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The Alarming Presence Of Bullying In Nursing



The secret:

As with many other professions, nursing has its share of bullies who discredit the profession, while other nurses work with dedicated efficiency and good will. Bullying has an impact on the workplace environment and nurses in general; it causes low morale and in some cases makes nurses seek employment elsewhere or even leave the profession.


We’ve all seen it and looked the other way. Maybe we’ve even done it to another nurse after a bad day, or watched in silence as a colleague humiliated a newer nurse. Then there is the gossip. Bullying is rampant in nursing, and it makes a difficult job all the more stressful because of it.


Not only does a nurse have to worry about her patient, but also whether her coworkers are talking about her in the tea room. Instead of focusing on taking care of your patient, bullying makes you worry about how you fit in with your coworkers and if they are going to make you miserable today.


The ugly truth:

Dealing with hospital politics is something every new nurse has to learn. Nurse bullying is so pervasive that it has its own expression. In 1986, nursing professor Judith Meissner came up with the phrase "Nurses eat their young" as a call to action for nurses to stop insulting inexperienced coworkers. 30 years later, the bullying is getting worse. The presence of nurse bullying is confounding. Researchers say that at least 85 percent of nurses have been verbally abused by a fellow nurse. Worldwide, experts estimate that one in three nurses quits her job because of bullying and that bullying—not wages—is the major cause of a global nursing shortage.


Victims of nurse bullying can rarely look to the law for assistance because woman-on-woman aggression isn’t discriminatory. Unless there’s sexual coercion, there’s no legal protection. If you’re the same gender, same race, you’re stuck. In other words bullying is primarily legal in America.


But the question is why is bullying so frequent among nurses? Many nurses assume that because the workforce is 91 percent female, they are destined to resort to backstabbing and mean behavior However, this argument only discredits a field of smart, strong women passionate about their jobs. Some researchers believe that nurses are a belittled population because of a history of powerlessness and submissiveness to mostly male physicians and administrators. Because they believe complaining to doctors or administrators could jeopardize their jobs, nurses are more likely to redirect their rage or fear against one another. They typically don’t have other workplace outlets for venting their frustrations. Many hospital units don’t give nurses time to eat, to take a walk, or even go to the bathroom. They are often overworked and harassed by aggressive patients. They can be so physically and emotionally depleted that they have little time for themselves, let alone their colleagues.


The solutions:

So what can be done? Is being quiet and letting the abuse take place the right way to go? No. If a fellow nurse is bullying you, refuse to stoop to her level. Don’t answer her rude or unfounded allegations; she’s just trying to get a rise out of you, and if you respond, she wins. Instead, hold your head high and continue to do your job as competently and professionally as ever. Start a file and document your interactions with the nurse bully. You may need this material later to provide evidence of hostility over time.


Report the bullying behavior to your nurse manager as well. She needs to know what’s going on, and ideally will take steps to stop the behavior. If not, you may need to progress up the chain of command. It’s also important to seek support. Talk to a trusted coworker, friend or spouse, and find a way to release some of the stress you may feel as a result of the bullying.


The final say:

Whatever you do, don’t let the bully get the best of you. Dealing with emotional challenges on the job may be difficult but it can be done. You’re better than that and at the end of the day the unwitting victim in all of this is the patient, who suffers because the older nurses want to play games with younger nurses. But there may be life-and-death consequences.

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