What Dr. Renee Thompson Has Learned About Nurse Bullies

What Dr. Renee Thompson Has Learned About Nurse Bullies

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.

In my 26 years as a nurse, I have witnessed bullying behavior in every role I’ve held. As a new nurse working on a cardiac step-down unit (I was tortured by my preceptor and the night nurses), as a homecare nurse (testing my knowledge in front of everyone, hoping that I fail – I didn’t), an educator (withholding information just to watch me struggle), and even at the executive level (major covert sabotage from someone who was supposed to be a great role model!). I’ve experienced and witnessed bullying in every role.

Over the years, this is what I know as well as I know my own name: Nurse bullying is alive and well, exists in every role, and is present at every level. 

After experiencing and watching nurses treating each other in horrific ways, I got to the point where I was no longer willing to accept nurse bullying as the norm. I was no longer willing to accept, “Well, that’s just the way it is in nursing.” Therefore, I’ve spent the last ten years doing something about it! I now spend the majority of my time helping individuals and organizations stop the cycle of nurse bullying. Nurses from all over the globe reach out to me asking for help. Throughout these years, I’ve learned a few things about bullies.

Five things I’ve learned about bullies

  1. Bullies need targets to survive: Think about it. If everyone stood up to the bullies, they wouldn’t have anyone to bully! The only way bullies exist is because they have targets to pick on. Starting today, make the decision to refuse to be a target.
  2. Bullies tend to be really good clinicians: It’s so easy to address someone’s clinical skills but much harder to address their behavior. What I know about nurse bullies is that they tend to be the experts in the department. To make matters worse, the physicians tend to love them making it that much harder for leadership and human resources to hold them accountable!
  3. Bullies see the workplace as a battlefield: Bullies operate from a win-lose mindset. They put their mental war paint on as they get ready for battle. You also need to prepare for battle. How? By understanding their tactics and deploy counter tactics. I talk a lot about the power of scripting. Scripting is your counter attack. I wrote my ten favorite scripts to address a bullying coworker. Click here to get.
  4. Bullies enjoy keeping their targets guessing about when the next attack will occur: When working with a bully, their targets feel like they are walking on eggshells. Sometimes they’re nice and so you let your guard down and then WHAM, they get you. Just assume all attempts to be nice to you are fake. Don’t fall for it!
  5. Bullies don’t play by the rules: They cheat, lie, and don’t play fair. The reason why we have so many targets in healthcare is because we are the “do-gooders” and play by the rules. Bullies don’t. Our ANA Code of Ethics provides a blueprint for clinical and professional behavior. Bullies chew up our code and then spit it out.

Understand that there will always be someone at work who tries to bully someone else. Why? Because we work with humans and humans have been bullying each other for centuries. However, isn’t it time we stop accepting bullying in nursing as the norm? We are hemorrhaging really good nurses!

If you are working with a bully or gang of bullies, speak up, take action, do Something about it. In my book, Do No Harm Applies to Nurses Too, I share a lot of strategies to confront bullying. The point is, don’t suffer in silence. Take action!

Thanks so much for reading. Take care. Be kind 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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