‘Tis the season

By: Judith E. Elkins

Here it is, another holiday season is upon us. One can feel it in the air. The colored lights on the houses, the decorated trees in the stores, the annual Salvation Army volunteers outside of the stores, and the music is on the radio that takes many back to a simpler time, when people thought about the family down the block who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their children.

In our hospitals across the nation, parties are being planned for all the staff in the hospital, the nurses on the units who have to work holidays, plan for the potluck they will have on various shifts, the general feeling as one walks through the hospital of peace and joy. One can feel the happiness in the air, the kindness of others, and the universal well-being people feel towards one another.

Wouldn’t it be nice to practice this type of feeling throughout the year? The new year will begin, and the feelings of good tidings will be replaced with incivility once again. The families walking past the nurses’ station will hear the melodic chorus of nurses complaining about their schedule, about the patient down in 303, and about how MaryJane called off sick once again. Where is the joy and feelings of harmony that was just on this unit a few days ago?

Incivility, the cancerous attitude that eats through different staff members, will be back on the unit. What is incivility? The topic has been discussed for years, brought to life by such leaders as Cynthia Clark, Kathleen Bartholomew, and the American Nurses Association. The definition of incivility has been described in various ways throughout the years, adding some adjectives and deleting others, but Clark notes that one defining feeling is one of ridicule or humiliation of another person by another person.

Incivility can be the uncomfortable feeling one has as they walk onto a unit and suddenly the nurses stop talking and turn away from them. Incivility can be the feeling new graduate nurses have when sharing how they hope they can make a difference in their patient’s lives and then hearing the senior nurses laugh and say, “You’re young, just wait” and the other nurses laugh with her.

There have been some universities where incivility can no longer be a topic for a dissertation. Hudders writes that the rationale is that the topic has been saturated. This makes one wonder: Do the doctoral faculty feel that incivility has been eliminated? This question could be answered by just having the doctoral faculty sit in the faculty lounge during lunch. Faculty to faculty incivility is on the upswing.

The one common thread about incivility is that it’s non-discriminatory. Incivility shows no partiality regarding gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Incivility has no boundaries, no person, or profession, is void of decency and not a quality that nurses should possess. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

As we begin 2020, what can we do that will make a positive and lasting impression on incivility? Hospitals and universities claim to have zero tolerance for incivility, yet incivility continues. Where one uncivil nurse is fired, another one is hired.

The only way I can see ending incivility in nursing is one nurse at a time. When the nurses begin to talk about another nurse in front of you, tell him or her to stop and say that the behavior is unacceptable and not worthy of the nursing profession. To be able to stand your ground against incivility takes brave actions, but noteworthy actions. Sooner or later the bully finds another nurse to gossip about, but if once again, the nurse tells him or her to stop the gossiping, eventually, the bully becomes so uncomfortable that he or she either changes the behavior or leaves the unit.

Remember, the only way to stop incivility is for us, one nurse at a time, to take it on and stop it in our little corner of the world.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanza; let nursing civility rule the world in 2020.

Judith E. Elkins is an associate professor in the college of nursing and health at Madonna University, Livonia, Michigan.



Clark C. Creating and Sustaining Civility in Nursing Education, Second Edition. Indianapolis: Sigma Theta Tau International, 2017.

Dellasega, C., & Volpe, R.L. Toxic Nursing. Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil.Indianapolis: Sigma Theta Tau International, 2013.

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.

1 Comment. Leave new

  • This is absolutely true and I hope anyone and everyone who reads this can start to make that change in their day to job and life.


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