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When Nurses Eat Their Young: 4 Ways to Respond to Bullying in Nursing

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By Rozzette Cabrera, R.N.

Bullying doesn’t only happen in classrooms or playgrounds. In fact, it’s very common in the healthcare profession. New nurses and even those who have been in practice for several years have their fair share of bullying in nursing, getting bullied and seeing someone else falling prey to it.

When nurses eat their young, what exactly do you need to do? Here’s a list of responses you can take to address nurse bullying.

1. Confront the behavior

One of the best ways to address bullying is to confront the person and the behavior. However, because we often feel inferior and weaker to those who bully us, stepping up for ourselves can be difficult.

“One of the best ways to address bullying is to confront the person and the behavior.”

Before talking to your co-worker, it’s best if you can practice the things you’re going to say beforehand. This action allows you to build better self-confidence and to think of the best way to deliver your points. You can ask a friend to hear your thoughts or use a mirror to rehearse positive body language.

Confrontation should happen in a private area and not where patients can see you arguing with each other. You should also avoid catching the bully off guard, such as calling him out when all the other nurses are in the area, as it will only put him in defensive mode.

2. Don’t be a victim

Bullies feed on people who have low self-esteem. If they know they can pick on you, there’s a good chance you’ll find them gnawing on the remaining confidence you have.

To avoid falling victim to bullying, do a spot check and focus more on what you can do. By concentrating on your accomplishments, you can improve your self-esteem without directly ignoring your co-worker.

“I once had a head nurse who always had something demeaning to say to us even though we fulfilled our shifts well. One time, before she even had the chance to negatively criticize my work, I approached her first. After greeting her well, I started reporting everything about my patient. I gathered all my confidence that time, and it was the best move I’ve ever made,” a ward nurse said.

Bully nurses often target the newly hires or those they feel aren’t deserving of a promotion. They also like to pick on nurses who they think are receiving special favors and treatments from doctors or other coworkers.

3. Find support

If your co-worker isn’t open to a friendly dialogue or if you feel threatened by his behavior, then it’s a wise move if you can seek your nurse manager’s help. The manager can establish standards for what behaviors are acceptable or not. He can also impose policies, procedures and even the repercussion of bullying in your workplace.

To be effective, your nurse manager should:

  • Be strict with implementing rules against bullying
  • Be fair in assessing the situation
  • Be always available to address the concerns of his nurses
  • Respond well to complaints so as not to lose trust

4. It’s not your fault

Nurses who resort to bullying, most of the time, feel inadequate of themselves. If they see you as someone who’s prettier and smarter than they are, they feel threatened. By instinct, they’ll think of ways to degrade and humiliate you.

They can give you excessive workloads or publicly scrutinize your work. They can also yell at you for not completing a task correctly. Some bullies may even spread rumors and gossip just to downgrade you. Although these things can be demeaning, it’s important that you know who you are and what you’re capable of doing. Once you give in, you’ll only encourage them to continue their behavior.

Nurses eating their young isn’t new. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most common reasons why nurses quit their jobs. It isn’t only damaging to the profession, but it’s costly as well. Every year, bullying costs around $4 Billion.

Have you experienced bullying in your work? How did you address it?

Rozzette Cabrera is a registered nurse pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a professional writer. She spent a few years putting her profession into practice until she decided to take her chances with freelance writing over a year ago. Her life has never been the same since then.

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