Nurses and the Bullying Experience: Lateral Violence

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I’ve written about lateral violence (the act of nurses being bullies) frequently in the past.

image via NursingLink

To be completely honest, I hate that this is something that I even know about, and especially felt the need to write about. Not because I don’t think the issue should be addressed, but its just completely absurd that it exists at all. The jokes and mumbling under their breath that many state about how Nurses Eat Their Young is a sad state of what trivial boundaries make it difficult for nurses to be seen as professionals.

An article on Medscape, (which I wrote about Respect and Dignity: A Nurses Guide to Bullying in Nursing)  which I I have written and linked to before, has a discussion forum tied to it  ( Nurses — Have You Experienced Bullying? ) which I elected to receive email updates from.Anyone someone comments on the issue of Bullying in Nursing, I receive an email. Unfortunately, I receive an email nearly every day.  – please note, you will have to register to read the forums on Medscape, it it only takes a monent and is worth it!

What it brought to my attention today was how some many excellent, compassionate, and caring nurses actaully leave the nursing profession due to bullying. I mean really, bullying? We’re adults and we’re often being forced to change our entire careers and stop doing something we enjoy because of bullies? It’s upsetting to me on so many levels that this childish behavior is tolerated in what is supposed to be a professional environment.

just a few of the terms, many related to nurse to bullying

Also, I’ve had hundreds of people come to my blog after googling “lateral violence”, “Horizontal Violence”, “bullying nurses”, “nurse to nurse hostility” and various other terms related to the inhuman phenomina of nurses eating their young. While I am glad that I am able to provide some comfort to other nurses so that they are at least aware that they are not alone in this, I am deeply bothered that these are terms that people even have to google.

Nurses, we need to ensure we are treating others the way we want to be treated. We need to be advocates for not only our patients, but ourselves, and our profession. If you feel you are being bullied, or see someone else being bullied, SPEAK UP. It will be hard, and it will be uncomfortable, but ulitimatly, it is the RIGHT thing to do. If we want this to stop, we need to stop sweeping it under a rug, put on a pair of gloves (maybe double up, in some cases) and get in their and get dirty.

We get dirty for our patients, why not for ourselves?

Be a Nurse Advocate!

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I have been a nurse since 2003. Like you, I actually wanted to be a lawyer, and ended up here. I loved working in the large urban level 1 trauma center. I learned something everyday about medicine and life and death. It never failed to disappoint. My usual feeling when watching shows about bullying in schools, etc is "suck it up". My ER experience has made me prone to give this Rx in most situations. I was also a US Marine. Then, life happens, and I ended up moving 70 miles away from my beloved ER, and now work in a small community ER. There are 3 nurses (out of 15 on all shifts) that have worked there since before I was born. The dynamic is toxic and I didn't notice at first; it was a nice change from 300 pts/day down to 40. I actually thought a law degree would be possible with the downtime.
The problem: the bully is the boss's best friend, always filling her in on every detail. She throws things, writes people up for speaking to others in different departments (including saying "hello") because we should all "get to work" and "we don't like THEM, do we?". Because of her statements, the schedule is definitely unbalanced. Her antics are well tolerated. I fear bringing it up with my boss, because I feel, as the rest of us, we don't know where we stand with our jobs. It is easier to fire the victim. A fabulous RN just left our dept due to this. I have been ACTIVELY seeking other full time employment for 9 months with no success. My old job says "come back, have whatever shift and schedule you want, we love you". Should I go back, knowing I would drive 150 miles round trip with pricey gas? I have lost 10 lbs in 2 months, I now have PVCs on a daily basis. I have GI issues. I am still an athletic weight lifter and marathon runner, but I have never experienced such physical signs of stress. Not sure what to do....anyone have any advice? I have documented some incidents that took place in front of witnesses.

The Nerdy Nurse
The Nerdy Nurse

Several things you can do.

Continue to document.
Arrange a meeting with your boss. If you don't feel comfortable doing it with them alone, then involve a member of human resources or a next level manager. This can be tricky, because if you involve someone else without first trying to solve in directly with the manager, then it can cause more dificulties. I do suggest you try a private meeting first and voice your concerns. Truly they may not be aware of what they are doing or what it is perceived they are doing, in relationship to the favorites.
You have the right to work in a setting free of harrassment and that does not compromise your health. Legally, if you are retaliated against and have any change in position or pay because of the bullying (from your coworkers, or your boss) then you have a cause for legal action.
Confronting the bully directly is nearly impossible, as they often act irrational and often make out like you are being the bully the situation. My coworkers would literally flail their arms, yell loudly, and laugh hysterically when I would politely ask them to be respectful and stop calling me stupid.I wanted to be a smart-ass about the whole thing, but with a goal of professionalism, I avoided it.
Come prepared with documentations, research articles, and definitions of harassment (in legal terms if you can), to your meeting with your manager/HR. You don't want them to think you are going to sue them, because I know you don't want to do that. All you want is to go to work and be free of harassment. Trust me when I say that I know thats all you want.
My boss got disgruntled with me when I brought up the term harassment. But then she backed off. Her response to me was that she knew I was smart and honestly, Her tune changed to me about the situation after her initial knee-jerk reaction. Basically, when I let her know that I knew I was not in the wrong, and that I felt she was allowing the situation to occur, and that legally it was an issue, and yes, I could sue them, then her tuned changed.
Truthfully the best thing you can do is speak up. Ask your coworkers if they see it. Encourage them to speak up. Some will. Most wont. Ask your manager to interview other employees, don't give names, ask them to take their pick. If patients see it, encourage them to speak with management.
If these meetings do not work you can involve your state board of nursing, your accrediting agencies, and news organizations. If you are a member of a nursing organization, inform them, if you are not a member, join one. And even if you don't join one, notify your state nursing agency of the concern. Likely a few phone calls from some people in power will get people to fall in line.

If you'd like I will try to post the resources I have on lateral violence which included articles, websites with definitions of hostile work environment and other information. I start my work week today, so this may be a few days out.
Thank you for your comment. The best thing we can all do about bullying in nursing is to be vocal and advocate for ourselves and the nursing profession.
Please let me know if I can help in any way.


Thank you for your response. The whole building knows of this nurse. I really appreciate your advice! I would appreciate any extra links or articles. I have the list from your article on Medscape (which I printed and put in the stack of articles in our lounge...).

Thank you!