Dr. Renee Thompson: Why is Bullying So Prevalent in the Nursing Profession?

Dr. Renee Thompson: Why is Bullying So Prevalent in the Nursing Profession?

This post is the first of a series of posts on nurse bullying and conflict in the workplace written by Dr. Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN. Dr. Thompson is one of the top professional development and anti-bullying thought leaders in nursing.

Workplace bullying is a problem. Bullying behavior is destructive, pervasive, and exists in every industry. However, does workplace bullying exist in the nursing profession?

Every nurse knows that the answer to this question is YES! We’ve all heard the phrases, “nurses eat their young” and “well that’s just the way it is in nursing. We’ve become so accustomed to nurses behaving badly that we fail to recognize how big the problem is.

Sixty percent of all new nurses quit their first job within the first six months due to the bad behavior of their co-workers. Forty-eight percent of new graduating nurses are afraid of becoming the target of workplace bullying.

Every day of my life, a nurse reaches out to me asking for help.

We are hemorrhaging really good nurses because of workplace bullying.

So why is bullying so prevalent?

Many theories exist regarding why bullying is prevalent in the nursing profession.  In my research and observations, two primary reasons stand out:

Nursing is a female dominated profession

Ninety percent of the 3.1 million nurses in the United States are women. And let’s face it ladies, we are not always that nice to each other.  Theories suggest that age-old female “competition” has shifted from competing over a man to competing over status, respect, and position in the nursing environment. The same behaviors once witnessed between two women fighting over a man are the ones witnessed today in the behavior of bullies. I have heard many women say they would rather work with a department of men than women any day. Perhaps you have said the same. Women can be catty and cruel, yet we allow this bad behavior to con¬tinue because, “That’s just the way women are.”

Solution: Women need to celebrate the accomplishments of other women. Every day, find one reason to compliment a co-worker who is female. Be the role model for female-female admiration – not aggression!

Nurses are an oppressed profession

There are more than 3.1 million nurses in this country and only 650,000 physicians, yet nurses are known as the silent majority. While nurses are held accountable for outcomes, they are still paid by the hour; have to commit to a swipe-in and swipe-out schedule; and are afforded minimal or no representation at decision-making tables in their workplaces. Feelings of frustration, coupled with an increasingly complex and stressful job, can create environments where nurses “take it out” on each other. Since nurses can’t “take it out” on administrators or physicians, the theory is that they take it out on the already oppressed, subservient group. Becoming a bully helps certain nurses to gain some of the perceived power they are missing in their profession.

Solution: Nurses need to learn how to articulate their value. This can be accomplished through advancing their degrees, obtaining certification, and inviting themselves to the decision-making table. Getting involved provides nurses the voice they need to overcome feelings of oppression and powerlessness.

Nurses are among the most empathetic, caring, and compassionate human beings in this world. While workplace bullying IS prevalent in the nursing profession, we each have the opportunity and ethical responsibility to swing the pendulum from “eating our young” to supporting, nurturing, and growing each other!

Thanks so much for reading this first article, I look forward to sharing more with you. Take care and stay connected.



Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning nurse blogger, and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate workplace bullying. To find out more about Renee, please visit her website. American Sentinel University friends and family can get 25% off Renee’s great anti-bullying products – simply enter in the code: AMSENT16.

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