How Do I Deal With Nurse Bullies?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine

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Any nurse who has been rejected by a nurse clique or has been the victim of another nurse’s malicious gossip wonders, “Weren’t we all supposed to grow out of this?”

Unfortunately, no.

According to one study, 38 percent of working adults have experienced bullying at work and 42 percent have witnessed bullying behavior. And while most workplace bullies are men, women can be bullies, too: 40 percent of all workplace bullies are female, according to the “Workplace Bullying Institute.”

What exactly is workplace bullying? For the most part, you can rely on the old adage “I know it when I see it.” If you prefer something more concrete, try this definition: “any vexatious behavior in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures that affect an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that result in a harmful work environment for the employee” (Canada Safety Council, 2005).

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. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should simply ignore the bully. If you can, confront the bully in a professional manner. Don’t scream, yell or cry; simply call her on her behavior and tell her you will not tolerate it anymore.

Start a file and document your interactions with the nurse bully. You may need this material later to provide evidence of hostility over time. Keep your statements as objective as possible: who, what, where and when. Include quotes whenever possible.

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. Whatever you do, don’t let the bully get the best of you. You’re better than that.

Have you ever been bullied by another nurse? How did you handle it?


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. It’s amazing, l an feeling that @ work and also seen it everyday, it does not matter what age you are. I’m just frustrated, because management does not see it, who do you talk to, it’s awful and I feel helpless… Help

  2. Yes, unfortunately there are Nurse Bullies out there! I too have had one experience with this when all I was doing was after 2 weeks of painful gossip-I had enough!!! I had attempted to stop a Bully from hurting another New Nurse… The Nurse Bully was upset that her schedule she worked hard to get was potentially going to change. The Nurse Bully kept on for literally 2 weeks by telling all staff on all shifts how awful this New Nurse was because, “Who did she think she was coming into a new job demanding only certain shifts?!” I at first tried to empathize with the Bully Nurse by saying I could understand how this may be upsetting but, maybe this was an agreement with management and the New Nurse (especially because the New Nurse’s husband was deployed)…Trying to help the Bully Nurse re-evaluate herself and attempting to stop this horrible “gossip”… The Bully Nurse kept on and on for days with multiple staff, there was no end in sight!!! I found myself just coming into work, minding my own business until one Night, The Bully Nurse attacked me! Our conversation was 2 weeks old at this point… The Nurse Bully had the nerve to back me into a corner, yelling at me saying, “Who did I think I was spreading the rumor that she “the bully nurse” had a problem with the schedule changes and the new nurse?!” I took her beating until I couldn’t take it anymore (as I was still backed into the Nurses station coener) other staff from another unit came over to see what was wrong etc… I finally said, “You are fully aware that this statement is what you have been saying for a couple of weeks to everyone!” This absolutely has nothing to do with me other than trying to initially empathize with you And have you rethink what you were saying because of the New Nurses personal situation (husband being deployed)… I gracefully stated, “It would be in your own best interest to be Accountable for your own actions rather than try to push your situation back on me!” Also stating that this needs to stop and her actions towards me are NOT welcome! I also said we are a team here, try to show some compassion for the New Nurse. I than gracefully saw my opportunity to step out of the forced cornering and left the unit for a break… I attempted to notify the Nurse Manager that Night via my cellphone while I was on break to be told by the Nurse Manager that she was already aware of the situation but was too busy to deal with it! Needless to say, first thing in the morning I went to HR and filed a Hostile Work Environment.. HR stated they would not tolerate a Nurse acting like this and would conduct an investigation… Next day I was asked to have a sit down meeting with the Department Head and this Nurse Bully.. I went and you probably guessed it… The Nurse Bully started yelling, using Profanity towards me… The Department Head kept telling the Nurse Bully to stop but you guessed it she didn’t… The Department Head even stood up behind her desk, slammed her hands on the desk and shouted STOP!!! The Bully Nurse continued… All I said at this point was, “Here is exhibit A” I informed the Department Head that I was not interested in this meeting anymore as she could clearly see this Nurse Bully has a problem and that I would follow up with HR..Remembering back to Nursing School, I had a very very intelligent Nursing Insructor that said, “You are where you work and you become where you work!” I resigned from that awful hospital in Jacksonville, NC and absolutely have NO desire to ever work there again… That hospital has the worst reputation in all of Onslow County that I have ever seen in my 27 years of Nursing… So the tale of the story is-remember who you are and what you stand for! Respectfully a much happier Nurse continuing my dream with Compassion and Dignity in a Healthier Nursing Hospital job..

  3. I worked on a trauma unit…where the nurses are allowed to believe they are gods…and was constantly berated by them. There were many cliques; they hot shots looking for endorsement to go to nurse anesthesiology school, the hootchies looking for a doctor husband, and the rare bird that loved what they did and were happy to share their knowledge. I actually went to the manager, and it put a target on my back. Seems she was a drinking buddy with the “in” crowd. When I went above her for writing me up based on hear say, I was told that she was more valuable than I was, and I was not allowed to transfer off the unit. I stayed as long as I could, tried as hard as I could, was told by many that I was doing a great job, but could not please THEM…the ones that are allowed to run the unit. I’m sad to say that it’s ten years later and I’m still scarred! But as a preceptor now, I remember how I was treated, and makes sure I don’t fall into that behavior.

