Despite the recent multitude of highly publicized elementary and high school bullying cases, bullying occurs in the adult world too. Adult bullies do their dirty work everywhere. They even demean and bully their victims in a professional environment.
Bullying in the Nursing Profession
Bullying represents a particular problem in the nursing profession, a pervasive and growing problem within the health care infrastructure. According to the JournalofNursingManagement, nurse bullying involves: the undermining of work, continual criticism, fabrication of complaints, verbal abuse, isolation of the individual, interference with work practices, and the lowering of confidence. Bullying typically occurs within the peer group. In other words, the supervisors and doctors don’t usually bully nurses — nurses bully each other.
Nurses Eat Their Young
Registered nurse Theresa Brown explains in an article from TheNewYorkTimes that “Nurses eat their young. The expression is standard lore among nurses, and it means bullying, harassment, whatever you want to call it. It’s that harsh, sometimes abusive treatment of new nurses that is entrenched on some hospital floors and schools of nursing.” This practically institutionalized behavior represents the bullies’ carefully designed scheme to subjugate inexperienced nurses to their more experienced peers.
Many young nurses enter the field because of their supportive, caring natures and they get the brunt of the painful bullying.
Cheryl Woelfle and Ruth McCaffrey speculate that this bullying emerges because “nurses often lack autonomy, accountability, and control over their profession, [which] can often result in displaced and self-destructive aggression within the oppressed group.”
While this behavior directly affects bullied nurses, it also inadvertently affects a nurse’s patients as well. Witnessing fighting between nurses can cause a patient stress, bewilderment, and agitation. Patients can also become the victims of bullying, too; frustrated nurses will sometimes badger them about their symptoms or medication, treat them roughly (e.g. careless IV placement), or ignore them when they are in need. Thus, nurse bullying isn’t just a problem that affects nurses; it affects the whole hospital.
Deal With Nurse Bullying Immediately
How do you prevent or deal with nurse bullying if you, as a nurse, experience it? Registered nurse Debra Wood has some suggestions. She suggests that nurses should avoid becoming victimized by immediately bringing the issue of bullying to the attention of supervisors or the administration. Explaining the detrimental effects of their actions to the bully may help, as a few bullies may not realize the impact of their attitudes and behavior. Sadly though, most bullies know exactly what they’re doing and have a planned agenda.
Wood also notes that one goal of any anti-bullying campaign should include changing unit culture (the code of conduct within the community of nurses). Nurse supervisors and team leads can accomplish this by having talks or discussions about the issue of bullying in the community, drafting a list of unacceptable behavior, and acting proactively by remaining positive and helpful.
Want more on nurse bullying? Check out Don’t Ya Wish You Had a BSN Like Me?
About the Author: Erica Moss currently works as community manager for Georgetown University’s online Masters degree in nursing, offering one of the nation’s leading womens health nurse practitioner programs. Outside of work, Erica enjoys photography and meeting new people.
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