Facing Bullies in Nursing

Running over the old. Eating their young. Dog eat dog. These familiar expressions of the nursing community can spark emotions of hurt.

It’s a look. It’s a comment. It’s an attitude. Either way it can feel aggressive and mean. On a daily basis across the country nurses are dealing with and feeling the effects of bullying.

Each month about 73% of new nurses report being bullied (Berry, et al, 2012). The hardships of bullying reach all different kinds of nurses across the country, young and old. So if it’s a known fact, why isn’t it being stopped?

Well, it’s complicated and although you can control your actions, you can’t control the behavior of others. The fact is bulling starts early. Almost everyone has that person whose name they will never forget and the memories to back those negative feelings. But just like back then, you can learn and grow from the experiences.

There are ways to rise above and overcome the obstacles of bullying. Nurses nationwide are looking for help and there are many avenues of support.


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New Wave of Support

Books, articles and communication with friends all help reinforce confidence. Along with those outlets, advancements in easily accessible technology have started a new wave of support.

Social media has changed the way people communicate with each other. Whether it is on a computer, a smartphone or a tablet, support systems are literally at the tip of ones’ fingers.

Facebook groups such as, “Nurses Against Bullying,” “Spite in White: Nurses Bullying Nurses,” “Nurse Bullying,” and “Caring Nurses: Stop Bullying in the Workplace,” are just some of the groups that are open for anyone to join.

These groups were created because nurses saw the need to take action against bullying in an open format. They provide nurses the ability not to just vent, but ask for advice from their peers in any given situation and be a support system for someone else.

After reaching out to a grad student who extended an invitation to speak to students in a chapter for Sigma Theta Tau, Amanda Magrum BSN, RN, PCCN, found herself inspired to reach people quickly to help support nurses experiencing lateral violence or nurse-to-nurse hostility. That is what sparked her idea to create the Facebook page, “Nurses Against Bullying.”

“Facebook is a great venue to allow for debriefing and supportive communication,” she said.

According to Magrum, bullying is a timeless and genderless issue in the nursing profession and that lateral violence does not just mean gossip and backstabbing but also, “encompasses making unfair assignments, manipulation, and retaliation.”

A victim of gossip, intimidation, pressure and manipulation herself Magrum realized that it is just as important to post quotes and statistics about lateral violence as much as humorous light hearted posts.

“I share my experiences openly and encourage others to weigh in on various topics,” said Magrum. “I find that people in this group need the funny just as much as the knowledge.”

She receives messages asking for advice on how to handle specific issues and shows her support by sharing stories as well as studies and books that could be helpful resources.

Groups like these can help remind nurses why they chose the profession, and help them find the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives.

Not only is there a movement on Facebook, but Twitter feeds have been created to update individuals on articles and books published on the topic; provide inspiration for days that are tougher than others; and provide an outlet to express a need for help.

Experts provide information and updates on leadership and anti-bullying conferences, but there are also lighthearted accounts that occasionally mention the subject among a variety of other topics discussed. “The Nerdy Nurse,” “Patients First,” “RNCentral.com” and “ADVANCE for Nurses,” are all twitter feeds that address this hot topic and provide resources and support.

Renee Thompson, MSN, RN, CMSRN, author of the book, “‘Do No Harm’ Applies to Nurses Too!” said it is rare to find a nurse that has not been bullied in some way. On her website, she receives messages and emails from nurses from all over the world asking for advice on how to stand up against bulling. She often addresses frequently asked questions on YouTube.

Her twitter feed, @RTConnections, tweets information about ending nurse-to-nurse bullying; links to helpful articles, and occasional inspirational quotes. Through her social media outreach, Thompson said she has met incredible nurses who are finally speaking up because social media has given them the platform to do so.

“Many of my posts try to inspire others to speak up – to stop accepting bullying as the norm – to start believing that nurses deserve to work in a nurturing and supportive work environment,” said Thompson. “We all have an ethical responsibility to address bullying because it has a negative impact on patient outcomes.”


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Positive Energy

Facebook and Twitter are not the only options; it is as easy as taking the step to create a social media group for your own unit or hospital. Taking proactive steps like that will help positive energy and anti-bullying behavior spread and be reinforced.

Amy Johnson, PhD, RNC, a newly retired nurse and professor of nursing at the University of Delaware has seen her fair share of bullying over her 35 years in the profession. Not only has she experienced it herself, but her daughter and students have all had their feelings compromised.

Johnson said it is imperative to have a mentor, a cheerleader or a support system that takes an interest and helps you through it.

“Know that you’ve got someone whose got your back, who looks out for you, and who will give you good advice whether it hurts or not,” said Johnson.

She also stressed the importance of reflecting personally and think about how the tone of what you are saying is coming across. It is important to think in terms of delivering a message to change a situation, not hurt or attack an individual.


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Stick Together

Social media may be more popular among younger nurses, but nurses of all ages, regardless if they are tech savvy, need to find a way to support one another.

Surround yourself with good people and positive outlets.

If you can create your own support group with the nurses on your shift, the validation can make everyone happier, healthier and ultimately better nurses. The nurses you work with do not necessarily have to become friends that you hang out with outside of work, but rather a team while at work.

“I think that just publicly acknowledging the issues makes it easier to ask for help and seek support from others,” noted Magrum.

So why does one of the most caring professions have such coldhearted moments of bullying? “We spend our compassion with our patients and we don’t have much compassion for others,” said Johnson.

“I think nurses just want to be treated with the same kindness, empathy, and respect they are expected to show their patients,” added Magrum. “Happiness and negativity have equal potential to spread and we, as leaders, need to project what we expect.”

In a profession with smart people going places, ask yourself, do you climb over people to move up the clinical ladder?

Elizabeth Adams

is a freelance writer.

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