Dr. Renee Thompson: How to Deal with a “Nitpicky” Nurse

Dr. Renee Thompson: How to Deal with a “Nitpicky” Nurse

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.

Tania hated giving report to Michelle. No matter how good her report was, Michelle always found something Tania didn’t either do right or something she didn’t know about her patients. As a result, Tania always walked away feeling like a failure.

Tania was a victim of a nitpicky nurse!

Nitpicky nurse description

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of nitpicky is “being overly critical, especially on trivial matters.”

A nitpicky nurse is someone who asks a lot of questions in report to the point that you feel like you are being drilled by a drill sergeant. Even if you give a great report, a nitpicky nurse will find something you missed and then act like it’s a life and death situation. Some of their questions are ridiculous! Sometimes it feels like, “how many hairs are on this kid’s head? What do you mean you don’t know???” Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration but nitpicky nurses can ask questions that do come across as being absurd or trivial, as the definition implies.

Some nurses aren’t deliberately nitpicky. They just want as much information as possible so that they can effectively care for their patients. However, some nurses are nitpicky deliberately and enjoy watching other nurses squirm during report.

Recently, while conducting a workplace bullying focus group with nurses, one nurse (she was older and had more than 30 years experience) shared that her colleagues have labeled her nitpicky. She defended herself by saying that she wasn’t drilling people to be mean. She justified her “drilling” by saying that in her experience, some nurses don’t share important information about patients and that’s she’s been burned before.

When I was a new nurse, I used to dread giving report to one of the night nurses who had been there forever. I know for a fact that she was nitpicky deliberately because I overheard her talking about “drilling” the new nurses and how she loved watching them squirm!

How can you best work with a nitpicky nurse?

  1. Observe – are you the only one she treats this way or is she nitpicky with other nurses too? What you’re trying to do is establish whether or not she is targeting you or it’s “just the way she is.”
  2. Use scripting – when the nitpicky nurse asks you what you believe is a trivial question, say this, “Help me to understand why it is important for you to know this.” There might be a reason and if so, you will learn something. If there isn’t a reason and she is deliberately being nitpicky, you will send a message that you aren’t passively accepting her behavior.
  3. Engage in a conversation – if the behavior continues, try pulling her aside and engaging in a conversation about your perception. Say, “I’ve noticed that when I give you report, you ask me more questions than any other nurse and some of the questions seem to be trivial. Can we talk about this?” She may be receptive or she may not be, but – you are letting her know that you are not going to just take it.

Remember, nitpicky nurses aren’t always trying to squash others. Sometimes they are just trying to get as much information about their patients as they can so that they feel confident in their care. However, if their behavior is impacting the workflow in a negative way, it’s important to speak up and be honest with them.

What if YOU are the nitpicky nurse?

We all have to ask ourselves this question: Are we perceived as being nitpicky too? Not sure? Ask your colleagues: “Do I sometimes come across as being nitpicky?”

After all, we each play a role in our work culture and can each do our part to create a professional, supportive, and nurturing culture for each other and the patients we serve.

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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