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.

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6 Comments

  1. Young people starting off in their jobs have a lot to learn. Not only about their profession but also about dealing with people – peers, customers, and bosses. As an old-timer who has had their share of bad bosses, arrogant customers, and backstabbing peers I can attest that your situation is not unique, there is lab tech bullying, accountant bullying, waiter bullying, teacher bullying, artist bullying, delivery-person bullying, letter-carrier bullying. You get my point?
    Two years out of college you might still think that there are such things as “safe spaces” in the real world. There are not. Sorry

    1. But there’s a difference between a cranky, uncivil jerk boss and an abusive boss, just like having a spouse who’s inconsiderate vs abusive. Studies show nursing is especially bad re abuse. Bad bosses are ubiquitous but abusive bosses should not be common or tolerated.

  2. Workplace bullying, which is also referred to as abusive conduct at work, is pervasive and yet not illegal in most states. In 2007 our state got close to passing the Healthy Workplace Bill, and efforts were made several years after that, but nothing has been done in recent years. Nursing is one of the professions where bullying is most prevalent and I recall a group of nurses testified at a public hearing in the CT general assembly in 2010 or 11. This editorial is excellent. I would just add that the Workplace Bullying Institute has some helpful information online if you’re a target.

  3. IMHO nurses are not on any special island, workplace bullying happens everywhere. Today’s younger generation is not accustomed to some of the adversity and are ill prepared for it when they enter the workplace. While not discounting what nurses face, the medical community at large does nothing to help themselves in terms of improving their own workplace. They deal with customers who mostly don’t want to be there, customers who having their worse times and face over the top customer service issues that the industry fails to address. Couple this with daily workplace nonsense and you have a typical day. Try family law, be a teacher, or work construction. Do any of those for just one month and you’ll love both your nurse job and the pay that goes with it.

  4. I wholly agree with Mr’s Flintsave and Malino in their assessment of this editorial. Having been a nurse for some 20 years I’ve witnessed it and been the recipient of it many times and it IS prevalent in nursing as it is in other fields. You think you’ve seen bullying? Try dealing with a military nurse who is in the same (clinical) environment as you but has REAL authority (unlike civilian nurses who have little to no authority in carrying out their duties) as a commissioned officer. I can tell you you have learn to handle difficult personalities pretty quickly in those cases. My point is that as bad as you think you have it someone ALWAYS has it worse so make the best of it. Buck up, stop complaining, and figure out how you need to deal with these situations.
    Bullying is the current buzzword in nursing but take it from an (older) nurse bullying has been around since Florence was pulling wounded off the battlefield. And it will NEVER change.
    Lastsly, I would offer that based on the info you’ve provided, working in a clinical environment with a patient with labile blood pressure, that maybe hospital or clinical nursing may not be for you. It’s been my experience that labile blood pressure (symptomatic or not) can be one of the easiest cases you may have to deal with. Maybe you should think about one of the many other areas of nursing where you wouldn’t be exposed to these stressor conditions.

    1. Hi CSARmedic, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

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