Dr. Renee Thompson: Nurse Bullying, Can You Guess Who is “Eating” Whom?

Dr. Renee Thompson: Nurse Bullying, Can You Guess Who is “Eating” Whom?

This post is the second in 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.

When nurses hear the phrase, “nurses eat their young”, of course we think about the crusty older nurse bullying the younger new nurse.  Studies show that new nurses ARE the most vulnerable to becoming the target of workplace bullying. But are new nurses the only group of nurses getting eaten?

The answer is no.

Every day a nurse reaches out to me asking for help regarding a bullying situation.  Lately, many of these pleas for help are coming from OLDER nurses who are being bullied by the newer, YOUNGER nurses! An older nurse recently shared that she overheard a new nurse make the comment, “Isn’t it about time we put her out to pasture?” Can you imagine? In a sense, we have swung the bullying target pendulum from new nurses to older nurses.

How can this be?

Although most nurses who bully others suffer from low esteem, there is an entirely new group of nurses who actually suffer from high esteem. We tend to find this phenomenon in our newest generation of nurses – the millennials. Before I go down this path, I want to add a disclaimer: Not all new nurses behave this way; just like not all experienced nurses are crusty and “eat their young”.

But we are seeing a trend with more and more new nurses eating the older ones.  So, it is at least worthy of discussion.Why do new nurses suffer from high self-esteem? It’s because we (parents) did it to them.

Parents who were so worried about damaging their child’s self-esteem that they went overboard protecting it.  These parents have been labeled the helicopter parents who hovered closely by making sure nothing harmed their child. Parents praised their children constantly. When they played ball, everybody got a trophy; nobody kept score, and kids were repeatedly told how special they were.12 years ago, my daughter graduated from high school as their Valedictorian – along with 10 other students! According to the school leaders, they all met the criteria and the school didn’t want to leave anyone out. Back in my day, Valedictorian meant one!

As a result, these millennials entered into the workforce having a higher sense of entitlement, accomplishment, and think they are better than others.  We’ve unknowingly created the next generation of nurse bullies.

What can we do now?

FIRST, we need to recognize that this is happening. We spend so much time protecting the newer nurses that we get blindsided when bullying happens to experienced nurses.

SECOND, we need to embrace generational differences. What a wonderful opportunity we have in today’s workplace – four generations working along side each other. While the potential exists for miscommunications and different perspectives, there can be great respect and knowledge transfer among generations. For the first time, we can create environments where experienced nurses are mentoring the new nurses and vice versa.

And THIRD, we need to address bad, unprofessional behavior no matter who is behaving badly – young and new or old and experienced. All disruptive, unprofessional, and bullying behavior needs to be addressed.

Nurses can be so kind and compassionate to their patients yet they can be horrific to each other. We each have an ethical responsibility to address bullying behavior independent of age, gender, years of experience or position!

Thanks so much for reading. 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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Dr. Renee Thompson: Why is Bullying So Prevalent in the Nursing Profession?
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