Ask Auntie Aggie: The Bully Edition

Shutterstock | Edw
Shutterstock | Edw

Hello, sweet summer children! We have a question today that touches everybody at some point:

Dear Auntie Aggie,

What do you do about doctors who bully nurses?


Please Make Me Anonymous

Dear Anon,

You’ve asked a simple question with no real, good answer. What you do about bullying doctors depends on several factors: the culture of your facility, the amount of support you get from management and the doctor himself or herself.

Let’s start with the doctor. A lot of MD bullies are old-school, older physicians who trained and matured in times when nurses were seen mostly as people who did scut work. You are unlikely ever to change that bully’s mind about nurses. The best you can hope for, frankly, is grudging respect. Keep calm, don’t raise your voice and, if you feel like you can, confront the bully in an impersonal manner. Say something like “Referring to me as ‘that b*tch’ is inappropriate. Don’t do that again.” Be prepared for blowback.

I work with a guy like that, by the way. He’s been a doctor for approximately 10,000 years and bullies everybody. The only way I’ve ever been able to deal with him is by staying as far away from him as I can. Avoidance is a good short-term strategy that can be made long-term if necessary.

And it may be necessary. Depending on the other two points I outlined above, you may or may not be able to do anything on a larger scale about your bully. Some hospitals are proactive about creating safe and healthy work environments. That’s what I hear, at least. Most just want to keep things running as smoothly as possible, with as little confrontation and change as they can.

If you’re lucky enough to a) work in a good environment and b) have a bully-proof, supportive manager, then you’ll have to follow your facility’s protocol for interpersonal problems. Some places make you fill out incident reports; others set up meetings with MD and RN representatives and somebody from HR. Find out what path you’d have to take to be a formal complainant and follow it exactly.

Also, it helps to recruit others to your side. You’re certainly not this guy’s or gal’s only victim. Having a chorus of voices with the same complaints makes it much less likely that you’ll be targeted for retribution.

In an ideal world, doctors wouldn’t be bullies. Nurses wouldn’t be bullies, either. Neither would housekeeping people, the guys who pick up the shreddable paperwork or the cafeteria employees. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world. Keep your chin up. If somebody bullies you, they’ve bullied somebody else in the past, and their reputation precedes them.

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Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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One Response to Ask Auntie Aggie: The Bully Edition

  1. Nurse420

    Older docs seem more that way. I’ve never been called bad names but I’ve had one ignore positive signs of a heart attack. I called him so saying every time ” sorry to bother you but thought you needed this update” til he said call the cath team I’ll be there in a minute. Pt needed open heart.