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.