Nurse Workplace Bullying – What Should a Nurse Do?


According to a recent statistic online between 50 and 60% of nurses report being bullied when they first start out in nursing. I remember when I started nursing. I felt pretty intimidated by the nurses who had been there for a long time. In this article, I am going to cover what other stats I was able to find and what you should do about if you feel like you are being bullied at your hospital, surgery center, or office.

There is a common term in the nursing workplace which is, “nurses eat their young.” Maybe you have heard this too. But as unpleasant as it seems, many nurses can feel justified in “pushing” the new recruits a bit due to the stress and severity of the healthcare environment. After all, it can feel like a right of passage to many.

So what should you do if you’re being bullied as a nurse? While many organizations encourage you to speak up and do something about it, often the best course of action is to have a conversation with the individual that’s doing the bullying. This is the time to be assertive and let them know that it’s not acceptable for you.

If you say nothing, you are simply encouraging their behavior to continue. When I started out (given my upbringing and culture), it was not natural for me to speak up for myself. This can be a real hurdle, so I am NOT underestimating what I’m recommending you to do here.

It’s important to understand that most organizations are not really set up well to deal with this type of problem effectively.

Often times, healthcare providers find themselves in a busy, demanding, and fast-paced environment.

Depending on the type of manager that you have, you may simply be asking too much. If the manager that you report to is not well-versed in the subject, they may simply brush off the bullying issue, assume it’s your fault or say that that is simply the way so and so is.

Further, they may ask if you have had a conversation with that person. If you have, and it has continued, you will have a much stronger case.

That’s why it’s important as a first step to have that conversation as difficult as it may be.

How should you prepare for the conversation with your bully or bullies?

Before you have a conversation with your offender, it’s important that you take a personal inventory and know exactly how you are perceived by the team where you work.

  • Ask yourself the question: am I helpful?
  • Do I take action when I see one of my fellow nurses under pressure?
  • Do I answer their call lights for them?
  • Am I skillful?
  • Do I contribute in a timely manner?
  • Am I confident?
  • Am I thorough?
  • Do I make the lives of the other nurses easier?

You need to take inventory about how you are contributing to the team.

If you tend to be one of those people who insist on running away when there is a lot of work to be done, then you may also be contributing to the perceived bullying.

Bullies tend to pick on people who seem like they have a lack of confidence. Are uncomfortable standing up for themselves, and who tend to stand out because of difference. If someone who is set on bullying you notices these qualities, it can lead to your becoming target.

Here’s how I handled my bully. This may work for you too.

Here’s me and my fellow graduates. I was pretty naive to all of this back then:

First off, I designated someone to know the inside scoop before I confronted my bully. This was in case the sh** hit the fan.

In my case, this was a superior. I told her what was going on and that I was going to have a conversation with my bully. (Read how I dealt with childhood and teenage bullies)

It needs to be someone you trust and that you know has your back in case you get accused of something as retaliation.

Next, I asked my bully to step outside, and I got straight and to the point about how I would not tolerate the way she was treating me. In my case, she knew what she was doing was wrong.

I asked if we could settle this between us. She agreed.

After that day, no more problems.

Had it not worked, or if there had been retaliation, I had my bases covered. It’s important to know that someone can vouch for you. Consider talking to someone in a different department or let your supervisor know that there is an issue that you are going to address.

You don’t have to be specific about it (until it is necessary).

The fact that they are on notice should give you an advantage if you all of a sudden get accused of stealing meds or something ridiculous.

As a nurse… we should always CYA. Our licenses our lives.

Not everything is bullying

I remember my first six months on the job I definitely felt like the older nurses had it out for me.

However, one of the things that I needed to realize was that as much as they were being difficult, they were also trying to make sure that I was learning and I was being safe on the job.

Here you also need to be honest with yourself. If you have several independent nurses telling you that you should brush up on your IV skills, then, this may indeed be something that you need to work on.

Take it seriously if the complaint is across multiple groups of people.

If it is all coming from one group (a clique), then this just may be pure bullying.

Ask your supervisor to stand in on your next IV stick to see whether you are doing a good job. If you are, this could be a sign that you are being bullied.

So where exactly is the balance between bullying and being helpful? I’ll explore this more below.

First, let’s look at the definition of nurse bullying.

Nurse bullying definition and signs that you or someone you know is a victim

When you look up the definition, you will most likely see words like:

  • Horizontal or lateral violence
  • Incivility in Nursing

Certainly, there’s a difference between a nurse’s being upset with you or your ability to accomplish a task and a person who has it “out” for you.

So, when exactly does it become bullying? Bullying is really when someone is being hurt by words or actions. Typically, it results in the individual who is the target feeling unsafe.

Ask yourself the question: Do you feel unsafe at work?

Do you feel insecure about your job or do you find yourself not wanting to come to work for fear of the torment that you’re going to experience.

Incivility in Nursing – Statistics and Comparison

44%-85% of all nurses have been affected by workplace bullying. Further, 93% have either witnessed it or been a victim.

According to Anne Dabrow Woods’s YouTube Video Visit YouTube Video Here

To get a clear understanding of how many nurses report being bullied in their medical facility, I turned to the statistics that students were experiencing.

While bullying in school has been addressed significantly in academics, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the statistics of workplace bullying for nurses.

I looked at some historical information on how many students report being bullied in school. These days,

On average students report that one and five deal with significant levels of bullying.

In nursing, as I’ve scoured the Internet to find a good statistics, I have found disparities:

  • 50%-60% (generally speaking) 50 to 60% of nurses report having being bullied at some point in their career (however, mostly reported by new nurses).

