• aggression;
  • violence;
  • assault;
  • nursing;
  • victim;
  • systematic review;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

Aim.  This paper describes a systematic review of the predominant non-somatic effects of patient assault on nurses.

Background.  Patient aggression towards nurses is a longstanding problem in most nursing domains. Although reports on the consequences of physical aggression are more numerous, the non-physical effects create much suffering.

Method.  A systematic review of literature from 1983 to May 2003 was conducted using the Medline, CINAHL, PsychINFO and PSYINDEX databases. Articles from international journals in English or German and reporting at least three non-somatic responses to patient aggression were included.

Findings.  The electronic search produced 6616 articles. After application of the inclusion and exclusion criteria, 25 texts from eight countries and four domains of nursing remained. Twenty-eight main effects were found, and these were categorized using a system suggested by Lanza and including bio-physiological, emotional, cognitive, and social dimensions. The predominant responses were anger, fear or anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, guilt, self-blame, and shame. These main effects occurred across most countries and nursing domains.

Conclusion.  Despite differing countries, cultures, research designs and settings, nurses’ responses to patient aggression are similar. Standardized questionnaires could help improve estimations of the real prevalence of non-somatic effects. Given the suffering caused by non-somatic effects, research should be aimed at preventing patient aggression and at developing better ways to prepare nurses to cope with this problem.