Dr. Renee Thompson: The Power of Documentation to Tackle Nurse Bullying

Dr. Renee Thompson: The Power of Documentation to Tackle Nurse Bullying

Nurse bullying has been around since we donned our white uniforms. I’m quite sure that nurses back in the early 1800’s experienced the same behaviors we see today (intimidation, open criticism, exclusion, etc.). Every nurse has heard the phrase, “nurses eat their young” and were warned about the mean nurses when in nursing school. The problem is, now we eat our young, our old, and everything in between!

With the increased attention on professional practice, inter-professional relationships, innovation and advanced education, you would think that nurse bullying would be decreasing – right? Unfortunately, nurse bullying is on the rise. Numerous studies show that 70 to 93 percent of nurses witness or experience bullying behavior.

I can validate these shocking statistics. Almost every day a nurse reaches out to me asking for help to deal with a bullying situation at work. It breaks my heart to hear their stories of sabotage, backstabbing, exclusion or being dumped on and made to feel worthless. How can nurses be so caring and compassionate to their patients but so cruel to each other? It’s so bad that many nurses are choosing to leave the professional all together.

The reality is, nurse bullying is alive and well.

One of the reasons nurse bullying is thriving is that many targets of bullying think they are powerless to do anything about it, especially if tortured by a gang of bullies or if the bully is their boss. However, that’s what the bullies want you to think. The bullies are wrong! If you’re being bullied, you are not powerless. There is something you can do…


Every time a nurse shares his/her bullying story with me, I ask this question: “Have you documented your experiences?” In most cases, the answer is no.


  1. Document immediately and ongoing: If you are being bullied, start documenting your experiences! Keep a small notebook with you and write down dates, times, location, witnesses, verbatim comments, and any behaviors you believe violate policy or your code of conduct.
  2. Transfer your notes into a more formal documentation system: This can just be an electronic file or something more substantial, like Forensic Notes which can make sure your documentation is “court ready” just in case you decide to take legal action.
  3. Link bullying behavior to patient safety or a quality of care concern: Anytime you can link the bully’s behavior to an organizational priority (like safety or quality), you have a greater chance of your administrators taking action. Patient safety and quality care is on their radar and is more likely to be addressed.


I received an update from a nurse who reached out to me last year regarding a bullying situation resulting in her termination from employment. This nurse had been documenting her experiences all along – dates, times, location, verbatim comments, facts, etc. She decided to take legal action against her employer and the bullies and sought the help from an attorney. Although it was a long road, she won her case!

In her update, she thanked me for supporting her and other nurses who are targets of bullying and shared the following advice:

Document, document, document everything you see, hear, and suspect to be occurring. This proved to be vital to my case, as the themes I documented in my notes (while still employed) and had given to my attorney well before the discovery (sharing of records) process began approximately two years later. As discovery began, it became more and more evident how much of what I suspected to be occurring was occurring during the eight to ten months prior to termination.

I’m so happy for her that her experience was validated and that she is being compensated for her pain and suffering. Documenting your experiences is one of the most powerful actions you can take to stop the cycle of bullying. We are hemorrhaging really great nurses!

“If someone is strong enough to bring you down, show them you are strong enough to get back up.” – Unknown

Be kind, 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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