The Issue of Nurse Bullying

Today’s guest post comes to us from Erica Moss, who is the community manager for Georgetown University’s online acute care nurse practitioner program. You may remember hearing about the program on this blog due its partnership with the fabulous Nursing License Map. Erica is here today to give voice to important problem for nurses…bullying.

You’ve waited for the day that you would graduate as a nurse and begin your first real job.  Those 6 a.m. clinicals and all-night study binges have finally paid off. You’ve passed your boards, submitted your resume, smiled at all the right people, and now your first day of work is finally here! You are a realist and understand that it will take time to acclimate fully, but you are a hard worker and a quick learner. The other nurses will see this and shepherd you as you find your niche in this new world of nursing… or will they?

Imagine your dismay when your first day on the job turns out to be more like a scene from the movie Mean Girls. You witness bickering, backstabbing, cruel gossip, belittling, and so much more. Your new coworkers coexist in such a way that they seem desensitized by this toxic environment and waste no time dragging you in. Now what?

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal), which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

For a profession that prides itself in attracting caring and compassionate individuals, it is a sad reality that nurse bullying appears to be a growing trend. If you have not yet encountered a bully in the workplace, chances are good that at some point in your career, you will.

Do Your Research

We have all heard the saying that a good offense is the best defense. This could not be more true when dealing with a bully in the workplace. First and foremost, educate yourself on this topic. When you educate yourself and learn how to deal offensively with the perpetrator(s) you are building an arsenal that can be used to disarm the bully.

The bully seeks to control you and perhaps the entire unit. When those attempts fail repeatedly, the bully will eventually retreat. Seek out resources on this topic. One such resource is a book titled “Do No Harm” Applies To Nurses Too and will leave you feeling empowered and equipped to dismantle the toxic environment created by your resident bully.

Educate Your Team

Now that you have educated yourself, it’s time to grow your arsenal. Many hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices have regular in-services on topics relevant to your team. Many of these in-services are led by you and your fellow nurses.

Volunteer to lead the next in-service and share your knowledge of workplace bullying. This is not the time to confront the infamous bully by calling him or her out; that would only isolate them, adding fuel to the fire. Simply lay out the facts and provide your team with some practical knowledge that will help identify and deal with workplace bullying. Keep it positive by focusing on the reason why you are all there in the first place. Concentrate on patient care outcomes.

When your fellow nurses are distracted by bullies, no one is getting any work done and patient care will suffer. Convince your nurse peers that your team will be more efficient and provide better and safer patient care when internal strife is at a minimum. You will earn big points with your nursing supervisor and empower other team members along the way.

Address Your Bully, Then Your Superior

You have wanted to give that bully nurse the benefit of the doubt. You have approached him or her in a neutral setting and provided the facts. You were honest, but respectful, providing specific examples of hurtful behaviors and how they made you feel. However, it is now crystal clear to you that every day is a bad day for your fellow nurse, and he or she is now mistreating you or other team members on a consistent basis. This caustic behavior is poisoning your team’s morale, and it is difficult to focus on your job. At this point, patient care and safety could be compromised. This is where you draw the line.

In this scenario, you would share this information with the next higher authority and continue up the chain of command until the problem is properly addressed.

As a Nursing Administrator

If you are a nursing administrator addressing this situation, there are several recommendations that can be made. First, develop a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. Set clear guidelines relating to bullying behaviors. Develop and encourage a culture of safety, which includes a bully-free environment.

Many health-care facilities provide a nurse advocate for nurses to vent any traumatic or troubling job related events. You may also consider placing a suggestion box where nurses can anonymously report problems or bully behaviors. In turn, invite your staff to consider solutions that will make your unit run more smoothly and discourage negative behaviors.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from your knowledge of nurse bullying is that you can be a catalyst for change. Take responsibility for the positive changes that you can bring to your team. You will be building valuable skills that exemplify leadership and empower those around you.

Erica Moss is the community manager for Georgetown University’s online acute care nurse practitioner program, which partners with Nursing License Map to offer nursing career resources. She enjoys blogging, TV, pop culture and tweeting @ericajmoss.

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