Imagine that you are a nurse with less than two years’ experience. At this point in time, you are finally beginning to feel comfortable and confident in your job and responsibilities and that you aren’t a novice anymore.
Over the next 12 hours, your patient is very busy because his blood pressure is swinging between high and low pressures as a result of his condition. You have called the physician multiple times and have been following orders to the letter. Meanwhile, your charge nurse is coming up to you every 30-45 minutes asking you: What is going on with your patient? Did you call the physician? What are you doing about this?
Anxiety provoking right? Not only are you worried about your patient, but you also have your charge nurse who is not being supportive but actually contributing to a difficult situation — all of which is conflicting with what the physician told you…that everything you were doing was appropriate and to keep them posted.
By the end of the night, your charge nurse comes to you and says that she needs to talk to you. Then she proceeds to tell you that you did a terrible job managing the patient.
Or imagine this…you are checking your mail prior to leaving for your 12-hour night shift. After opening a letter you received, you are shocked as it describes your personal appearance as being in violation of the dress policy strictly because of your weight. However, you can tell it was a hoax as it was sent anonymously. Even worse, you still have to go to work all the while wondering who was cruel enough do something like that.
Unfortunately, situations like these happen every day in the nursing world. We are becoming more aware of the detrimental effects that bullying can have on individuals and the consequences. But what we don’t hear a lot about is the phenomenon of nurse bullying.
The American Nurses Association classifies nurse bullying as “repeated, unwanted, and harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend, and cause distress in the recipient.” It has been reported that approximately 85 percent of nurses have been the target of bullying behavior at some point in their career.
There are short- and long-term effects for the victim of this type of behavior. An article from the Journal of Managerial Psychology, found that bullying in the workplace leads to feelings of depression and anxiety which leads to absenteeism and high rate of turnover. In hospitals, high turnover rates and absenteeism effect not only patient safety and the quality of care given, but employee morale and job satisfaction. In fact, a 2017 study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that 60 percent of new nurses left their jobs within six months due to bullying behaviors.
Conversely, nurses are continuously ranked as the most trusted profession for the past 17 years according to the annual Gallop Poll. Approximately 84 percent of the people responding to this poll reported that nurse are highly in the categories of honestly and ethical standards. Nurses also have a reputation for being caring towards the patients and families. But why aren’t we kinder to each other?
It is difficult to get a true picture and understanding of this issue because most of this behavior goes unreported. Nurses are afraid to speak up and report this behavior for various reasons; thinking that it is ok because you are “paying your dues,” a lack of resolution from prior reported instances of bullying, a lack of confidence, or fear of further bullying.
The American Nurses Association and other professional organizations are taking a strong stance of “No Tolerance,” which is supported by most if not all employers. However, this behavior still persists to this day. Nothing can be done if people are not willing to speak out and shine the light on this problem.
Sadly, I have to admit that both of these experiences were mine. Luckily, I was able to move past the first and it made me able to stand up and speak out when I experienced the second.
If you are the target of this type of behavior, please report it to your unit manager, HR director, or hospital leaders. Reporting can actually be empowering and sends a strong message to those who tolerate, condone or participate in bullying. Only by speaking up will we be able to halt nurse bullying, which will help to not only improve patient safety but nurse’s mental stress and health as well.
Corin Mauldin is a registered nurse at the University of Connecticut.