Dr. Renee Thompson: Three Steps to Address Nurse Bullying in the Academic Setting

Dr. Renee Thompson: Three Steps to Address Nurse Bullying in the Academic Setting

This post is part 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 on the rise. According to the 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey, 72 percent reported that they were bullied or had witnessed bullying at work. We know the negative impact nurse and physician bullying has on individuals; organizations, and patient outcomes. Therefore efforts are made within organizations to stop the cycle of bullying.

However, does nurse bullying begin in the workplace does bullying begin earlier?

Nurse bullying begins within the academic environment and if not addressed, continues into the workplace. Targets of bullying reach out to me every day. At least a third of them involve student nurse and faculty bullying.

Who is bullying whom in academia? Pick one…

  • Student to student
  • Student to faculty
  • Faculty to student
  • Faculty to faculty

Nobody is immune to becoming the target of bullying in academia. A Ph.D. prepared nurse reached out to me recently asking help dealing with a bullying Dean! Nobody is immune.

In the academic environment, we tend to call bullying “incivility” but the behaviors can be similar. Faculty deliberately being hard on some students while showing favoritism to others, students threatening faculty to get better grades, faculty being unapproachable and treating students in a condescending manner, and faculty sabotaging or undermining their colleagues are just a few examples.

Bullying students

Fifty-one percent of faculty reported using silence as a strategy to address disruptive student behavior but only ten percent thought it was effective.

When faculty ignores the bad behavior of their students, they enter into the workplace thinking it is acceptable to behave that way.

Bullying faculty

Students are not the only ones who act in an uncivil manner. Sadly, faculty to faculty bullying is alive and well.

When faculty behaves in disruptive ways, they negatively impact the learner, disrupt the learning environment, and negatively influence the behaviors of their students. Faculty needs to be role models for professional practice. After all, they are teaching new nurses how to become successful professional nurses!

Note: I recognize that there are some students who aren’t willing to accept accountability and are just blaming their instructor for being too hard on them by calling it “bullying.” However, some of the worst bullying behavior I’ve seen has been within the academic environment.

If you find yourself the target of bullying, consider these three steps

  1. Get a copy of any policy that addresses discrimination, incivility or harassment. Read it and compare your experiences to the language used in the policy. In particular, pay attention to anything that indicates how to file a formal complaint.
  2. Document, document, document. Documenting your experiences is the key to addressing the bullying behavior and staying in the nursing program. Read more about documenting here.
  3. Seek support from the Academic Affairs department. The Director of Academic Affairs is responsible for ensuring academic and professional excellence and may be a great resource for you. You may decide to file a formal complaint with this department.

Stopping the cycle of nurse bully starts in the academic environment. If we are going to end the hemorrhage of nurses out of the profession, we need to do a better job addressing bullying among students and faculty.

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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