Lateral Violence in Nursing : Nurses Being Bullies

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This sounds absurd, doesn’t it?eatyoung

I wish I could tell you that the myths that nurses eat their young are just myths. But sadly, I cannot tell you that. I wish I could tell you that your coworkers will be supportive of you and your patients and helpful and considerate. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that either. I wish I could tell you that my first years as a nurse were wonderful, happy times, and I learned a lot. Two out of those three are wrong as well. However, I nursing_shortagedid and do continue to learn a lot.

I did not know the terms for what I have experience in my nursing career until recently. Lateral Violence, Horizontal Violence, Workplace Hostility, Bullying, Nurses Eating Their Young. Whatever you want to call it, it is apparently still an unfortunate reality for many new (and sometimes old!) nurses.

When you first graduate nursing school you step into your first job bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You wanted every patient to think you were Florence Nightingale herself! You were eager to learn, excited to share you knowledge, and most likely terrified to call a doctor. I know. I’ve been there.

At the hospital I work I was assigned a preceptor. She was very sweet and knowledgeable, but try as I might, I could not do things fast enough for her. Everyday she would finish tasks of mine long before I had an opportunity to. Everyday she was on my heels to increase my speed and competency. I know now that I was doing the best I could. Speed and competency come with time and experience. You can’t be taught that in 6 weeks. On a busy medical-surgical floor we were like a revolving door. Come and started with 4 patients, send home 2, admit 3. That was pretty much the routine for much of my orientation. It was hard, fast, and full of many good learning experiences. Overall, I enjoyed it, but was very ready to move to weekends, where I assumed things would be more laid back, less stress, and extra money too!

I was wrong.

For some reason, for which I have never really been clear on, I was never accepted by the other nurses. It may have something to do with the fact that at 22 I graduated with an RN, and many of them were LPNs and needed to show me that they were a better nurse than I. It could have also been because I was pregnant and honestly probably a little (or a lot) crazy at the time. I was also new and eager and asked many questions.

Originally, I was just socially isolated. Everyone would go to lunch at the same time and leave just me at the desk to answer the phone and lights. Often when they did this I wasn’t even aware until they had all left the floor. If I did happen to get to have my meal break when others were in the break room, they would all sit as far away from me as possible and dare me to join in their conversations. I can think of more than one occasion were I attempted to contribute only to be told quite forcefully, and rudely “We weren’t talking to you”. And yes, these women are grown ranging in ages fro 28-45.

Whatever the reason, they never appreciated me, my questions, or my concerns. Everyday I would come to work and wonder what tragedy might befall me next. They would often withhold critical information from me in order to make me look incompetent. They would often not pass along messages in order to make me appear slow and unresponsive. On a few occasions they even went so far as calling the Doctor for my patients and telling them they were in distress when they had not even stepped into the room to assess the patient! I asked them many times for help, and when they had to they would. Often they would refuse me and tell me they didn’t have time to do their job and mine.

I know it was most likely their intent to make me suffer, but you know who really suffered? The Patients. Patients were often made to wait in pain, poop, shortness of breath, or other ailments because they were trying to prove a point. What point? I still don’t get that part of it. I have through long and hard but cannot find a point righteousHumansNeverEatTheirYoung enough to make the patients suffer.

Throughout the 2 years I worked with these hens, I went to my manager several times and politely and respectfully informed her of the bullying and mistreatment. Every time she made excuses for them. “That’s just how they are”. “You can’t expect everyone to like you”. “Weekends are hard to get used to”. Never once did she acknowledge my feelings, apologize, or make any real effort to stop the behaviors.

It finally came to a point where I was threatened with physical violence by a coworker and I called the house supervisor. The result? A write up, a meeting with HR, a discussion in which I was told I was being too sensitive, taking things too personally, and I was wasting man hours and time by being petty. I was also forced to change shifts (to night shift, no less) and lost my premium shift differential. And oh yeah, the public humiliation of it all.

I can only hope that they were not fully realizing the extent of their actions. They are nurses after all. How can you choose a profession that the very foundation of  is caring and be so ruthless and heartless to another human being.

These events are very much in my recent past. I still have to hand off patients to these nurses on occasion and these moments are filled with lack of eye contact, shuffling feet, and a general disdain for my presence. If I am charting at the nurses station they think nothing of hovering over me and will often ask me point blank to move, “quit talking so you can get done”, or make back-handed remarks or jokes about me. On occasion I do respond, but I try to avoid it.

