Why physicians and nurses ask (or don't) about partner violence: a qualitative analysis

BMC Public Health. 2012 Jun 21;12:473. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-473.


Background: Intimate partner violence (IPV) against women is a serious public health issue and is associated with significant adverse health outcomes. The current study was undertaken to: 1) explore physicians' and nurses' experiences, both professional and personal, when asking about IPV; 2) determine the variations by discipline; and 3) identify implications for practice, workplace policy and curriculum development.

Methods: Physicians and nurses working in Ontario, Canada were randomly selected from recognized discipline-specific professional directories to complete a 43-item mailed survey about IPV, which included two open-ended questions about barriers and facilitators to asking about IPV. Text from the open-ended questions was transcribed and analyzed using inductive content analysis. In addition, frequencies were calculated for commonly described categories and the Fisher's Exact Test was performed to determine statistical significance when examining nurse/physician differences.

Results: Of the 931 respondents who completed the survey, 769 (527 nurses, 238 physicians, four whose discipline was not stated) provided written responses to the open-ended questions. Overall, the top barriers to asking about IPV were lack of time, behaviours attributed to women living with abuse, lack of training, language/cultural practices and partner presence. The most frequently reported facilitators were training, community resources and professional tools/protocols/policies. The need for additional training was a concern described by both groups, yet more so by nurses. There were statistically significant differences between nurses and physicians regarding both barriers and facilitators, most likely related to differences in role expectations and work environments.

Conclusions: This research provides new insights into the complexities of IPV inquiry and the inter-relationships among barriers and facilitators faced by physicians and nurses. The experiences of these nurses and physicians suggest that more supports (e.g., supportive work environments, training, mentors, consultations, community resources, etc.) are needed by practitioners. These findings reflect the results of previous research yet offer perspectives on why barriers persist. Multifaceted and intersectoral approaches that address individual, interpersonal, workplace and systemic issues faced by nurses and physicians when inquiring about IPV are required. Comprehensive frameworks are needed to further explore the many issues associated with IPV inquiry and the interplay across these issues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Practice Patterns, Nurses' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Spouse Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Young Adult