Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

South African Undergraduate Nursing Students Experience of Intra-Professional Violence

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

South African Undergraduate Nursing Students Experience of Intra-Professional Violence

Article excerpt


The goal of nursing, a profession that is generally described as caring and nurturing, is to prevent illness and promote health (Brown and Middaugh, 2009). Yet, for close on 30 years researchers have identified hostile behaviour among nurses. Different terms are used to refer to this kind of behaviour, for example, horizontal violence, lateral violence, nurse-on-nurse aggression, and intraprofessional violence (Etienne, 2014; Meissner, 1986; Randle, 2003; Rowe and Sherlock, 2005; Stanley, 2010). In recent years, researchers have found that intraprofessional violence has filtered through to student nurses, threatening the profession and the role it plays in health care systems (Clarke et al., 2012; Jackson et al., 2011; Thomas and Burk, 2009).

The number of new graduates in a field can have a great effect on the future existence of professions in the particular field. In the case of the nursing profession a shortage of qualified practitioners has multiple effects (Echevarria, 2013; Ferns and Meerabeau, 2007; Gaynor et al., 2006). Globally, student nurse attrition is researched and found to be alarmingly high. In countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada, the attrition rate is reported to be between 10% and 25% (Andrew et al., 2008). Although numerous contributing factors have been suggested, undergraduate nursing students indicate that intraprofessional violence contributes to their decision to terminate their nursing studies (Lamontagne, 2010; Pellico et al., 2009).

Statistics provided by the South African Nursing Council (SANC) show an increase in the number of registered undergraduate nursing students (SANC, 2010). Yet, in a report compiled by the Solidarity Research Institute it is pointed out that only 13% of undergraduate nursing students graduate (Solidarity Research Institute, 2009). Therefore, like many other countries, South Africa is facing the enormous challenge of ensuring that a sufficient number of professional nurses qualify so that quality nursing care can be provided. Some of the reasons put forward for the high attrition rate are retirement, morbidity, and migration to other countries and professions (Breier et al., 2009).

In existing literature relating to the nursing profession in South Africa, the occurrence of intra-professional violence and its possible effects on the graduation of nursing students have not been identified as reasons for attrition. In an attempt to fill this gap, research was undertaken to focus on the magnitude of intra-professional violence that undergraduate nursing students experienced in the clinical learning environment in South Africa. This research reported on the presence of oppressed group behaviour in undergraduate nursing students, the type of intra-professional violence that occurred, and the most likely perpetrator(s) of this violence. Undergraduate nursing students' appraisal of and response to intra-professional violence were also reported on.

This article, which reports on the research referred to above, provides an overview of the main perpetrators of intra-professional violence, as well as of the type of intra-professional violence South African undergraduate nursing students most frequently experienced in the clinical learning environment.


Workplace violence may take many different forms, may be perpetrated by different individuals, and has a negative effect on patients, staff and institutions (Amrein, 2012; Lamontagne, 2010; Longo, 2010; Roche et al., 2010; Rocker, 2010; Swan and Mitus, 2014). Different terminology is used to define workplace violence in nursing. One of the first terms used for "intergroup conflict" was introduced by Fanon (1963, p. 45) who described it as "horizontal violence". Other terms used are "lateral violence" (Sheridan-Leos, 2008; Weaver, 2013), "horizontal hostility" (Simpson, 2008), and "nurse-on-nurse aggression" (Rocker, 2010; Stanley, 2010). The term "intra-professional violence" was selected for use in the relevant research study. …

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