Monday, March 26, 2018

Nurse Bullies: A Plague On Our House

Sadly, there appears to be a desperate need for a continued conversation about bullying within the nursing profession. One would hope that the dawning of the 21st century would have seen a decline in such old school behaviors, but there are obviously those among us who haven't yet learned the lesson that collaboration and cooperation are the true keys to success.

bullying definition

When bullying occurs between colleagues who are more or less within the same level of the professional hierarchy, it is also referred to as "horizontal violence" or "lateral violence". For example, one nurse bullying another is considered lateral violence, although the bullying of a nurse by a physician is not lateral since the doctor ostensibly holds power, superiority or authority over the nurse.

Bullying and harassment are an enormous problem in healthcare in the United States, and we hear from experts like Renee Thompson and Dr. Susan Strauss (frequent guests on RNFM Radio), that this is not just an American issue but a sad, worldwide phenomenon.

In this post, I'm not going to wax poetic about the various forms of bullying and harassment. That information can be found on a plethora of websites and in many scholarly journals and books that elucidate the problem much more clearly and concisely than I can.

Rather, I'd like to use this "bully pulpit" (with a grateful nod to Theodore Roosevelt) to pontificate on the fact that, for all of our work to elevate our profession into a glorious future, there are just too many of our colleagues who would prefer to leave us floundering in the Old World, and a tired old world it is.

Like nurse Neanderthals walking in our midst, these nurses who cling to the old ways of harassment, bullying and eating their young (and their old) tether us to a past that we would rather release.

Stereotypical nurse bullies who perpetuate the aberrant behavior that plagues our profession are like sea anchors that we reluctantly drag along behind us. These impediments to progress weigh us down, hold us back and stifle our collective creativity, daily undermining the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that could very well be rampant throughout our profession. Taking the sailing metaphor further, they plague us with ill winds and throw us wildly off course, grabbing the wheel from us and refusing to relinquish their hold.

Nurse bullies are a plague on our house. They are a flaw in the ointment and the aforementioned ill wind that leaves our sails stiflingly still. Nurse bullies run us aground, and they do so by utilizing behaviors and strategies that give them the illusion of power over others.

Like the experts say, we don't just need to protect ourselves against bullies. We also need to stand up to them, refusing to silently witness the violence that they perpetrate against our colleagues. After all, our silence is our complicity.

But even if we stand up against bullies and those who practice harassment and other forms of violence, we also need our managers, supervisors, CEOs, CNOs and administrators to develop zero-tolerance policies that categorically reject these behaviors. Without the support from above, our continued struggle in the trenches will be in vain.

So, nurses, reject the bullies. Stand up to them, report them, call them out on their behavior, take them to the mat, and demand that those with the authority to strip them of their illusory power do so at once.

Let's stand together against these old school nurses who simply drag us down and hold us back. Let's open the windows and let the beneficial winds of cooperation, collaboration and kindness blow amongst us. Let's clear this plague from our house once and for all.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is co-host of, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality and social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and intelligent cat, George.

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