Break the cycle: A new nurse’s plea to end bullying


Bullying and incivility remain the norm in nursing today despite efforts to raise awareness. Bullying is cyclical—people who were bullied often perpetuate the cycle by becoming bullies themselves. Experienced nurses bullied early in their career might continue the cycle by trying to “toughen up” the next generation of nurses. The mindset “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” will continue if nurses don’t work together to break the bullying cycle.

During nursing school, my instructor gave us a reading assignment about the prevalence of bullying in nursing. I was shocked reading the facts because I thought most nurses were by nature kind and nurturing. Shortly after graduating from an acute care new graduate program in Los Angeles, I experienced chronic bullying firsthand. At first I didn’t even realize I was being bullied; for months I thought my manager’s continual criticism and steady stream of write-ups were because of my own ineptitude. I beat myself up trying to improve, despite never receiving any type of action plan from my manager. Ultimately, I quit my position after suffering harsh psychological and physical effects from the bullying.

Bullying can include:

  • A manager mimicking your shocked expression after telling you something.
  • Another nurse constantly raising her voice at you in front of patients and staff even after you privately tell her how this behavior makes you feel.
  • A supervisor secretly asking other nurses to report to her things you are doing wrong in order to write you up and “get rid of you.”
  • Being threatened with further corrective action when you refuse to sign a document that contains inaccurate information.

If you are being bullied, please know it’s not your fault. You are a valuable part of the nursing community. Becoming a nurse takes immense work and sacrifice, and each nurse adds his or her own unique attributes to this diverse profession. Be proactive by keeping a detailed written record with dates and times of all uncivil experiences. Try to talk to the bully alone and calmly explain how he or she is making you feel. If the bully refuses to listen, then professionally bring it up to management, human resources personnel, or your union representative.

If none of those actions curtails the bullying, don’t be ashamed to leave. It’s not worth your health and happiness to stay in an unhealthy situation. Change what you can but realize when you need to make your own health a priority. There are other nursing environments that would welcome your talent. I quickly landed a job at a Magnet®designated hospital with a healthy culture and supportive management, and I’m now much healthier and happier.

Here’s what all nurses can do to break the bullying cycle:

  • Fight for zero-tolerance policies on bullying at your institution. (Many harassment and discrimination policies do not include this.)
  • Be intentionally kind and patient with new nurses who are gaining experience.
  • Be patient with older nurses who might get frustrated with technology and the rapid changes of healthcare.
  • Continue your education and become the manager you wish you had when you were starting out.
  • Stop automatically blaming the victim who tells you they are being bullied.
  • Turn criticism into learning opportunities, teach instead of criticize, and nurture instead of belittle.
  • Be brave. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you are being bullied, or to stand up for another nurse if you witness him or her being bullied.

The field of nursing will continue to grow and evolve to meet healthcare needs. As the profession grows, we have the opportunity to work to create a new culture of civility and make bullying a thing of the past. Change starts with you. Let’s break the bullying cycle.


Christina McDaniels is a staff nurse at Scripps Healthcare La Jolla and Green Hospitals in San Diego, California.


The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.


  • What’s up colleagues, its impressive piece of
    writing regarding teachingand fully defined, keep it up all
    the time.

    • Excellent article!!! Thank you for shedding light on such an important topic.

  • Unfortunately, bullying can start in nursing school.. as the Course chairs often verbally state to student nurses. … “well their (Clinical instructors) “just an adjunct”. Most of us have the same, similar or more often more “real nursing” experience and education- they simply have the “Chair” job first.
    This behavior is bullying and I would not encourage, the verbiage “adjunct” as it lessens the often most important part of the student nurses education. Thus, the negative sage and instilling bulling begins, often most are not aware, but is seeps into the student nurse ..
    As a former nurse manager, many times CNO’s hire their friends and promote staff who align with their leadership… and continue the cycle of this negative behavior. I recommend to my students, Look at the managers, then staff. .. as if the leader has a zero tolerance policy for bullying, the staff will as well. It’s much better to leave a job, even one you enjoy than to be insulted as it weighs you down in all aspect of life.
    Betst of luck!

