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5 Top Things to Know About Nurse Bullies — And How to Stop Them

Some 85 percent of nurses are bullied. Both nurses and healthcare administrators have an obligation to stop this behavior.

With as many as 85% of nurses experiencing bullying during their careers, you may think of nurse bullying as an unavoidable fact of working in healthcare. The truth is, though, many experts have developed practical steps to squash this culture. And doing so can improve many aspects of how healthcare facilities run, from patient outcomes to staff turnover rates.

One such expert is Dr. Renee Thompson, who worked for more than two decades as a clinical nurse, nurse educator, and nurse executive. In her YouTube series, Coffee and Conversations About Nurse Bullying, Thompson outlines the most important things to know about nurse bullies to protect yourself and how to stop them.

What You Need to Know About Nurse Bullies And Yourself

  1. They need targets to survive: If everyone stood up to bullies, then they wouldn’t be able to bully anymore, Thompson points out. Prevent yourself from becoming a target by calling out bullying behavior when you see it.
  2. They’re good at clinical work: Thompson says, in her experience, nurse bullies tend to be the experts in their departments. Because of this, people often justify their bad behavior. Stop this cycle by recognizing bullies despite their skills or prowess.
  3. They see the workplace as a battlefield: Bullies see every workday as an opportunity to fight. To protect yourself, understand their tactics and keep your guard up.
  4. They like to keep their targets guessing when the next encounter will occur: Part of the satisfaction for bullies is making their targets walk on eggshells. They will act nicely until you let your guard down, and then they do a 180, Thompson warns. Assume anything complimentary a bully says to you is fake.
  5. They don’t play by the rules: Bullies take advantage of the do-good nature of healthcare workers by cheating, lying, and refusing to play fair, Thompson says. Be prepared for bullies to do unethical things.

How to Stop Nurse Bullies as a Fellow Nurse

  1. Start a documentation trail: Include the date, the time, any witnesses, and the facts of the incident.
  2. File a complaint with human resources: Even if they don’t take action, you will have a record that you reached out for help.
  3. Practice responding to bullying: Understand how the behavior affects you personally to keep your emotions in check when you confront them. Then, tell the bully how their actions make you feel and ask them to stop.
  4. Focus on your professional development: The stronger you become mentally, professionally, and emotionally, the easier it’ll be to ignore the negativity.
  5. Seek mentorship from experienced nurses eager to help: Many industry veterans love supporting newer nurses. Find them — they’re out there!

Because the administration of a healthcare facility is responsible for implementing policies that determine how staff interact with one another, HAs can also play a big part in minimizing nurse bullying. Here are a few places to start, per Advisory Board, a healthcare best practices firm.

How to Stop Nurse Bullying as a Healthcare Administrator

  1. Define and model good behavior: Many healthcare facilities don’t have a clear definition of what constitutes bullying. Take time to outline ideal behavior between HCPs, praise them when you see it, and treat all staff the same way.
  2. Make it easy for bullying victims to report it: Consider an anonymous reporting tip line or create guidelines for inter-employee interaction that encourage them to discuss bullying experiences.
  3. Encourage employees to document abusive behavior: You have points of reference and evidence when disciplining the bully.
  4. Know the difference between constructive criticism and bullying: Educate staff about the difference. For example, bullying usually happens in the shadows and seeks to exclude someone.
  5. When you see bullying, support your team members: Physically standing with the victim and calling out the bully does more than anything else on this list to show the behavior is unacceptable.
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