Bullying: The Culture Of Nursing

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Bullying is an everyday occurrence in nursing and health care. Nurses bully each other. Physicians bully each other. Supervisors bully employees. This often leaves us wondering how is it that people in an industry centered on service, compassion, and patient care can be so awful toward each other. Are we burnt-out caregivers? Is this our way of “venting” the chaos and emotional strain that we endure on a daily basis?

There is nothing that irks me more than bullying in nursing. Even after 10 years, I have occasional run-ins with bullying by nurses and providers that I work with. It’s a harsh reality of our profession. Bullying is something that we together can work to stop. It starts with developing and encouraging a culture of no tolerance. This must start with education. The solution starts with you.

If someone is bullying you—gossiping about you, grumbling about your work, or giving you attitude—it’s up to you to have the courage and professionalism to not tolerate it. You should confront them in a professional and appropriate manner. If you don’t make the effort to stick up for yourself, who will? The only way that we can start this new culture of a bully-free environment is by standing up for ourselves. However, there are effective and not-so-effective ways to go at it.

Here’s what I recommend…

  • COOL OFF. Don’t react in the moment. Wait until you can look at the incident or behavior objectively, without being angry or emotional.
  • ASK TO CHAT. Respectfully request a meet-up with your bully at the end of the shift or another convenient time, and set a place where there won’t be an audience. Do this outside of the patient-care area—perhaps in a manager’s office or a neutral space.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE EXPERTISE.Everybody brings something to the table. Flattery won’t get you anywhere, but be clear that you recognize the bully’s professional qualifications and experience—of whatever length, especially if the nurse is senior to you.
  • POINT OUT ALIGNMENT. Include something like this: “We both chose this profession because we believe we can care for patients and we can improve well-being. That’s why I’m here. I’m sure that’s what motivates you too.”
  • FLAG THE BEHAVIOR.Be specific and brief about the incident, point out what happened, how it made you feel, and why it was unhelpful.
  • BE CLEAR ABOUT R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Be clear that you don’t mind feedback from coworkers, but you expect professionalism. “I’ll be more likely to meet your expectations and be more helpful if I don’t have to separate the message from all the negativity. I expect respect.”

Again, confronting a bully is never easy. Make sure you document the moment too, by writing down what happened or having a conversation with HR or your supervisor (assuming that person’s not the bully.) But most important is connecting directly with the bully and being clear that you have too much respect for yourself to let them get away with the bullying behavior and that you both should focus on delivering the best care to patients by promoting a positive and well-flowing work environment. You don’t have to be friends, but nobody should be walking on eggshells every shift.


Katie Duke MSN, ACNP-BC


Katie Duke


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4 Responses to Bullying: The Culture Of Nursing

  1. NurseAmy1

    I wish I would have read this article many many years ago when I started nursing, it would have helped. It is definitely a bullying environment and I noticed that in the past in the 80s and 90s it was worse

  2. jsteverson

    It seems there are nurses that are either so desensitized to the culture that ignores / promotes bullying..or they are bullies in denial.I’m precepting right now. I am an older new grad.with plenty of life/work experiences but the field of healthcare is new to me. I experienced bullying in nursing Scholl..it was tolerated. I was hoping it would be different in the real world..but sadly..no. My preceptor actually said that she was being tough on me because her preceptor intimidated her..and that’s how she learned best. Well..seriously…I am over 59…and I don’t appreciate someone intentionally berating me…because they think it’s good for me..I just don’t need that. I’m not overly confident..I’m very cautious and deliberate.I want to be safe. I am not motivated by fear…I smh..but will keep my mouth shut….and my head up..when I someday will precept a new grad…I will keep this lesson in mind.But I have to say..I don’t understand who on earth..learns through intimidation?????

    • hardcandy95

      Literally what my preceptor told me too. I am now leaving that job and persuing another one. I didn’t even realize it was a problem until I spoke to my best friend who I went to school with and she was like “omg nurses do eat their young” and I was In denial saying that wasn’t what was happening. Until I realized I was In fact walking on egg shells everyday. I knew it was time for a change.

  3. Crystaldyes

    There has long been a statement about nurses eating their young. Having been an RN since 1971, I believe a lot of this is due to the life/death nature of our jobs. Nurses do not enter the profession for money. Every nurse I’ve worked with, invariably wants things done right. That’s where the problem begins. Everyone has a different definition of right. All nurses are under stress and that adds to the problem. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and let the little stuff slide.