The Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) recently held its annual conference in Austin, Texas. Nearly 3,800 attendees chose from almost 200 presentations as they learned about the latest in emergency health, continued their education through hands-on clinical simulations and networked with their peers from around the world.
One of the most popular presentations was Death Row: What We Can Learn from Nurse Serial Killers! by Gina Carbino, BSN, RN, CEN, CPEN, TCRN, CTRN, CFRN CCRN, PCCN, SANE-A.
allnurses.com staff were fortunate to interview the presenter.
We initially asked what piqued your interest in this topic? Gina replied, "I have always been fascinated with toxicology. I started to research drugs that are most common to overdose on - potassium, digoxin, and beta-blockers. I was going to do a lecture on the drugs and their reversal agents. I ran across a case of a nurse serial killer that used beta-blockers to kill his patients. I was hooked! It is such a fascinating topic. With the new movie on Ted Bundy and Mindhunter series on Netflix, I thought it was great time to learn more about this phenomenon. I have spent the last two years researching nurse serial killers."
Though serial killers are not common, hence the interest, we asked about common characteristics among nurses who were serial killers. Gina's research showed that almost all 27 nurse serial killers have traits in common.
They all use only a handful of drugs: insulin, potassium, beta-blockers, and epinephrine.
Transferred jobs/hospitals frequently.
All seemed to be present during code situations.
One of them (Neils Hogel) was called "resuscitation rambo" by his coworkers.
All of these serial killers were eventually caught. However, in several cases, it took years to bring them to justice. What evidence led to the investigation of suspicious deaths? Gina responded, "In almost all cases there was a spike in mortality rate in the hospital. In one case, in Indiana, the annual mortality rate quadrupled. In pediatric cases, the nurses and pediatricians found the events suspicious. Things just didn't add up."
What commonalities exist in this segment? Is there a common mental illness diagnosis among nurse serial killers? Beverley Allitt, for instance, was diagnosed with Munchhausen. A majority suffered childhood trauma. Charles Cullen was a stalker that broke into his coworker's house while she and her child were asleep. He suffered from depression and multiple suicide attempts. Also, a majority never seemed to "fit in." Beverley Allitt was found rubbing feces on the wall during one of her nursing clinical rotations. She flunked out of her first attempt at nursing school related to these types of issues. She later went on to murder 4 children and attempt murder in 6 more. She was taken on a temporary six-month contract at the chronically understaffed Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire in 1991, where she began work in Children's Ward 4. There were only two trained nurses on the day-shift and one for nights when she started, which might explain how her violent, attention-seeking behavior went undetected for as long as it did.
Gina went on to explain, "I think it is important to note that that nurse serial killers are extremely rare. They are only a fraction of one percent of nurses. Nurses as a whole are extremely dedicated, ethical, and trustworthy group of professionals."
allnurses.com thanks Gina Carbino and ENA for their assistance