Dr. Renee Thompson: Protect Yourself From a Sea of Crabby Nurses

Dr. Renee Thompson: Protect Yourself From a Sea of Crabby Nurses

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.

An interesting thing happens when you find a bunch of crabs in a basket. Every time, without fail, one crab tries to escape. When the other crabs see their fellow crab escaping, they band together to pull that aspiring crab back down, exerting tremendous effort just to stop it, to the point of breaking off its legs, and even sometimes killing it.

Unhappy nurses do the same thing.

I’ve met too many nurses who downplay their accomplishments, knowing fellow nurses will attempt to pull them down. If crabby nurses that pull others down overwhelm you, read on!

Group negativity can be powerful. Maybe it starts with one unhappy alpha nurse who turns every achievement sour, or a group of jaded nurses lacking enthusiasm for growth and development. You don’t have to tolerate their gloomy attitudes. Recognize them first.

Meet the crabby nurse groups

The Jealous Nurse – A nurse who works with predominantly ADN or diploma nurses wants to go back to school to get her BSN or MSN. The jealous nurses will treat her like she thinks she’s “better than everyone else” and will exclude her from social events, saying things like, “Oh, she’s too good for us now with that big shot degree.”

The Critical Nurse – A nurse wins an award. Instead of her colleagues celebrating and recognizing her, they downplay her achievement, then aim to find fault in her nursing care. “See. She’s isn’t so perfect!”

The Cynical Nurse – A nurse studies to get specialty certified. When her coworkers find out, they try to talk her out of it by saying certification is stupid – just a money-maker for the organization. It doesn’t prove anything.

Protect yourself from crabby nurses

Negativity comes in many forms. If left unchecked, negativity leads to physical, mental, and emotional stress. Protect yourself from it:

Know Your Why – Identify WHY you’re pursuing school, getting certified, or advancing. This supports your confidence and prevents you from second guessing yourself when crabs attack.

Scripting – Plan ahead for crabby behavior. When coworkers downplay your award or make fun of you for getting certified, prepare scripts:

“I respect your decisions and would appreciate your respecting mine.” “This award is important to me. And your belittling offends me.” “Help me to understand why you’re making fun of me because I want to ____.”

Make Celebrating the Norm –Create a culture where it’s normal to celebrate the good things. Go out of your way to recognize ANY goodness – awards, school, birthdays, births, marriages. If we all get used to complimenting, celebrating, and recognizing each other, it becomes a part of our language. Celebrating becomes the new normal and negativity becomes the anomaly.

Overcoming crabby behavior begins with one positive action. Then another. If we make it our mission to recognize, promote, and honor each other, we can overcome the crabs and transform our workplace culture.

Have you experienced crabby nurses? Share them with myself and American Sentinel University on their Facebook page. 

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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