Thursday, May 23, 2013

Nurse Bullying: We Shall Overcome

On May 20th, 2013 on RN.FM Radio, we discussed nurse to nurse bullying with Renee Thompson, a national expert on the subject. In the course of that discussion, we heard that bullying among nurses continues to be a problem nationwide--and most likely worldwide, as well. What will it take to turn the tide on what appears to be a widely acknowledged form of aberrant workplace behavior within the healthcare industry?

According to many reports, articles and anecdotal stories, many nurses experience bullying and harassment on the job at the hands of other nurses. While new nurses may bear the brunt of such behavior, seasoned nurses can also be the targets of bullies.

Passing It On

Many reasons have been given for why nurses bully one another, and one of the first is that nurses tend to "dish out" what they themselves were given in the past. Like in other social groups, oppression can be passed down from "generation" to "generation", and it appears that some nurses feel that they have the "right" to treat other nurses--especially novice nurses--the way that they were treated, no matter how wrong that may seem to others.

Harassment of new nurses can be cruel, and while it would seem that new nurses deserve to be treated with respect for entering our profession in the first place, many can be driven out of the profession quite quickly when they are faced with harassment, threats, bullying and other behaviors that can transform an exciting new career into a living nightmare.

Of course, there are nurses who are thrilled to precept and mentor new nurses, keeping in mind that we were all new once, and new nurses naturally merit support from seasoned, more experienced colleagues. Really, if someone survives nursing school, passes the NCLEX, and shows up to their new workplace ready to learn and become the best nurse they can be, who wouldn't want to offer support?

Then again, as in the military, some old-school nurses feel that harsh treatment and throwing new nurses "to the lions" is an appropriate means to determining if a new nurse is tough enough to survive. Obviously, this strategy is generally quite likely to backfire.

Surviving Bullying

There are ways to survive bullying and thwart a bully in his or her tracks, and while I won't outline them here, Renee Thompson's new book, " 'Do No Harm' Applies to Nurses Too: Strategies to Protect and Bully-Proof Yourself At Work", includes powerful methods for identifying and confronting bullies, as well as changing your own behavior so that you are less of a target.

Bullying can lead to burnout, somatic complaints, Post-Traumatic Stress, and other emotional and psychological manifestations. If you've been bullied, seek the skilled assistance of a coach, nurse mentor, EAP (Employee Assistance Program) counselor, therapist, or other trained individual who can help you to recover.

New Nurses Beware

New nurses are probably the targets of the majority of bullying since they are so vulnerable as they enter the profession. Luckily, we are beginning to see that schools of nursing are preparing student nurses by teaching them about bullying, harassment, and appropriate prevention strategies.

Of course, most of us want new nurses to succeed--they will, after all, be working alongside us, and possibly even caring for us or our loved ones in the future!

However, it only takes one bully with a great deal of power to ruin it for everyone, so new nurses need to especially steel themselves so that they know how to deflect a bully and his or her misguided ire.

Even Seasoned Nurses Can Be Bullied

During the course of our conversation with Renee Thompson on RN.FM Radio, it was also mentioned that seasoned nurses can themselves be the target of bullying and harassment, especially as older nurses begin to slow down and age. New technology, tougher workloads and other demands can make an older nurse's life miserable, and when an older nurse can't quite keep up, she or he might be on the receiving end of nasty comments, passive-aggressive behavior, and even threats from impatient and judgmental coworkers.

This is a sad statement about how we sometimes collectively fail to honor our nursing elders, and we can also protect older nurses from the abuses that we sometimes think only younger nurses may suffer.

Bullying Can Come From All Sides

Doctors are also known to bully and harass nurses, and while nurse to nurse bullying is often in the news, physicians have been recognized as a source of harassment frequently faced by nurses.

On June 17, 2013, we'll be talking on RN.FM Radio with Susan Strauss, a trainer, speaker and consultant who has researched physician to nurse bullying, and she will be sharing some interesting findings in terms of how bullying from doctors may be influenced by the gender of the nurse, and some of those statistics may surprise us.

We Shall Overcome

To borrow a famous phrase from the Civil Rights era, I believe that we are making strides against the bullying of nurses in the American health care system, and we very well shall overcome this regrettable (and unnecessary) scourge.

Just as in schools, colleges and universities, the awareness of bullying within nursing and the health care industry is growing, and experts like Renee Thompson and Susan Strauss have much to offer when it comes to prevention, not to mention how to deal with the effects of bullying once it has occurred.

While it's important for nurses to learn how to "bully-proof" themselves, it's equally important for us to stand in solidarity against bullying and take a "zero tolerance" stance in our workplaces. If you witness bullying or harassment, step in and confront the bully to let them know that such aberrant behavior is not admissible. Also, report bullies to the proper authorities, and demand that your administration and management take real action steps to eradicate bullying from your place of employment.

Nurses and other health care professionals work hard, and we deserve to work in environments free of harassment and bullying. Let's demand our right to work in healthy, non-toxic and violence-free workplaces, with the goal of providing the best possible care for our patients in an atmosphere that is professional, congenial, safe and respectful.
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