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Being a Nurse for a Killer


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Specializes in LTC/Rehab,Med/Surg, OB/GYN, Ortho, Neuro.

If it ever comes to the point where you do encounter a situation that you cannot put your personal feelings aside, the next professional thing to do is see if you have a co-worker that wouldn't mind switching assignments w/ you.


Specializes in private duty/home health, med/surg. Has 10+ years experience.

I've been the nurse for a patient who was in the local jail waiting for trail for murder. Surprisingly, it didn't really bother me. I didn't know many details of the crime and I didn't dwell on it. In general, prisoners are much easier to deal with that many of my patients -- they're in the presence of a guard, who will keep their behavior in check.


Specializes in ortho, hospice volunteer, psych,. Has 20 years experience.

as a senior nursing student, i did a rotation at the university's psych facility, where i met a man just a few years older than i was. he was being evaluated before trial, and he absolutely gave me the willies to the point that i could scarcely observe as was my day's assignment. he was an accused child molester and had decapitated a cat. shudder! i had a different assignment 3 days later and did my very best to forget him. two months later, i began my va rotation. guess who my second assignment was?

yep... he'd been transferred because more details had emerged and they apparently stemmed from his tours of duty in viet nam. he tried to follow me everywhere, which was unnerving and creepy. my instructor was sympathetic but firm. she said i would have to learn how to deal with forensic patients so i might as well get on with it.

i graduated and a couple of years later, was hired at our state mental hospital. when i had been there about 3 months, i got my permanent building assignment. it was a locked forensic psych ward. guess who greeted me on the other side?! i was told to gradually review the patient files. i wish with all my heart i'd skipped his. without going into a lot of detail, among other things, he was a cannibal.:eek:

there were several other very ill men there who were very difficult, but just as many seemed like ordinary people that you could have imagined sitting in your living room, despite their heinous crimes.

i guess the point of this rambling is that you must deal with all kinds of people, don't turn your back, take another person with you if you feel unsafe, and never let them see your fear or emotions. many will interpret kindness or a smile as weakness, so be matter of fact.



Hi All-

I'm sure most of you have seen the news and footage from the Ft. Hood shooting. I guess when I saw this, I could not imagine having to take care of that shooter :eek:.

Have any of you ever had to take care of someone like this? How do you deal with something like this ethically? I have never had to deal with anything like this, but could not imagine doing so. I have close ties to the military and this story breaks my heart :cry:.

I was just wondering if anyone on here had to deal with something like taking care of a killer or such. And, can you (legally) refuse to give care to someone in an instance such as this? Or would you think that they would just find another nurse to provide appropriate care if you were so opposed to it?

Just thought it would be an interesting question to look into!



As a nurse it should not matter to you what his past actions are simply to help in the process of healing and nothing more lest he is an obvious threat to safety.Your ethics do not interfere with such situations.

Sounds like you're the judge and jury now. It was just an honest question, no need to berate.

The OP is not a patient so your statement really holds no grounds or validity.

Pardon the double-post.

~Mi Vida Loca~RN, ASN, RN

Specializes in Emergency Dept. Trauma. Pediatrics. Has 6 years experience.

The OP is not a patient so your statement really holds no grounds or validity.

Pardon the double-post.

Actually I think it does. It seems a bit hypocritical to be hammering another person about being someones judge or jury all while judging THAT person. (their is a pot kettle saying coming to mind) Only difference is, the OP merely ASKED a question, didn't actually DO anything, and the person that they asked about did in fact do the crime. Judging is judging period, and I would be willing to bet every person has been guilty of judging one person or another at some point.

I would also be willing to bet that Emergency nurse has in fact judged at least in his mind, some of his patients that have come into the ER whether he owned up to it or not, it's human nature that I have yet to meet one person to be exempt from it. There are countless threads on this very board judging different patients, judging them for being overweight, judging them for being drug seekers etc. etc.

You take care of them. Just like you would any other patient, regardless of who they are, what they did, or how you feel about them. PERIOD.

I don't like every patient I take care of. Some of them I downright loathe. But as a matter of ethics, I would never refuse to take care of any patient, regardless of how I feel about them. It's not always easy but it comes with the territory.


Specializes in Geriatrics. Has 22 years experience.

When I'm in "nurse mode" i try my very best to treat all my patients the same. It is difficult at times sure, sometimes the compassion isn't there as it would be for some of my other patients, but i am there to provide a service and do it to the best of my ability no matter what the circumstances!! I'm not saying it is easy though by any means!!


Specializes in LTC, Memory loss, PDN. Has 23 years experience.

What is really interesting to me is that when we discuss our weaknesses such as respiratory secretions or other bodily fluids, in other threads, we can all accept our weaknesses and show tolerance, however, when it comes to this kind of topic we go full metal jacket. We cannot cherry pick our patients (that's what we have insurance companies for :D). Should it ever get to that, we'll have stopped being nurses. And yes, if necessary, I would take care of the bastard who raped a little girl. I would give appropriate care, but there's no way I could have a trace of compassion. Compassion was the single most cited attribute in another thread "What makes a good nurse".


Has 10 years experience.

when i was working as a dialysis tech i my mid-20s, i had a couple of patients who were inmates from the local jail. one had been busted for drugs and robbery & the other one for assault, i think. they were both slick & smooth-talking. one seriously gave me the creeps. he had these cold, charlie mansonesque eyes that watched everything i did from across the pod. he had a smarmy little smirk as he openly & lasciviously eyeballed my figure. he never said anything inappropriate, but i always dreaded having to take care of him. now i realize it was a good learning experience for me, in a "safe" environment (guard, other people in the room).

had these gentlemen been violators of children, abusers of the elderly, rapists, murderers... i think i would have had a more emotional response to deep-breathe around & put out of my mind as i took care of them. i venture that i might feel less compassion if a dialyzing child molester got muscle cramps than if a non-child molester did. awful to say, but true. still, i hope my treatment of the patient would be the same, regardless.


