Nurse Bullying [My Story]


I am sure everyone comes across bullying in their nursing career at some point or any other profession for that matter. I can tell you there is a lot of bullying that goes on in nursing. This is an important topic because it can cause nurses or other professionals to leave their place of employment costing the organization money, time, and the resources it takes to hire and train a new nurse.

 I have been bullied, and I have bullied others and didn’t realize it until I looked back on it later. There are definitely some nurses who intentionally bully, but many do not realize what they are doing. I certainly didn’t when I was doing it myself. I want to tell you about my story and what I learned from the experience.

Last week I talked about one example of a failure in my nursing career by being fired from the ICU. During that experience, I was also bullied mainly because other nurses would talk about me behind my back. It was a somewhat toxic environment where only the ‘strongest’ survived. 

The ICU I was orienting in was a team environment, but if they could detect a weakness in you, then you were out. Some examples where I noticed this in other nurses’ attitudes towards my questions. They would be very blunt on certain questions or something I would do. They would correct me in a not so friendly manner.  Anyways, I kept going along with it.

One day I went to the bathroom and the doors you go out of lock sometimes, and there is a glass panel in which the nurses can see you. The door happened to lock on me, and I could not get back into the unit. A group of four nurses was standing about twenty feet from the door in a group, and I am sure they could hear me pounding on the door. I cannot remember if one of them eventually opened the door or if it was another nurse from the nurse’s station. I do remember it was odd that they did not respond and it felt as almost they were enjoying ignoring me.  It was a very bad and lonely feeling to work in a setting like this.

I believe my failure in meeting this ICU’s ‘expectations’ was a Godsend for me and kept me from working another year or two in this toxic, dog eat dog environment.  Working in an environment like this can also start to warp your ethics and morals on how to treat others. You begin to be like the people you surround yourself with.  I did not want to be like some of these nurses even though they are great at what they do.

All of us have met doctors who are great at what they do, but there is more to being a doctor than your technical knowledge. You need to be able to work with others and be relatable to your patients. Otherwise whatever you say to them will be like throwing mud at a brick wall and hoping it sticks.  This goes for nurses as well.

So, what do you do if you are being bullied?  I listened to recent webinar put out by the American Nurses Association (ANA) on nurse bullying part 2.  The presenter mentioned if you are in a bullying situation, you need to isolate the individual or each individual if it is a group and tell them that if this behavior does not stop, I am going to escalate this further. And leave it at that, and if they continue, escalate it further. It is tough, especially with strong personalities, but it is something you have to learn to have enough courage to do.

Now let’s get to the part I am not proud of. The time when I was a bully to another nurse. I am not sure it is exactly bullying but I could have been nicer. This was after a long day of doing my best to get everything done on the surgical oncology floor I worked on with probably very little breaks.  

Sometimes, the night shift will come in and question why things are not done even though the day shift is where most of the orders come through. My first year or two in nursing I use to try to get everything done before I would leave. At some point, I said to myself I have done the best I can, and it is now time for the oncoming shift to pick up where I left off and finish things up if it is safe of course.

I was a little frustrated from the twelve-hour shift where I had been running my butt off. I gave report to a float nurse who does not normally work on our floor, and she asked a lot more questions than you would expect. I understand questions are part of report and assessing. I think what made me put up my defenses was she expressed disapproval in her facial expression and body language when I told her certain things are not done, and you will need to do them since I was not able to get to them. I feel I have always been very fair about this and do my best to get to things, but sometimes you just do not have the time.  In my opinion, nursing is a 24/7 business, and the oncoming shift picks up where you left off so you can go home and get rested for the next day when you come back in to take care of that patient again. 

Trying to have everything done before you leave is sometimes not possible especially if the doctors are putting in orders close to shift change.  Personally, I do not worry about any orders that are put in thirty minutes before shift change unless they are necessary to do right then. Thirty minutes before shift change is the time to start wrapping up your charting and making sure you are ready to give report and that your patient is safe.

When I finally realized that nursing is a 24/7 business and had the confidence that I had done my best to get everything done starting with the highest priorities, then I started getting off on time.

Anyways, I think I was a little overbearing with my body language, and she took it the wrong way. I think most nurses would have just brushed it off or called me out on the spot and said: “Look here mister, I am just trying to get report.” Anyways she took it the wrong way and emailed my manager, and I got written up for it.  That is the only time I can think of where I may have accidentally bullied another nurse.

I was listening to a recent webinar on nurse bullying put out by the ANA, and the presenter mentioned that one of the root causes of bullying and not realizing it is Stress.  I do believe that was my exact situation.

As I reflect on this event, I think it was that I had been running around all day like something crazy and then a nurse who I did not know very well came in and questioned why I did not have everything done.  In my mind, I had done my best, and it was time for her to do what I had not been able to complete.  I was not going to stay an hour or two after my shift and come in the next day tired since she seemed to feel she should be coming into a clean slate.

Anyways, I have learned to be more aware of my feelings and emotions and control how I relieve my tension. Sometimes we need to go somewhere and cool off for a minute or two and not take our emotions out on others.

The one last thing I want to say to you is if you are being bullied by someone. Make sure you isolate them as I mentioned earlier in the post and give them a chance to correct their behavior. Even if you do have to escalate it to a manager, make sure at some point that you forgive them and pray for them. You are not doing this mainly for them, but for yourself.  Hatred and bitterness are not something you want to carry around with you if you want to be your best self. Take it from me; I have struggled with this before.

I want to recommend some resources for you to check out:

Conversations About Nurse Bullying: A Toolkit for Nurse Leaders to Eliminate Nurse Bullying

Fast Facts on Combating Nurse Bullying, Incivility and Workplace Violence: What Nurses Need to Know in a Nutshell

Toxic Nursing : Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil, 2013 AJN Award Recipient

"Do No Harm" Applies To Nurses Too!

When Nurses Hurt Nurses

What about you, what is your story on nurse bullying? Have you been bullied or have you bullied someone else and did not realize it? Did you realize it at the time and how do you feel about it now? What did you do to correct the situation? Please share your thoughts with me so I can learn from your experience and other nurses can as well.

Have a healthy week.

Nurse Brian