Nurse bullies: Is it an epidemic and how to stand-up!

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Bullying is something we hear about in the news a lot in relation to schools. Something we don’t necessarily associate bullying with is the workforce, in-particular the field of nursing.  On the surface why would you, we are a group of professionals, who had to go through some strenuous training to make it out the other-side.  Every nurse as heard the phrase nurses “eat their young”. As a culture of nurses we have just accepted this to be true. This is not only with brand new nurses to the field, this can be a brand new nurse just to the facility, that is tying to adjust into the culture of the facility. The older nurses usually get blamed for the bullying! New nurses are actually starting to bully the older nurses. So another words it is EVERYONE! Nurse bullying is an epidemic and it is not because of the doctors. Not saying it doesn’t happen, because it does, but not on the scale of nurse to nurse bullying.  There are many theories as to why this is happening, and their are many arguments. Why is it becoming an epidemic ,and how does the victim stand-up, and get help.

Why is it becoming an epidemic?

Did you know in our workforce we have four generations working side by side? That alone is enough to cause major differences. It is also amazing of the wide range of experience, and expertise we can offer our clients, if we come together as a team! As stated before, the older generation tends to get the blame for bullying the younger nurses. This does go on, but it is not just them, and not on the scale that it has been blown up to be. New nurses as mentioned are graduating and are coming in bullying experienced nurses. Why would a new nurse, bully an experienced nurse? Again just like the older nurses, it is not every new nurse. Some are coming out with hyper-inflated self-esteems.  For instance, they just came out of school and have a Bachelors degree in nursing, but this “older” nurse only as an Associates degree,or maybe even a technical certificate. So they think, more education, hence better. What is not seen by (some) new nurses, is that the older nurse may only have a two year degree or technical certificate, but she has been working the floor for 25 years! Both nurses offer things to bring to the table, but they need to work together. That’s what we got to fix. So the epidemic is being caused by many things new nurses, old nurses, there has even been a suggestion of gender playing a role. Personally, I have experienced this. Nursing is a female dominated field. More and more male nurses are coming into the field, and I say bring them on! We need the balance! It is a proven fact the females get into competition with each other (more some than others), and that can lead to friction in the work place. It’s not attention from male counterparts either (sorry guys), it’s more professional competition now. Why can’t we just cheer each other on! Competition is fine, but so is cheering each other on, and ladies, guys have us beat hands down on that (as a general rule). Most of us have heard nurses say, I would rather work with men than women any day. In some situations I have been in, those words have came out of my mouth. The point is there are numerous contributing factors that can lead up to nurse bullying! If you happen to find yourself the recipient of bullying, now what?


How to stand-up? (Professionally of course)

When I say stand up, I don’t mean turn into Muhammad Ali! Image result for Boxer cartoon ali

For the sake of this article I am not talking about physical violence. That goes beyond just bullying , that is assault!  I am referencing name-calling, intimidation, threatening, ethnic jokes, slurs, and blaming to name a few. In my opinion, if it has reached physical violence, it has reached into the criminal realm. Think about it, if your were mowing your grass, and your neighbor of 16 years came over and said, “I hate how you mow grass, its ugly, and you don’t know what your doing”. And then proceeds to push you off your lawn mower. As your laying there ,your neighbor kicks you in the leg and says ” You better start mowing better, or else”, and then walks away. What would you do? Most people would want to go Muhammad Ali all on their neighbors face, but hopefully they would call the police, and they would handle it. Of course, if you have to protect yourself you would. But see the point I am making. It crosses a different line when violence enters in. So how do you professionally stand up to bulling behavior? The number one thing you can do is name the behavior. If for example, a supervisor is yelling at you in the middle of the nurses station, in front of other coworkers and patients/families, ask her to move to another location. Start to move toward the desired location. You could say “Patients and Families can hear you and you are screaming and yelling at me” (name the behavior). Another example can be, “I was told by another nurse, that you were bad mouthing how I give report (name the behavior), you could come to me with concerns” It doesn’t have to be completely confrontational, but the bully needs to know that you are not going to accept this behavior, and that you do recognize what they are trying to accomplish. This might not work, but it is still an important step to send the message to the bully this is not professional, and won’t be tolerated. You can do this in a professional way, there is no reason to resort to their methods, or now you have just become a bully yourself. Then start to write down the incidents, date, time, details! What do they tell you in nursing school? If you don’t document it, then it didn’t happen. That means if you have to go up the chain of command write down who you talked to, the result, and if they referred you to anyone. There is always a next person up. Just keep record of everything. Because if this person decides to escalate things, and somehow gets your job in jeopardy, you have a whole lot of evidence backing up a history of abuse, and steps you have taken to stop it. Now sometimes it is just easier to throw your hands up and move on. Some times that is the answer, and sometimes it is not. What if you landed your dream job? Everything was perfect, but the bullying. That would be worth sticking up for. So the situation is going to  be unique to everyone.


The main take away I want everyone to learn from this, if you don’t already know,  bullying among nurses does exist. I would actually be really shocked if you hadn’t experienced it yourself, or know someone who has. If you find yourself a victim of bullying, then please don’t let it keep going, because it will eventually escalate. Like stated before, sometimes the best advice is to just simply walk away. Sometimes that is not an option, maybe you can’t afford to just walk away until another job is lined up. That doesn’t mean you have to be someones punching bag until you find one. Name their behavior, document what is happening, report, and use the chain of command. Even if your leaving, some other poor soul is going to replace you, and be the new punching bags. So hopefully the bullying can be fixed and the cycle stopped for the next nurse. As nurses we have a lot in common just with our profession alone. We should share a common bond, lift each other up, and be our biggest cheerleaders. Lets hope that we are leaning towards that one nurse at a time, that’s all it takes! Take care of yourself and your fellow nurses! Nurse on!


Thompson, R. (n.d.) Dr. renee thompson’s series on nurse bullying. American Sentinel University. Atlanta, GA.

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I experienced classis bullying when I returned to the clinical settting after 9 or so years away – too afraid to report it.
A year later I wrote an essay about it and sent it off to the American Journal of Nursing 🙂


I hope to write for a magazine, at some point. Just a guest article, would blow my mind! That’s great you did that. I used to think I was one of a few that experienced this. I’m realizing I am one of many!