Specializes in psychiatric nursing, med/surg adult care.

I think of lawyers who have to stand by the side of self-confessed criminals to defend them and their human rights.

Nurses care, they don't judge.


Specializes in Psychiatric. Has 9 years experience.

I work psych, and I work with a fairly large amount of forensic patients. We have a couple of murderers, arsonists, one lady who committed infaticide.

I keep two things in mind: 1) I treat them equally and 2)Even though it doesn't excuse what they did, most of my folks were legally insane at them time of their crime.

Of course we get our fair share of criminals with Axis II diagnoses, but they're all patients.

I imagine though, being a military wife, that I would have a LOT of difficulty caring for the Ft. Hood shooter.


Specializes in ortho, hospice volunteer, psych,. Has 20 years experience.

i think of lawyers who have to stand by the side of self-confessed criminals to defend them and their human rights.

i remember something my dad told me when i was a very self-righteous fourteen year old that i should remember that even john wilkes booth deserved the very best defense his attorney was capable of. my dad's field of law was tax and estate planning and trust law, but he also was rotated down a bar association list that did pro bono cases for the indigent, and had defended a man who had raped and sodomized several small children. i was outraged, but he said defense of the man in no way implied acceptance or approval of the crime(s.) same thing with a nurse taking care of a patient.

nurses care, they don't judge.

we provide the best care we can but without putting ourselves at high risk. if we need to, we take someone with us. if a patient has a guard(s), we know not to place ourselves in vulnerablepositions. nothing of what we may be feelingon the inside, can show on the outside when we give basic no-frills care.



Edited by sharpeimom


Specializes in ER.

Nurses are human beings with emotions, not robots. Emotions are funny things in that we aren't always in control of where they lead our minds. Everyone has "that point" emotionally, and to ignore it or expect that it must NEVER happen is dangerous and neglectful to our coworkers and peers.

Hell, the Ft Hood shooter was a caregiver. His peers expected him to be able to "provide care and not let it get to him" (and many other thoughts being tossed around in this thread). That didn't work out so well, did it?

I work emergency, with an adult and pedi population. I would be alert if a pedi code came in, and the nurse whose room it was being worked had a child the same age. I wouldn't demand they not treat the patient, but I'm watching them to see if they're coping ok. I once worked with a woman who had lost her mother to a drunk driver, and it was her first week back. A drunk driver was brought in, and no one expected the nurse to care for him that soon after her tragedy...we swapped patients. She soon recovered emotionally and was able to provide care for these frequent patients, but we still provided her with a little TLC when she did.

The community around Ft Hood is so closely tied to the base and it's military culture. My heart just ached for the staff that had to care for this patient. Yeah...you provide care, not judgement. But for the staff, if they didn't have someone they cared about on base that day, they were likely close to someone who did. To expect that emotions were forbidden to play a role is wrong. Would you assign the shooter to a nurse who's husband was on the base that day? I suspect that is one reason he was transferred to Brooks....military staff there are familiar with the distinct emotions that go along with "caring for the enemy" (similar to corrections nurses). Even so, the staff (civi and military) that provides care to him has demons to deal with that most of us are, thankfully, unfamiliar with. To ignore those emotions and expect staff to treat a patient such as this one without any aftermath is sad and dangerous.

We all have our "breaking point". I have never had a patient that I couldn't care for because of my own personal baggage. But I have always been acutely aware of where my point may be lurking during that particular epoch in my life, and I would hope that should I be forced to face that demon one night, my coworkers would help me...and not simply say, "You are a nurse, get over it and provide care and don't let your feelings play a part."

The newest NCLEX reviews (I'm about to graduate next semester) tell us that you can't refuse care to anybody. I don't know if that's a state regulation, or federal, but as far as I know, you need to look at that person (idiot) as any other patient. I don't know what I'll do if ever faced with your same situation, hopefully act like Jessie and just do what I've been trained to do...Sorry for your situation!

This is not true. Nurses have a right to refuse to care for a patient if caring for that patient puts them at risk or they feel they do not have adequate training to perform the job well or other religious reasons like refusing to participate in the withdrawal of life support or refusing to participate in euthanasia or abortions etc. Even JCAHO recognizes a nurse's right to refuse certain care.

I think what you are referring to is discrimination. You cannot refuse to care for a patient because of their race, religion, creed, nationality, their past (a good percentage of the population has one:)) etc. Like in the above case the nurse cannot refuse to care.:twocents:

diane227, LPN, RN

Specializes in Management, Emergency, Psych, Med Surg. Has 32 years experience.

There are a lot of emotions about this issue and unless you are presented with the situation, you don't always know what you would do. I worked for a while in a woman's prison as the prisons psych nurse. I knew the crime of every inmate I saw. But they were people first and what ever they became second. I treated them with kindness and respect and for some it was the first time anyone had ever treated them well. In the psych unit were I worked we had a man come in with depression and suicidal ideation. He had just been released from prison after serving 30 years for sexual abuse of a child (or children). He seemed like a nice guy, very depressed and sad. I would sit and talk to him (we never spoke about his crime or his time in prison) and I would look into his eyes and try to understand how this perfectly normal man, who looked liked anyone's grandfather, could have done the things that he had done. As a person, I really liked him and enjoyed talking to him. But I would go home at night and I had to struggle with myself about that. In fact, the treatment team had a meeting about this one day. We were all trying to balance our fondness of him with our total disgust for what he had done. We knew ahead of time that he was coming to our unit and we had talked about what our responsibility was in taking care of him. None of us ever thought we would end up liking him.

Edited by diane227
diction error