  4. I experienced a high level of bullying and managed to maintain my professionalism. The bullying served to motivate me to sharpen my assessment skills, IV skills and computer documentation skills. The first 6 months of the bullying were very difficult. Thereafter, I was able to come to work and not let the ostracism affect me. I treated everyone respectfully, helped out as needed and generally let it be known that I was always available to assist my co-workers. I was also assertive in requesting assistance with my own assignment if I needed help, always keeping patient safety at the forefront of my nursing care. I did speak to one of the nursing educators at my facility and shared the situation with her. The mere fact that another nurse understood my situation and made herself available to me, was a great help. She did encourage me to report the situation to HR, but I felt it would not help. This staff had been here for years and years under pretty much the same department heads, one big FAMILY. Even the MD’s were part of this FAMILY. Needless to say, I eventually left this particular institution. Funny though, my departure resulted from negative interactions with a NEW manager, not the old staff. In hindsight, I harbor no ill feelings, what matters is excellent patient care.

  5. Sorry you had to go through what you did. I don’t know why some people feel the need to put others down. I guess it’s to make themselves feel bigger, they are pathetic. But I commend you for using the experience to become, what sounds like, a very attentive and fair manager. The people working with you are very lucky !

  6. They need more work if they have time to bully! …but seriously I had this experience when I was a nurse extern in the OR. They were certainly in their little snobby clusters throughout the OR, Pre and Post OP care, They wanted to run me ragged, make me feel stupid, and shunned. I decided early on, no matter what they said or did I was going to still be me. Friendly, kind, hard working …me. For some it made them mad and they snubbed me more, for others they came around and began to see my value, a few still high tailed it out of there if caught by their group, talking to the lowly extern, but a few took up for me. Sadly I never worked in the OR again, I thought I wanted to, but after seeing their behavior and how detached they seemed, no one had name they were …the left hip, or room 7, or Dr.soandsos patient. It didn’t seem like my cup of tea. The other was when I was a dialysis tech, I had a lot of years of experience and lots of medical knowledge as I had a child sick since birth with an incurable disease, and she, despite being the manager, was new to dialysis. She told horrid lies all the time and one time she was telling this story of how her brother was born with downs syndrome and he outgrew it, I could not hold my tongue…and after that she was out for blood. But what she did to me scarred me. I used to get to work early and I was a high energy person in the mornings, I would buzz around doing set ups for the other gals, mixing up things we would need during the day, drawing up syringes and priming fistula needles. The girls always seemed to appreciate it. Well this nurse supervisor took me in her office and said, Did you know (names omitted) do not like you at all. I ask why…Because you keep coming in here in the mornings acting like you own the joint and doing all their set ups like they are too stupid or lazy to do their own work, they really resent how you are acting. I was crushed. I stopped coming in early, I would sit in my car till one of them arrived, I stopped doing the extra work of the day. I let it go, hurt as I was, I just let it go. Years later I ran into my former worker and we had lunch, I was scared to talk about it but I brought it up…she looked at me and said …are you kidding! We never said that …ever…and we wondered what happened, we thought you were mad at us thinking we should have gotten there early and did some of your work. We were upset that you just stopped rather than come to us, we thought you were just being passive aggressive. We felt hurt that you did not care about us and helping us out anymore. I felt 1,000 lbs lighter. So the question remains for me….why ….what purpose did that serve. I am part of upper management now and I strive to let each person know how important they are, daily! Each time I open my mouth to speak I take a few seconds and I think…what purpose will these words serve? Will they build them up, or tear them down, are they words to relieve my anger or jealousy, or are they words that will communicate at truth of mine, if they are negative words, am I sure they will make a difference, can I preface them with something good about the person? So I guess the events did serve a purpose, they made me a better person, they made me learn to confirm something rather than just believe it (the story of my coworkers) and they made me a better manager! and person!

  7. Nurses eat their young , it doesn’t matter what age … You could be giving report to a nurse with half your experience years knowledge competency etc and some nurses feel like they have to be on a power trip at all times. It’s nothing but their own insecurities and incompetence because if they actually listened they wouldn’t have to ask the same question that you already answered five other times . It’s sad that some people have nothing better to do than try to make others feel incompetent when it’s really just a reflection of their own . You have to have confidence and call them out on their bs … Chances are when you do they won’t “try” to demean you anymore .

  8. Ann has a good strategy. I noticed a pattern of behavior directed at me by one particular nurse in my unit when I was a new nurse. She was intent on “tripping me up” during report and pointing out my deficiencies. I politely stopped her one evening and assured her that I was open to receiving what she had to say and that she could tell me anything she wanted but insisted that she do it in a respectful manner. There was a rather uncomfortable silence… I finished my report and it never happened again.

  9. Yes.. I have been bullied… But I used it to my advantage..ask the bullier to teach,show, and explain… They either get it or they don’t. One can learn a lot, if you just turn it around…. Young nurses have bullied me… Been a nurse for 43+ years… I know a lot, but not everything… I expect coworkers to share knowlege.. Not to bully… Time and patience can be one’s best friend..

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