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Four Compelling Theories Why Nurses ‘Eat Their Young’

One of the reasons nurse bullying still persists is that no one truly knows why it happens.

Nurse bullying is a well-documented phenomenon that still permeates the profession decades after it was first addressed by Judith Meissner, RN, MSN, who mentioned that “nurses eat their young” in a 1986 article. Since then, research shows that up to 85 percent of nurses have been verbally harassed at some point during their careers. It has also been reported that 1 in 3 bullied nurses has considered leaving the profession.

To stop nurse bullying for good, it’s important to understand why it happens in the first place. Here are some theories from various accredited sources on the topic.

Nurses are mistreated by doctors and other professionals in their workplace

In a 2016 TEDx talk, nurse Kathleen Bartholomew explained that physicians and others often treat nurses poorly. A common reaction when a dominant group oppresses another group is members of the oppressed group begin to lash out at each other.

Nurses lack control at work

A 2007 study by nurse researchers Cheryl Woelfle and Ruth McCaffrey found that nurses crave autonomy, accountability, and control over their profession,” and this absence “can often result in displaced and self-destructive aggression.”

Nurses can be competitive

While nursing attracts some of the most caring and attentive people in the world, the intense nature of the profession also means it attracts those who are eager to prove themselves. Dr. Renee Thompson, the foremost expert on nurse bullying, explained to Becker’s Hospital Review, “Theories suggest that age-old female ‘competition’ [in the medical field] has shifted from competing over a man to competing over status, respect, and position in the nursing environment.”

Women dominate nursing

Similarly, the nursing profession is made up of 90 percent women. According to research from the Lippincott Nursing Center, women are more likely than men to display relational aggression, which often looks like “character defamation, humiliation, betrayal of trust and exclusion.” In other words? Bullying.

The good news is it’s easy for you to protect yourself from nurse bullies and take a stand, so others don’t have to fall victim to this bad behavior. Learn more about it here.

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