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How to Recognize Nurse Bullying (And Prevent It)

Group of nursesDid you know that about 85 percent of nurses have been verbally abused by another nurse? In fact, it’s estimated that one in three nurses worldwide quits his or her job because of bullying.

And it isn’t just peers; doctors are guilty of nurse bullying as well — and it often goes unreported. Here are some of the signs of nurse bullying at your facility from Healthcare Business Tech and Marie Claire:

Verbal abuse

Insults and negative comments are most common ways nurses are bullied, including:

  • Saying negative things about leaders and colleagues
  • Insulting someone based on religion, race and appearance
  • Shaming or humiliating a coworker or spreading rumors
  • Refusing to give someone information or return calls
  • Using condescending language or demeaning someone
  • Becoming angry or impatient with questions and hanging up the phone

Physical abuse

While not as common, nurses have witnessed the following among coworkers:

  • Hitting, slapping or firmly grabbing another person
  • Throwing objects out of anger or frustration
  • Refusing to help lift or restrain a patient (resulting in a staff member’s injuries)
  • Not allowing nurses adequate time to eat, drink, use the restroom or take a break
  • Pulling harmful pranks, such as leaving syringes in lockers
  • Assigning the most infectious patients to one nurse

Emotional abuse

Nurses also experience nonverbal emotional distress and see these behaviors:

  • Disregarding safety practices or only following them occasionally, even when someone points it out
  • Refusing to work with another person or collaborate with a team
  • Ignoring or refusing to help a coworker because of age
  • Giving a new nurse an unmanageable workload or difficult patients and doctors
  • Making a nurse feel he or she cannot ask or help or is overreacting
  • Raising eyebrows, scowling and making faces
  • Sabotaging another person by deliberately setting up a negative situation

Though nurse bullying is prevalent, organizations have committed to putting an end to it. The Joint Commission issued a report in 2008 with policies for preventing workplace bullying and “disruptive behavior.” Here are things you can do to help in your own facility:

Speak up

Many nurses don’t report verbal or physical abuse because they’re afraid their supervisors won’t listen, coworkers will retaliate or they’ll lose their jobs. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing incidents with your manager, submit a complaint through your facility’s anonymous reporting system, or talk to another leader you trust.

Stop the cycle

If you notice coworkers gossiping about other staff members or spreading rumors about nurses they don’t like, don’t participate and kindly tell other nurses to stop. Be friendly to everyone and set the mood for a more positive work atmosphere.

Be an advocate

It can be frustrating to train new coworkers or watch nurses make the same mistakes over and over, but try to have patience with other staff members and lend a helping hand where you can. You’ll make more friends and be a listening ear when someone experiences a problem — and hopefully you can stop the bullying before it gets worse.

Find an outlet

You may find yourself, thanks to long shifts and short nights of sleep, becoming curt with coworkers, angry at doctors and supervisors, and making more mistakes at work. Stop taking out your frustrations on other people and find something to help you cope, whether it’s regular exercise, a reduced workload, a new hobby or even a stress management class.

By watching for the signs at your own facility and committing to being a better staff member, you can prevent nurse bullying and ensure that both healthcare providers and patients have a safe environment.

Check out this American Sentinel University blog series for more information about nurse bullying and ways you can stop it.

About the author

Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a communication professional with experience writing for the healthcare and entertainment industries as well as local government. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.


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