“A nurse would look at me and know…What about the burn on my hand? The missing hair? The teeth? I waited to be asked. Ask me. Ask me. Ask me. I’d tell her. I’d tell them everything. Look at the burn. Ask me about it. Ask.”   from The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, Roddy Doyle

A major barrier that prevents healthcare providers from talking to their patients about intimate partner violence is that most of us have received little to no training on how to do so.  Accordingly, our comfort level with talking about violence is often low.  Providers will often say things like:

  • “I don’t know what to say… or where to start.” (You can learn how. Other providers do it– you can too.)
  • “I don’t know how to help.” (You can learn how to do this too. You’re smart, and it isn’t rocket science.)
  • “There’s nothing anyone can really do anyways– abused women just go back, over and over.  It’s a waste of time.” (A large body of evidence shows that this is not true.  Most abused women DO eventually leave, if the abuse doesn’t stop.  However, the barriers to her leaving safely are often enormous — this is where YOU really make a difference by offering non-judgmental support– on her timetable, not yours– and helping her know what kind of help is out there.)
  • “I’m going to offend her if I ask.” (Research also shows this is not true.  The vast majority of women– abused or not– are NOT offended by questions about violence.  Instead, women often appreciate that providers care enough to ask.  This is particularly true when providers convey that they ask the questions routinely, because violence is so common, and when they convey empathy and aren’t judgmental.  If she’s abused, she may not feel safe telling anyone just yet– but you are opening a door.)
  • “It’s going to take forever– it’s like opening a can of worms.” (Any complication or problem that comes up can add time to a visit– it’s true.  But when you know what your resources are and how to connect women to them, this is less so.  Anyways– is this  a reason NOT to do the right thing?)

We can learn how to help abused women–and should.  It’s the right thing to do. 

The truth is that healthcare provider education– for nurses, physicians, and others– doesn’t address everything we need to know in clinical practice.   Because violence is so common in women’s lives and causes so many health problems, our lack of education about dealing with intimate partner violence IS a problem. We need to change healthcare provider education for the better.  

Meanwhile, it’s up to us to learn what we need to know– to educate ourselves, and our colleagues.  It’s up to us to to seek education and training for ourselves, connect with the experts in our communities (domestic violence advocates and others who work with survivors of violence), to effect change in our workplaces– and to stand up for abused women and their children. 

What will you do this year about intimate partner violence?