reasonable for the situation. For example, if someone is purposefully choking you, doing anything in your power to escape that hold is reasonable.  Still, if you are a 6’4, 200lbs and the little old lady with dementia is the one doing the choking, it’s probably unreasonable to punch her.

Honestly… could she even reach you?

If you are 5’4 and weigh 115, you will likely need a lot more force to get out of a chokehold by the local drunken football star.  Self-defense is relative to the situation, which makes advanced training for incidents like these important. Even more important is having the skills to talk them down before they become physically violent!

The key is to any workplace violence is documentation. Unfortunately, these incidents are under-reported and are often poorly documented.  You can protect yourself from legal ramifications if you make sure to document what led to your actions, speak intelligently about the steps you took, and are careful to provide treatment if you or the patient sustains any injuries.

You don’t have to tolerate violence in healthcare.  It starts by reporting incidences of violence. Then, if your hospital doesn’t offer prevention training, speak up and ask for an opportunity to keep yourself safe!

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN


Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?


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