Nursing needs to confront a culture of bullying

Who knew nursing could be so abusive?

Nurse Theresa Brown, in a blog post from the New York Times’ Well, reveals the ugly side of nursing.

It’s known within hospital walls that “nurses eat their young.” Indeed, as Brown writes, “the expression is standard lore among nurses, and it means bullying, harassment, whatever you want to call it. It’s that harsh, sometimes abusive treatment of new nurses that is entrenched on some hospital floors and schools of nursing.”

But isn’t this prevalent in most professions? Medicine, in particular, can have a culture similar to what was described above, with common stories of interns and medical students being bullied by more senior house officers.

The problem is when those who are bullied refuse to fight back. This perpetuates the cycle, as those who are overwhelmed and angry “take their frustration out on the rest of us stuck in the corner with them, or on anyone — like interns — they perceive as being less powerful than they are.”

Openly discussing and publicizing the problem can help, not only within nursing circles, but in medical and surgical residencies as well.

The majority, of course, do not bully. Their voices need to set the tone.

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  • Umair U. Khan

    It seems to me that there is a huge role for senior hospital staff — whether they be doctors, nurses, or administrators — to create a safe environment to voice these types of concerns. How common is it for senior staff members in hospitals to live up to this potential role?

  • Vox Rusticus

    I have no objection to the same standards of behavior being applied to other nurses as would be applied to other health care professionals. That would only be fair. But I lament the lack of discipline in defining what constitutes what as concerns this kind of behavior. Terms like “horizontal violence” to describe unfriendly and uncivil verbal interactions are confusing and misleading. Meaningful changes need to come from a precise understanding of what kind of behavior is unacceptable. Calling non-physical contact “violence” is not helpful; it may sound dramatic, but is not a beneficial or useful description.
    Being insulted by a co-worker or demeaned by their words are workplace behaviors that may deserve sanction, but they are not physical assaults and should not be confused by terms describing physical altercation, no matter how badly they affect the functioning of the organization. So too are deserved sanctions for failures of performance on the job; merely being upset at the tone or words of a co-worker should not automatically confer wrongful judgment on one party and victimhood on another. One does not have a right to never feel badly about what one does or does not do while on the job, and saying one “feels” bullied does not automatically mean one is bullied.

    • sally

      Bravo -

      An accusation does not imply guilt.

  • Lisa Karlan

    Please do not under estimate the culture of verbal and physical abuse in nursing. I am a 2nd career nursing student with a 4.0 average and a history of excellent clinical evaluations in prior rotations. With only weeks until graduation, my clinical instructor, notorious for hostile, angry outbursts, became angry, grabbed me by the arm (where we were standing outside the nurse’s station) and dragged me down two hallways to a remote area of the hospital. I reported this incident to college administration at College of the Canyons (a California Community College) and the nursing school retaliated, dismissing me from the program. I am not the only student to be verbally and physically abused by this instructor, but I was the only one to report this behavior.

    I would appreciate help in bringing this situation to light. Thank you
    The problem is that when nursing students and new graduate nurses are subjected to a hostile and non supportive environment, this directly impacts patient care. When nursing students are not free to ask questions, and realize they must hide what they do not know or understand in order to survive, patient care is affected. When new nurses and medical residents are subjected to “hazing” like environments, patients will ultimately pay, and sometimes with their lives.

    I would appreciate help in bringing this situation to light. Thank you.

    • Rockspinner182

      Do not tollerate this type of behavior from any instituation–take legal action and take it quickly before witnessess move on and memories fade. 

      - ICU Lu (MGySgt USMC, Ret.)

  • sally

    Lisa -

    Have you explored your potential legal remedies?


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