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A Quick Guide To Bullying Your Student Nurses…Not!

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By Sheena Maireen Saavedra, BSN, R.N.

In more ways than one, I have seen student nurses getting bullied by senior nurses during the course of their career. Way back ten years ago, when I was still a turnip of sorts in the medical field, I was also a victim of such act. I swallowed them all, thinking that, hey, they have the license.

In my head, I was thinking that senior nurses should feel like they are masters of the game because they got there first. They already made it through the struggle that I was swimming in at that time. I get it. Most of them have the need to feel that they have power over the trainees.

I get it.

But often times, the bullying becomes too much. It becomes a conflicted assault of power through forms of shaming, mockery, power trips, sexual conflicts, racism, and superiority complexes.

To make matters worse, the perpetrators themselves are also victims of bullying when they were in their student years. It becomes a pay it forward thing, a perpetual cycle. It is, as we speak, being tolerated all around the world.

Bullying becomes alarming when the extent of the effect would reach the patient’s themselves as it could easily break the enthusiasm of the student nurses caring for them. All of these are hidden and are actually happening behind our backs.

It is something that we should put into consideration to stop.

Let me make this clear: having student nurses under you did not equate to having a slave on your heels to heed your personal needs as a senior nurse. You are not powerful just because you have a license while they don’t (for now).

To have a student nurse meant having the responsibility to teach what you know. You can ask them to participate and assist in medical procedures or ask them to suction a patient with your supervision, but never to buy you a snack or to gather the supplies you requested from the central supply area (these are even just minor samples of bullying and I am just warming up). That is not in your job description.

But sad to say, the virtues of humility, respect, and grace are slowly being forgotten. These virtues are fundamental in the growth of our future nurses. The mentality that student nurses should become rugs first before becoming bears is poisoning our new breeds of nurses in the field. As senior nurses, we do not ask the student nurses to stay but we are required to show them the way.

How to spot when you, or someone else, is already being bullied?

Bullying can come in different degrees, from a simple assault of humiliation and intimidation, down to aggravated assaults such as delivering an intention to rape, verbally harass the student, maim, or some of which would even involve robbery.

Below are some of the types of bullying that any student nurse would meet in this kind of industry, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Sexual Assault

Nurses treat the area as hunting grounds for young, pretty ladies to be exploited upon. This could also be happening the other way around, for male student nurses. Now this is not true to everyone, but there is always one or two of those male and female nurses within the family who are just fired up to get one or two of the students to be their next girlfriend or boyfriend vis-à-vis just for the fun of it. What could have started as a simple playful banter could often lead to serious complications. Nowadays, sexual assaults could happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere.


Apparently, this is one of the most common forms of bullying that senior nurses are not even aware of committing. Within this scope could come all forms of emotional and verbal abuse, and in some cases the involvement of physical abuse. Now imagine this: the shift is like racing down a hill, the senior nurses got their hands full, and to seek an outlet of this frustrating situation, they lashed it out to the lesser evils and easier target, which are the student nurses. In cases like these, student nurses should well remember that seeking someone else to hurl our entire “emotional diarrhea” is not a better channel for someone’s aggression. As future nurses, do well to remember that if you are up against the wall, you have to be in control of your anger. And if you get yourself in this situation where a nurse is lashing out on you, do not fall apart and do not tolerate this kind of behavior. Seek help and report the incident.

Setting up to fail

As per Wikipedia, “this is a phrase denoting a no-win situation designed in such a way that the person in the situation could not succeed at the task which they have been assigned.” This would often destroy the confidence of the student nurses, and God knows why senior nurses would do these things to the lesser dudes. For some, this is a form of a defense mechanism brought about by getting intimidated by the students.

Getting ignored

We don’t like the feeling of being ignored. Interpersonal rejection amongst workmates and from those in the higher hierarchy comes off as one of the worse forms of bullying. Being isolated is emotionally draining as it is like you are not part of the team. The hurt of being ignored hails from our most basic need of wanting to belong and for the student nurses, involving them in group discussions are an enormous thing.

Physical, Emotional, and Mental Abuse

These could include using threatening body language or simply taking advantage of the meek reactions from the victim, which would include shaming and shunning of the student nurses.


Remember the funny picture you posted in Instagram where you said this student nurse’s picture is super funny? You tagged everyone you knew. To make it even funnier, you added the student nurse himself. And you had a good laugh, right? Newsflash: you have already committed cyberbullying. To some, this could be a form of a fun and friendly joke with no damage done. Or that’s what you think. As people spend more time online and as technology advanced, bullies become more creative in sending out their intent to hurt or embarrass another person. It would be wise to do well to remember that not all of the people will get our jokes.

Power Trips

There are just some of those persons that had an innate trait of simply being mean without any provocation. This is often an abuse of authority and could have sprung from the bully being insecure and jealous of the victim.

How to counter bullying whenever you become a victim?

Stand up for yourself and fight back

Now I am not asking you to get a glass of water and throw it in the face of the person bullying you. If your physical safety warrants actual action, then by all means, do not back down. But if you could not do that, this is where whistleblowing is greatly encouraged. Do not hesitate in escalating the concern to your immediate superiors.

Violence Disruption

The administration should also play a huge role in implementing a “zero tolerance” anti-bullying policy. The response of the managers is critical in preventing the occurrence of bullying itself. As long as the assaulted is able to report the incidence with confidence that a proper investigation and quick action would immediately ensue once the incident was reported, there will be a likelihood that the prevalence of any forms of bullying will stop. Disciplining the staff is a primary solution to this problem after all.


Creating guidelines and punishments such as dismissal and legal involvement should be made implemented and encouraged. Anyone should play a crucial part in getting justice to the victim, especially if you become the victim itself.

Increase Awareness

Sharing of this campaign should include every single layer of the whole organization. Everyone has to participate in spreading the occurrence of bullying and how to stop its spread. Bullying does not limit with the student nurses alone, but it could happen to anyone else in the workplace.

It will get better in the end, or maybe we will just got used to it.

They say that this is part of an occupational hazard and in the long run, everyone just got used to it. Like a disease, this will spread unless we put a firm hand against it. You, as a student, have the choice to remain firm with what you think is offensive to you or not.

But please, there is no such thing as getting used to it. Don’t buy such excuses. Be secured by defending your right to be safe from bullying. We should aspire and aim to achieve zero tolerance to this in our work.

For more information about bullying, visit the American Nurses Association website.

Sheena Maireen Saavedra is a registered nurse since 2007. She is working as a general nurse in Ireland since 2016 but was a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit and Coronary Care Unit when she was in the Philippines. As a person who continually challenges herself to expand her skill set, she ventured into different fields of the medical world, which includes working as a Product Performance Analyst and Quality Analyst in Boston Scientifics Inc, a medical company that manufactures Class III implantable devices such as pacemakers, ICDs, and CRTs. In general, she enjoyed being a nurse as it helped her meet all kinds of people – which impacted her life the most as she listened to their stories of triumph and tribulations. The profession has created avenues for her to make a difference to somebody’s life. This inspired her to write materials, guides and stories that served as sources of inspiration and help to the world around her, in particular to her fellow sisters and brothers of the industry.

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