Whenever I hear the words “nurse bully” together I have visceral memories of my own experience being a victim of bullying. Nurse often exhibit covert or less “out in the open” forms of bullying, such as microaggressions, repeated comments making the other person feel excluded or attacked, sabotaged and more. The phrase “nurses eat their young”, is repulsive, and we need to collectively reject that as a common saying.
Surely, being a victim of nurse bullying is psychologically taxing, but take into consideration that “a bullying culture contributes to a poor nurse work environment, increased risk to patients, lower Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) patient satisfaction scores, and greater nurse turnover, which costs the average hospital $4 million to $7 million a year” (Edmonson & Zelonka, 2019).
Nurse bullying begins in the classroom, where a study by Clarke et al., showed over a 6-month period, 78% of nursing students reported bullying (2018). Before the COVID pandemic, over 60% of nurses left their first job within the first 6 months due to the behavior of their colleagues (Clarke et al., 2018). I have often taught a preceptor course on and off across various settings over the past decade. I have yet to teach a class where when I ask for participation in having learners describe poor experiences being a new hire/ learner, that there are never any negative nursing school examples than clinical practice – this is the norm, not the exception. This is our foundation, no wonder why it is cracking.
As Edmonston & Zelonka state “Workplace bullying also requires the right environment to thrive” (2019). It takes a collective stance on an anti-bullying culture and supportive leadership to encourage a positive environment. It’s great to have a culture, but what can you do if you are the victim of nurse bullying? Here are some action steps to take:
- Name the problem – Often bullies thrive when the elephant is in the room but remain in power when you don’t call out that elephant. Acknowledge there is a problem, and that the current behavior is unacceptable.
- Get leadership support – Reach out to your manager to report the problem and bring solutions you have tried so far. Remember, nurse bullying has fiscal and patient safety impacts, but you are worth being supported simply for the fact this is happening.
- Eyes, ears and assistance away from the current situation – if your employer offers an employee assistance program, this is a great place to go that can help look at the situation objectively, give you tips, and support you emotionally. You can also seek counseling as a safe space to work through the issue.
- Choose You! – Ultimately, if you have tried to confront the problem, you have sought leadership support, and the culture persists, you need to decide on if where you currently are is a sustainable place of work. You cannot fully change the environment, so if you feel completely stuck, it may be time to seek a new environment, while making sure the next place is a culture intolerant of bullying, full of supportive colleagues.
Clarke CM, Kane DJ, Rajacich DL, Lafreniere KD. Bullying in undergraduate clinical nursing education. J Nurs Educ. 2018;51(5):269–276.
Edmonson C, Zelonka C. Our Own Worst Enemies: The Nurse Bullying Epidemic. Nurs Adm Q. 2019 Jul/Sep;43(3):274-279. doi: 10.1097/NAQ.0000000000000353. Erratum in: Nurs Adm Q. 2019 Oct/Dec;43(4):380. PMID: 31162347; PMCID: PMC6716575.