It’s safe to say however that incidences that go unreported are much higher so Anne. It’s human nature to simply cover up these types of things, and many nurses blame themselves for being bullied.

  • Thus, Anne Dabrow Woods’ statistics of 44%-85% with 93% of all nurses witnessing it or being a victim is most likely more accurate.

I want to make clear that if you’re being bullied it is never your fault.

The “Nurse bullying” problem’s impact on nurses health

It has been reported that some nurses have committed suicide as a result of being bullied it in the workplace.

This is a tragic result that could have been prevented. But the toll that bullying in the healthcare workplace is having brings with it factors that often aren’t considered.

Most nurses are going to turn to some type of coping mechanism.

For me, I have always turned to food when I’m stressed. When I felt I was being bullied, I tended to eat a specific high calorie burger on my way home from work every night.

If you survey the nursing community, you’ll notice that there are a lot of overweight nurses.

They tend to live for the donuts that the local reps bring in or the food that’s going to be provided from special nurse functions such as nurses day.

In all I think this contributes to a lack of self-esteem.

As nurses gain weight like I did, they find themselves unhappy with what they see in the mirror, which can contribute to more bullying.

What should you do if you are witnessing other people being bullied at work?

It’s easy to simply say nothing.

In general, a lot of people say that they feel a little bit better by knowing at least it’s not them.

But, can you really stand by and watch someone else being made fun of?

At the end of the day, this is no longer grade school. Do you have a voice and you have the ability to make a difference.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Have a conversation with the person who is the victim and “check in” with them to see how they’re doing.
  • Find out whether or not they feel comfortable at work.
  • Go out of your way to make them feel welcome and comfortable.
  • Don’t hesitate to say something to the individuals who are being mean. You can just let them know that you don’t think it’s cool.
  • If things don’t change then see it as your responsibility to take even more action.
  • Bullying is simply not acceptable. If you see that it’s skill dependent, and the person who is being targeted is someone who is lacking in their skill-set, you need to have a conversation with them about improving their skill set and becoming more of a contribution to the team.
  • Finally, you can also recommend more training to their supervisor.

Easy to Create “Nurse Bullying” Survey for Administrators

One thing that administrators and managers can do is create an anonymous survey for their team. An easy (free) way to do this is to use Google Forms.

In fact, it is one of the fastest ways to create something that can be responded to anonymously.

In Google forms, they have a template called “customer feedback.” This feedback form can be changed to anything and then you can send your questionnaire to the recipients by sharing a simple link.

Here is an example of a customized one.

Nurse bullying stories

If you are a passive individual in general, you could be looking at becoming a target (or maybe you have already been one). Typically, if you aren’t assertive and tend to have an attribute that makes you stand out, people can start targeting you.

I’ve heard of nurses that have come from different areas of the country and speak with an accent or seem a little bit different culturally who have been picked on.

One of the most fascinating stories I came across was a nurse who was really interested in fitness and began to go on a journey to become a bikini model. She experienced bullying from other nurses because of her rigorous eating habits and often other people made fun of her because she was “already skinny. ”

Watch the video below:

Nurse bullying proposing a solution

Most nurses would agree that telling management isn’t necessarily your first step.

If the management doesn’t know how to respond you’ll simply look like a grade-school kid telling on the playground bully.

But, the key is to remain proactive in the situation.

You need to first off make sure that your skills are up to the challenge by taking a personal inventory as mentioned above. Make sure that you’re contributing to the team.

Once you are sure that you indeed contribute to the team and that your contribution is valuable, you’re going to need to have a hard conversation with the person that has it out for you.

You need to let them know (be assertive about it) that how they treat you comes off disrespectful and you’re not willing to tolerate it. Make sure that you do not become accusational in the process. If your bully feels threatened by your language, they may simply turn the heat up on the bullying.

Nurse bullying and leaving your job

So when is it appropriate for you to seek another job if you feel like you were being bullied?

It’s important that you understand that you should always choose yourself over your environment.

If you’re not at ease at work on a regular basis and it last for more than 3 to 6 months, this may be a significant signal that it’s time for you to change where you work.

Unfortunately your changing will have a major impact on your healthcare institution.

It’s been reported that nurses who change their positions and leave their healthcare facility in search of a new one cause the healthcare facility to incur a significant cost and replacing them.

This is due to training, and other impacts that it has on the healthcare facility. I’m only mentioning this so you can really take on responsibility for your center.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, if I had to choose between whether I stay at a position because I feel guilty that it might be hard on the facility for me to make a change or at choosing my own happiness, I would always choose to take care of myself first.

The reality is that if you stick with the position for too long where you are unhappy, it is likely to have a significant negative impact on you and your life, health and happiness.

You may not really be able to recover from it. You might find yourself burned out, and you may not want to even continue on as a nurse.

This doesn’t justify all of the hard work that you put into getting your license and your training.

If you have implemented the things that I suggest in this post, and you simply come up short, this might be a good indicator that it’s time to make a change.

I wish you all the best in dealing with nurse bullying. It can be tough, and you will get through it. Be encouraged. Fight for yourself. Don’t give up at finding your bliss in your profession.

Kat Clukey

I am so glad you are here, and have chosen to spend your time reading my blog. For the past 4 plus years, I have been on an intense mission to read books, go to seminars, and generally turn myself inside out to find out why some people seem to feel good in their own skin while I've struggled with self-worth and low self-esteem most of my adult life. I hope you find insights that help you on your journey!

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