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A silent killer has made its way into nursing and slowly eaten away at the core of who we are as nurses. This epidemic is becoming so wide spread that everyone from administration to nurse's aides are affected by it. It is the epidemic of horizontal violence.

The term "horizontal violence" (sometimes called "lateral violence") is quite new to many individuals but the behavior it describes is not. The term was developed to describe distasteful behavior nurses sometimes portray toward colleagues.

Horizontal violence takes on many different characteristics. Simply put, it is overt and covert nonphysical hostility, such as criticism, sabotage, undermining, infighting, scape-goating or finger pointing and bickering.

Who is harmed by horizontal violence?

They are individuals who have felt ridiculed, demeaned by a colleague or doctor, and even asked to do something they have not yet even learned how to do only to be left completely humiliated for not knowing how to do it.  It affects new hires, new graduates, and nurses who have worked at a facility for a long time.

New Grads

One of the groups most frequently victimized by this is new nursing graduates. 

It is crucial for experienced staff to embrace the new grads and support and encourage them as a group. The first year of nursing is an opportunity to achieve great confidence in and establish self-esteem on the job.

New graduates are inexperienced, and because they lack the skills and knowledge necessary to stand up for themselves, they often are yelled at, ridiculed and dehumanized. I have witnessed this psychological abuse first hand as a nurse educator.  

Unfortunately, new graduates accept this behavior as a rite of passage and move on, only to mimic it later on, as it is what they have learned from their predecessors. Nurses need to become aware of who it is they are affecting and begin to develop new behaviors that will benefit each other's self-esteem.

Vicious Cycle

In order to make people aware of this issue, someone must begin reporting it. But what if it is never reported and the behavior continues?

This is the determining factor for alleviating horizontal violence in the nursing profession. Individuals need to begin to report it and feel safe in doing so without retaliation.

Horizontal violence is so severely underreported because opinions surrounding horizontal violence are subjective in nature. Each us tolerates the behaviors of others a little bit differently. However, if the behavior is in any way offensive to you, or undermines you and your job in any way, then it probably is horizontal violence and you need to report it to your manager.

Secondly, there also is a greater fear of retaliation from the perpetrator. Speaking up is one thing, but having to face the person everyday at a new job after reporting them may be a task that many are not willing to take on. As a result, more individuals will begin their careers in an unsupportive work environment, and the cycle will continue. 

What Have You Done?

The negative impact of horizontal violence is really quite impressive and obvious.

If you think about the nursing shortage today and wonder why we are losing nurses to other professions, or wonder why the new graduate or new employee that was just hired has left so soon, take a good hard look at yourself and the people around you and begin to imagine what it must have been like to learn something new all over again.

Were you supportive? Did you encourage that person to gain and develop new skills and offer learning experiences to help the person grow as a nurse? Or did you create an environment that was infected with horizontal violence?

Wouldn't it be great to know that when you were asked to orient someone into your work environment, you were able to give them a healthy and positive outlook toward the job and the environment?

Wouldn't it be great to know the new nurses on your unit would enjoy their learning experience so much that they would be more likely to feel like staying in that job because the work environment was so supportive?

These new nurses are going to relieve the pressures experienced nurses feel everyday. They are the future. Because of them, there will be one more person on the unit to help in a crisis, one more person to lend a hand when one is needed, and one more person to call when the census goes up and you need help.

Horizontal Violence

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I've experienced this type of bullying numerous times and it never stops. This is why people go postal. This field is already stressful enough without manipulative circles of women that try to mame and destroy new nurses, young nurses, old nurses, pretty nurses and even a race outside of the major demographic. What makes it worse is that management knows and agrees that it's wrong when it's brought up but smiles about it and even encourage it to a certain degree. The only way to cope is to know that you do your job to the best of your ability, keep a good rapport with family and patients and know that something inside of those bullying are damaged and see something in you that they want or are just mad that they can't understand. (Rant over :)

Yancey ,  lpn,  unihealth post acute care fairburnMarch 19, 2014
Fairburn, GA

I was not a nurse, but a unit secretary, I saw this all the time. I would cover all units, when I was a float. Personally, I felt it was the buses who were their the longest, showed mental illness. On one unit in particular, I had to request a union rep, to be present at any evaluation, if not they were awful. Only when these nurses were promoted, and adminstration had to deal with the worst ones and fired them. I have worked at large companies before working in hospitals did I see behavior that was common on the floors, would never be tolerated in a business. We need to recognize burn out before it poisons the whole unit. I had always wanted to be a nurse, I would never be one, even if I could. Nurses need to learn to respect all, no matter what position they hold.

Virginia HetcherFebruary 20, 2014
Rochester, NY

After reading the posts on Lateral Violence in Nursing. I believe they should add Ethics to Drs., Nursing & management classes. Don't loose respect for each other. Lastly I viewed the positions open, lots of them. They bring in Travel Nurses who don't know the locals won't work at the hospital. So how does this affect Insurance rates? The cost of orientation? The cost of health care is tacked on to the consumer. That's why we need a change to the high cost of medicine in America.

Margaret Darr,  RNNovember 06, 2012
Gainesville, FL

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