Bullying in Nursing

We’ve all seen it . Maybe we’ve even done it to another nurse after a bad day, watched in silence as a colleague berated a novice or circulated a piece of gossip. Bullying is rampant in nursing and it makes a difficult job all the more stressful because of it.

Not only does a nurse have to worry about their patients but sometimes they also have to worry about what coworkers are saying about them in the tea room. Instead of focusing on taking care of your patients, bullying makes you worry about how you fit in with your coworkers and if they are going to make you miserable today.

It’s very much like school all over again and it makes for a terrible place to work. Luckily many hospitals and organisations are aware of bullying and are taking measures to stop it. By drawing it out into the open and reporting it, bullying can be stopped.


What to Do About Bullying

Bullies only stop once confronted. It may be difficult for someone who is bullied to stand up on their own. If you are being bullied, you need to report it to the nurse unit manager (NUM) or human resources officer. If bullying is violent or threatening, it may be a criminal offence and you should report it to the police.

If you are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against because of your race, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion or because you have a disability or are pregnant, you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission. However, the only way to stop bullying from destroying the nursing profession is for all nurses to band together.

There is little a victim can do on their own against a bully but as a nurse you must stand up to bullying when you see it, if you are bullied or if you witness it. That is the only way that bullying in nursing will stop.

Don’t be the nurse who has no patience for new graduates.

Don’t be the nurse who loves the juicy gossip or who only wants to work with friends.

What’s more, don’t let other nurses be that way either. When you see it happening to another nurse, have the courage to call them out on it.

Check out ReachOut for more info on bullying, your rights, your employer’s responsibilities, where to get help, and strategies for dealing with bullies in the workplace.

How do You Act on Bullies?

Confront the bully – 39.4%

Offer support to the victim – 28.8%

Report it to HR/the NUM – 31.8%

Turn a blind eye – 0%

This poll was conducted between 4-11 January 2012. n = 66. Download infographic [PDF]

Types of Bullying

Bullying doesn’t have to be about physical violence or even blatant name calling. It is usually subtle and harder to pin down. One of the most common bullying tactics is refusing to talk to someone and giving them the silent treatment. A nurse can also refuse to pass along information, which could result in a patient safety issue.

Even just being short and curt with a coworker is a form of bullying if it is done with the intention of restricting your interaction with that person. Overly criticising someone and name calling is obviously a form of bullying, but attempting to socially isolate someone and treating them differently from everyone else is just as damaging.

Physical threats and abuse are bullying, too, in addition to shouting and raising your voice.

Gossip and rumours about another person are probably the most common type of bullying on a nursing unit. It is so easy to talk about someone else without realising the harm it does to them.

Condescension, impatience, and taking credit for someone else’s work are other forms of bullying that occur in nursing.

Who Gets Bullied?

Everyone is familiar with the old saying “nurses eat their young”, and the research finds that this is true. New graduate nurses are particularly susceptible to bullying by senior nurses. New employees, bank and agency nurses, or new transfers into a unit are also considered targets for bullies.

Others who are likely targets include someone who has received a promotion or special praise that others feel is undeserved, those who have trouble working with others, nurses who get special attention from the doctors, and when the unit is under severe understaffing conditions. When the stress is at its worst, the bullying behaviours seem to come out the most.

Some bullies are motivated by a sense of superiority, resentment towards others, the need to gossip, a sense of envy, or a sense of cliquishness. Either way, the bully seeks to separate a more vulnerable person from the rest of the group and make them feel bad.

Show References


  • Stokowski, A 2010, A Matter of Respect and Dignity: Bullying in the Nursing Profession, Medscape, New York, NY, USA.

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