‘Bullying’ has been a buzzword in recent years. We talk about bullying in regards to Facebook and as it relates to children in our schools. Frankly, the whole anti-bullying movement kind of drives me nuts. There have always been and will always be mean kids. So, it’s up to our parents and teachers to identify them, discipline and counsel them, and give other children the skills needed to handle a harsh word. This is not a new ‘movement’, this is growing up as it has been and always will be.

While I find the talk about bullies in our schools, the sign-waving and marches against bullying, unnecessary and annoying, the discussion of ‘nurse bullying’ really gets under my skin. This spring, Marie Claire published an article on the topic titled ‘Girls of the ER: The Alarming Nurse Culture of Bullying and Hazing‘. The article describes a culture among nurses which includes “rampant hazing, bullying, and sabotage”. Author Alexandra Robbins asserts that at least 85 percent of nurses have been verbally abused by a fellow nurse. Is this really the case?

As Robbins delves into her exploration of the culture of bullying in nursing, she cites a 2011 Research in Nursing & Health survey finding that the most common bullying methods are “being given an unmanageable workload” and “being ignored or excluded”. As I read her words, I can’t help but think that “being given an unmanageable workload” seems more like a lack of communication between administration and nursing staff rather than a deliberate attack on a nurse. “Being ignored or excluded”, yes, it hurts not to be a ‘cool kid’, but leave work at work and hang out with your real friends when you’re off the clock. Or, get a new job.

Nursing is a profession, not a sorority. I have made some great friends throughout my career as a nurse practitioner. But, I don’t like everyone I work with and I’m sure there’s a (small!) possibility not everyone I work with likes me. Workplace relationships and interactions can certainly resemble those we have that are purely social. Cliques form between colleagues with similar interests or personalities, a coworker uses a demeaning or angry tone of voice when they have a bad day. As professional adults we must either let these things slide, confront them directly, or bring them to the attention of the appropriate higher-ups. When these measures prove ineffective or the problem recurring, a change in employer may be in order. Some nurses have opted to label themselves victims over taking action. 

Playing victim rather than rising up both personally and as a profession, we do ourselves a great disservice as nurses. We continue to play into the healthcare hierarchy by appearing immature and incapable. It’s time to stop publicizing the 1980’s verbiage “nurses eat their young” and start being recognized for our intellect and capabilities.

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7 thoughts on “Is Nurse Bullying for Real?”

  1. Your article indicates that you have not experienced bullying among nurses. I have. I have been screamed at, called ‘bitch’ and other names, had projects sabotaged, hit by equipment ‘accidentally’, been ‘watched’ as I do patient care to the point that patients asked what was wrong with that nurse watching us. To try to ‘solve’ the problem by taking hospital policy steps only resulted in the supervisor getting angry. Unfortunately there are nurses who are lazy and who do not like to care for patients. These nurses do not care about education or evidenced based practice; they don’t understand the importance of accurate charting or proper assessment techniques. I have been told to stop working hard because I make other nurses look bad. Being a patient advocate and performing competent nursing seems to offend those who shouldn’t be in the nursing profession. No, you have never been bullied.

  2. Ann Cousins, PhD, PMH-CNS

    The ANA is addressing incivility in the work place this month. They have a much broader understanding and3925 greater empathy of the bullying issue.

  3. I have to disagree with you here. I was a nerdy black girl who liked to read on the bus while in elementary school. I was bullied damn near every day. Thankfully, I had a mom who insisted I learned to stand up for myself & I learned to hide being “smart”. Sadly, I’ve witnessed similar behavior in my career as a nurse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ” you’re a great nurse but your coworkers say they can’t read you”. Why is that included in a performance review? I didn’t participate in petty, clique behavior in junior high & high school and I refuse to do it as an adult. I’ve watched perfectly competent nurses be ran out of the ICU simply because the predominant clique didn’t like them. I’ve lost a job because 2 nurses didn’t think I was a good fit for their unit. Never mind the fact that 90% of the staff signed a petition to get me back. Bullying in nursing is very real. Just because someone has not experienced it personally does not make it nonexistent.