  • Ainin Theresa
    July 31, 2019 2:09 am

    I realized I was a victim.This article helps me to be proud and become more passionate about my job.Almost give up Nursing as a career.This article enlightened me .It is not me but the Bully who has the problem. Thank you so much for this article.God bless you more.

  • Kathleen Stone RN, BSN
    July 28, 2019 5:24 pm

    Christina, any thoughts on how to move on and recover? Any thoughts on legal responsibilities organizations have towards employees with validated, corroborated, substantiated proof of harassment?

  • My son an RN took his life last year–He endured a systemic internal attack from his manager. I had reported this same manager years before,after witnessing her abuse a patient–She became my son’s boss–expressed to me that she was “going to cut his balls off” and what she did pushed him to a deep depression–he lost his job, after being set up–by the way all in between patient care-he lost his career–then finally due to deep depression–he could no longer face life– Please watch the documentary that was recently released Vimeo.com/ondemand/dearbully

  • Kathleen Stone RN, BSN
    July 27, 2019 7:16 pm

    Thank you for bringing this problem to light. Perhaps we should all start a (B-Too) instead of me too. B for bullying. There needs to be some representation for those of us, as qualified nurses, that have been forced out of nursing due to bullying. I submitted a complaint to a third party to investigate the bullying I received from a nurse manager. My complaints were substantiated. The institute set up a one on one very brief appointment with another manger who never set put in the clinic I worked in. The nurse manager continued to be a bully. I submitted numerous complaints after that meeting. Other employees voiced, that the manager had a long history of abuse. I finally had to leave under duress. The physicians I worked with complained. One MD after a 29 year tenure resigned the same day I did; another nurse and many patients left this primary care satellite hospital clinic. It has been a year and a half. I remain unemployed and my nurse manager (Peter Principle) was promoted out of employee management.

  • Thank you for sharing.
    The particular point that belongs and hits home with this seasoned nurse is patience and technology for older nurses.
    As a prn nurse for years the cutting edge of care and seminars etc have always been important, but learning to adapt and use technology that is constantly updated is beyond a huge challenge and has become a barrier to this nurse’ self esteem and confidence.
    These are issues that have not been experienced since graduate nurse days, when incivility- also known as gossip, and bullying were the norm.
    Keeping it in perspective, this nurse would love to continue to practice part-time, but that does not seem to be achievable.
    Setting it all aside and focusing on the knowledge and willingness to teach beyond the diagnosis has been an immense boost for this nurse.

  • Thank you very much for writing this article.
    I can personally relate to this; I have been an R.N. for almost 40 years.
    I was working in an area of nursing which was near and dear to me however
    I needed to change the area due my personal caregiving. I moved to a different area of the patient care environment which worked for 1 year.
    The last manager I had was a prime example of being a bully. She was by far the worst manager I have had. She was also intimidating and threatening. I also tried multiple times to resolve the conflict/bullying but it backfired on me.
    I was reported to HR and told there was no confidence in me or my abilities to be an R.N. within the organization. I was told that I had 3 choices: 1. I could stay put on the PCU ( patient care unit) but i would be closely monitored. 2. I could find a different PCU. 3. I could leave the organization all together. I have since found a new PCU where I am not bullied but appreciated and respected. My concerns are being addressed.One thing I have learned just because the manager has an advanced college degree does not mean that they can be a bully or intimidate staff. Kudos for rehighlighting this very real issue in health care.

  • Thank you for letting me realize I am not alone. I loved the job I was at and was eliminated due to high wage due to my past experience of many years working. I had also let them know my director had bullied me, and they did nothing about, and they denied they had any information on it. I loved my residents, instead of fixing the problem, they eliminated me. Very sad.

  • Great job, Christina. Thank you for your time and effort to bring your important message to us.

  • Institutions
    July 14, 2019 5:05 pm

    Thank you for reminding me that the prevalence of bullying in nursing is still alive and well in 2019.

  • Love.

    A childhood friend is being bullied at her new workplace; I’ve forwarded this action plan to her.

  • Institutions
    July 11, 2019 7:45 am

    Excellent article, military nurses don’t have the luxury of leaving. I have endured bullying from supervisors, including false accusations of not responding to duty calls. Even when leaders were asked to be involved and look into it. I was told investigation found “ inexperience leadership”. They refused to acknowledge they had a problem. Bremerton, WA

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