Bullying in Nursing: When nurses eat their young!

The term “nurses eat their young” is more common than not. Nursing is an emotionally stressful job. It can be a lot worse when your peers don’t treat you well. Whether it’s called bullying, hazing or eating your own young, nasty behavior happens all too frequently in health care. A survey by American Nurse Today found 65 percent of nurses had witnessed some form of this behavior.

The New Kid

More experienced co-workers in many professions often give new people a hard time. It happens in medicine, police work and teaching as well as nursing. Sometimes it’s the boss who is leading the pack; sometimes it’s an informal leader of the group. The fact that it’s commonplace doesn’t mean it’s okay. One of the “reasons” given for the behavior is that “it’s a hard job, and people need to learn how to toughen up.” In reality, such behavior breaks down an individual’s confidence and can lead to mistakes. In health care, that can be deadly.

The Educational Ladder

Differences in educational preparation can lead to a hierarchical situation that results in bullying. There are some interesting twists, however. Many experienced nurses have associate degrees or nursing diplomas, while new graduates often have a BSN. The older, more experienced nurses may feel threatened or jealous, leading to bullying behavior. On the other hand, newer RNs may be highly tech-savvy, which is a big plus in the days of electronic medical records. These nurses may turn it around and condescend to older nurses who don’t have tech skills.

Leadership Matters

The worst situations result from lack of leadership. When a manager ignores or is afraid to deal with bullying behavior, morale on the unit breaks down; absenteeism and turnover may increase. Informal power in the hands of people who think bullying is OK can cause all sorts of problems that may result in patient injury. It’s a real disaster when the manager is the bully and the rest of the staff take their brief from the boss. Sometimes nurses in management positions are abusive because they in turn have been abused by doctors, which is not uncommon in health care.

New graduates and new hires should be prepared for the possibility of abusive behavior on the job. Well before graduation, nursing educators can often walk students through scenarios to help them prepare. An assertive communication style can help: “I need your support, not your criticism.” Body language makes a difference — research has shown that the bully’s target is typically the submissive and timid individual. Walk tall, look people in the eye and speak clearly. Try to keep the focus on patient care; it may help to remind the bully that you’re all there for the same reason.




Written by 3rd independent party

2016-24136   Exp. 6/18