How Common Are Serial Killers In The Health Care Profession?

Crime + Investigation UK reports that Harold Shipman, Donald Harvey, and Charles Cullen are all convicted killers with a sizable number of victims. Horrifically, each of these individuals worked in health care, and instead of saving lives, they took them. While Shipman trained as a doctor, Cullen worked as a nurse (via A&E), and Harvey, a nurse's aide. "Brave Clarice — health care serial killers, patterns, motives, and solutions," an article published in Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology in 2022, notes that this does not apply to men only; female nurses, like Ayumi Kuboki, have also been convicted of murdering their patients. The study has a name for this phenomenon: Health care serial killing.

Per "Brave Clarice — health care serial killers, patterns, motives, and solutions," a health care setting is a perfect playground for a murderer. The article "Health care serial murder," published in the journal, Can Family Physician, explains that health care professionals are in a position that allows individuals to have blind faith in them. They also have a plethora of medications available for killing with little risk of getting caught. Limited resources at a medical facility can result in the hiring of a killer without the knowledge of the institution or other medical staff. Moreover, health care workers, killers or not, can ultimately become desensitized to death.

Why health care professionals kill

According to "Brave Clarice — health care serial killers, patterns, motives, and solutions," there are two main types of medical serial killers: One believes that killing their patient is an act of mercy, while the other hopes to gain a reputation from acting like a hero. Regarding the latter, A&E notes, for example, that German nurse Niels Högel induced heart attacks with medication before attempting to save his patients. He relished the praise he received from his colleagues. There are, of course, other motivations. Health care serial killers may want control or sexual gratification. In other cases, they might kill for financial gain.

"Health care serial murder" reports that the victims of health care serial killers are usually the elderly or the young. A&E adds that health care serial killers commonly use lethal injections to kill their patients. The Nurses Association Of New Brunswick writes that this includes injections of potassium, insulin, and more.

Beatrice Yorker, the co-author of the 2006 study Serial Murder by Health care Professionals, told A&E that murderers in the health care profession kill because they can. "[The] opportunity is almost too easy ... You don't have to be like Ted Bundy and organize your search of a victim," she said. Per Psychology Today, signs that may point towards sinister health care workers may include having a high rate of unexpected patient deaths or frequently hopping from one medical facility to another.

Health care serial killer cases are rare

"Brave Clarice — health care serial killers, patterns, motives, and solutions" states that health care serial killers are few and far between. Nevertheless, "Health care serial murder" reports that these types of serial killers murder 35 Americans annually. The study notes that this number is only an estimate and may be higher. The CBC explains that this is mainly because these killings are not easily detected. If the death doesn't outwardly appear suspicious and there is no autopsy, the health care worker can continue killing undetected. Moreover, 49% of convicted health care killers were female nurses, and 44% were male nurses.

A 2014 article from MedPage Today notes that 72% of victims were killed in hospitals, 20% in nursing homes, and 6% at home. Although they are infrequent, Crime Traveller writes that health care serial killing cases have increased since the 1970s. However, Beatrice Yorker told A&E that there's been a decline in recent years due to systematic changes in health care. She said, "We believe that increased awareness, safeguards in hospitals, and better tracking of medicines have contributed to a decrease — down to 28 prosecutions — in the 2010s." Per "Health care serial murder," knowing what signs to look for in health care serial killers can save lives and act as the best course of prevention.