  4. I tried for years to get on as a RN at the VA hospital where I lived and I finally did. At the time I had 19 years experience, no desire for management, had a BSN, loved my job, worked overtime, worked every Friday, Saturday, Sunday night shift, floated without griping, even volunteered to float and do other projects. I was there 9 months when we were short staffed one night and I was in charge with only 1 other RN, 1 LPN and 1 CNA. so I choose to take my break sitting in the corner of the day room and watch a movie on my iPhone. Specifically told staff I was right there if needed. About 5 minutes into my break the house supervisor comes up behind me taps me on shoulder and says “you were asleep,” I answered, “no, I was listening to my phone with headphones on my break.” 1 month later I am notified of a disciplinary hearing. Still on a 2 year probation period, I was screwed. Even with staff on duty as witnesses to the fact I was not asleep and had never slept on duty, I was dismissed. My immediate supervisor supported me and showed my perfect 6 month eval. Somewhere in that facility, someone sabbatoged me or was afraid to stand up to someone and say “this isn’t right!” The veterans were the ones who ultimately suffered! It was right then that I decided I had to separate myself from nurses or get out all together. I graduate FNP program in 6 months and I pray NP’s are different!!

  5. I also agree that bullying is very real and that management is aware and allows it. A facility I recently left has an assistant nurse manager who has been to anger management 4 times. She has screamed at nurses in the pre-op/pacu nurse’s station with patients on both sides of the room. She did not like one nurse because she was cute and little and married to a resident. She was a good nurse. This “manager” screamed at this nurse for 10 minutes in the nurse’s station. One of the anesthesiologists came up to the nurse and said, “You do not have to take that. No one should be talked to like that”. She went to the administrator (a non-nurse) and the bully went to one of her sessions of anger management. She very much plays favorites with her staff. She was never my direct supervisor but I have been screamed at very publicly by her and when she was wrong I was informed that she was wrong (not apologized to) very much in private. She is the manager of the PAT department also and the PAT nurse works on another floor that she easily finds whenever she has criticism. One day she bought “all of her staff expect the PAT nurse” lunch. She is extremely passive aggressive the facility was originally physician owned and the administrator had total control. It is a small outpatient surgery center. It was bought by a major hospital system. One would think that this would have made things better but it did not. Now the administrator allows this type of behavior and hides it from the “main facility” across the street. Her major goal is to keep the nurse manager out of her business. It is worse. The nurse manager across the street has no idea what is going on and probably could not care less. Unfortunately all that those not in the “inner circle” can do is find a new job. I had worked in the OR and a few of the nurses there are very back stabbing and try very hard to make new people know they are unwelcome. They have set them up, harassed, and made them quit because the assistant nurse manager there has no clue. One of these nurses is very very manipulative and has really been running the show from the day the manager was promoted but she is not clever enough to realize this nurse is really undermining her by telling her what to do instead of letting her make her own decisions. She is not a manager. She becomes very defensive and a bully when anyone other than that nurse questions her decisions. The administrator has said more than once “nurse’s make too much money.” Her problem now is that everyone else in the hospital system in her position is a nurse and she has to keep everyone else feeling inferior and managers who make staff feel inferior so that she has a job. YES bullying is alive and well. Be thankful you have not experienced it because a blind upper management and partnering middle management can make life miserable for many people. Nursing needs to identify this perhaps the state board or state department of health needs to investigate these complaints and place restrictions on these licenses. Failure to properly supervisor when one of your staff does not follow the law will get the manager a reprimand. Why are we allowing this to occur? My sons have had several student teachers in their younger grades and their teacher always sent home a note stating the student teacher is leaving we would like to give her/him a supply bag to start the classroom please send in pens/markers/something. This is very welcoming. I have seen nursing scream at people and cause them great stress. How can those same people be compassionate with patients? Generally they are not. They are task oriented nurses who don’t care about anyone but themselves.

  6. Erin, I always enjoy and learn a lot from your articles but I think you need to rethink and apologize this time. Your definition of bullying is so narrow and focused on what Marie Claire defined. Bullying can have many faces. I have not considered myself being a victim of bullying but I have witnessed my coworkers struggling/suffering because of the bad culture. Do more research before you speak publicly. You know well that your website is more than a mere personal blog where you can post whatever you want. I am disappointed by the article and your insight on this matter.

  7. I appreciate professionals who maintain valuable blogs and information hubs such as this, but this article was dismissive towards bullying. Dismissiveness is very powerful and even dangerous. Just think of how many diagnoses were missed due to a dismissive provider, some resulting in death of the patient.

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