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.
New nurses fear two things when they start their first job: Making a mistake, and that the other nurses will eat them alive! I’ve talked with many student and graduate nurses over the years and get asked the same question: “What do I do if the nurses are mean?” Unfortunately, they have every right to be worried.
I once witnessed a new nurse on her first day approach the unit secretary and announce that she was there to start work. The unit secretary, who didn’t smile or even acknowledge her presence, shouted to another nurse, “Hey Susan! Your baby nurse is here.” Susan looked up and said sarcastically, “Great” and then said to the new nurse, “Look. I don’t want to be a preceptor and I tried to get out of it but couldn’t. Just don’t get in my way and try not to kill anyone okay?”
The look on this new nurse’s face was a look of horror.
Nurse bullying has been in existence for a long time and although there are a lot of theories behind why nurses “eat their young” and what bullying looks like, not a lot has been done to stop it. One of the reasons that this issue has gone on for so long is because we accept bullying behavior as the norm. We tolerate or try to ignore the mean nurses who seem to find great joy in squashing other nurses. Many nurses believe that there is nothing they can do and just bide their time until the bullies choose a different target.
However, there is something you can do right now. Numerous resources are available for new and experienced nurses who are struggling with bullying. If you find yourself the target of bullying, consider these three actions:
1 – Connect with caring and compassionate experienced nurses
Here’s the deal. We don’t all eat our young. There are more of us who actually love mentoring and supporting other nurses- especially our newest. Find them. Spend time with them. Ask them for help. They will help and protect you!
2 – Develop anti-bullying skills
The good news is that addressing workplace bullying is a skill that can be learned. The bad news is that we don’t do a good job teaching new and experienced nurses these skills. But that doesn’t mean you can’t develop the skills on your own. Numerous resources are available for you to learn how to recognize bullying behavior (not everything is bullying), how to employ simple confronting strategies, how to document bullying behavior, and how to protect yourself from the bullies. Here are just a few:
- For students and new nurses
- For experienced nurses
- “Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too! Strategies to Protect and Bully-Proof Yourself at Work
- When Nurses Hurt Nurses: Recognizing and Overcoming the Cycle of Bullying
- Toxic Nursing: Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil
3 – Engage in continuous professional development
The more you learn and grow, the more you will create an invisible force field surrounding you against negativity, bullying, and the other nastiness that sometimes accompany the work environment. The stronger you become mentally, professionally, and emotionally, the more you will be able to ward off any potential bullies. Learning and growing can be formal (like going back to American Sentinel University to advance your degree) or informal. Follow this simple tip to make continuous learning a habit:
Read something educational or inspirational every day – Numerous blogs (like this one) can support your learning by providing practical tips, resources, and strategies to grown your nursing career.
Try any of these on for size:
- RTConnections – by Renee Thompson (me!), writes about nurse bullying and professional development.
- Digital Doorway – by Keith Carlson, writes about career development (Nurse Keith also writes for this blog, check it out here).
The point is, you don’t have to suffer alone. Not when there are numerous people and resources available to help you. I’ve just given you a few ideas. There are more! Until we can come together as a profession, take ownership of our behavior and hold others accountable, bullying will continue.
You deserve to work in a supportive, nurturing environment. 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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