Most recently, when one of them was very loudly and publically telling me what was “my responsibility” and what I “had to do”, I informed her otherwise. The result? You guessed it, I got a chat with the manager and a request to “Be the bigger person”. What does that even mean? Does the bigger person let themselves be trampled and beaten about aimlessly and continuously? Does the bigger person let herself be made a public mockery in front of her professional acquaintances? Does the bigger person have to be made to feel devalued and insignificant to the point where you don’t feel able to even speak with your manager?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that for now I am watching and waiting. I am finishing up my BSN degree and enjoying the nights I work with very talented, helpful, and pleasant nurses. I really thought that night shift would be the downside of my career, but it has been such a pleasant surprise. It is nice to come to work and be able to talk, laugh, and share with the people you work with. It is nice to know that 20 of your professional acquaintances moseyed in the bosses office and told them how competent, professional, considerate, and that they enjoy working with you. It is reassuring to know that you aren’t a total ass, as you had been made to think you were for a couple of years.

What would be even nicer is if the manager actually acknowledged it, told me she appreciated me, or offered a hint of concern and care for me.

For now I know that the nurses who I work with daily (or nightly, if you want to get technical) respect me and my patients. I know that I don’t have a target plastered on my back. I know that I will have the help I need to take care of my patients. I know that I can do the right thing.

I know that I am a good nurse.

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10 thoughts on “Lateral Violence in Nursing : Nurses Being Bullies”

  1. sounds like we need to adopt some of those English standards. Professionalism IS very serious.
    There is however, no excuse for a nurse to ever make a patient feel like an inconvenience. None. Never.

  2. Why is it that we ladies always have to get our panties in a bunch when a new lady walks past the nurses station.
    Really? We’ve come so far in 100 years, as far as men have come in the past few thousand, and we can’t get over this stuff?

    (fyi, no disrespect to you fellas intended at all.)

  3. I am only part way through college pursuing a nursing degree – as in working on pre-requisites and no actual nursing yet, however, I am a CNA/Medication Aide. To top it off, I work for a staffing agency which already has negative connotations associated with it. I work agency so I can keep up with school and because I have worked in more nursing situations that most nurses ever will.

    Anyhow, I too, have experienced this sort of treatment, even on the level of a CNA/Medication Aide. At one facility I frequented it was pretty bad. I could handle them giving me a hard time, but when they started purposefully telling me incorrect information or withholding information about how a person safely ambulates or medications, or that they turned off their call light and I need to go clean them up from an accident, I have a real problem. They are letting patients suffer, for what? To be petty? To get at me?

    Like you, I KNOW I am a good nurse. I can’t say as much for them. Personally, nurses like that should GET OUT OF NURSING – there is no way that you can knowingly be harming/causing discomfort to a patient and need to be there, no matter how competent you are otherwise.

    1. Erin,
      You have stated this beautifully.
      Although it certainly made me a stronger person and nurse, I do not feel that anyone should endure this treatment.
      You are right. It is the patients that suffer in this. Mine did on occasion. I tell myself that they people involved surely didn’t think that part of their bullying through. Because really, who in their right nursing mind would allow potential harm to come to a patient in order to prove some sort of superiority?
      In my case, there were people who were stirring the pot behind the scenes and the nurses who I thought were the biggest bullies were merely pawns of the one who apparently had the axe to grind.
      I cannot imagine how much more magnified this would be in the agency healthcare setting. They should see you as there to help them do their job better, easier, and as an asset, but some of them (the less intelligent ones, imho) do not.
      But knowing you are a good nurse and having INTEGRITY are key in fighting and winning this battle against the bullies.
      We should all share the same goal of good patient care. If you personal vendettas get in the way, then as you said, they should get out of nursing. We don’t need people like that by our side.
      You have an IQ out the roof,but if you lack the compassion and integrity to use your brain and skills for good rather than evil, then we don’t want you in our profession.

      Erin, I am so glad to know that someone like join is joining me in this profession. You will do great things as a nurse and go far. Don’t let the “haters” get to you. Easier said than done, but that that doesn’t kill us will make us stronger, even if an inexcusable bully is to blame.

  4. I think that any profession that has a majority of women, there is going to be drama, and unnecessary competition…which is what I think most of the confrontation is centered around. As I student I was yelled at frequently by a specific LPN, and but she seemed to back off once I graduated.
    And, I for one, prefer the night shift. It normally consists of more experienced nurses that aren't occupied with everything except doing their job.
    I was offered a job in Pediatrics, my last semester of school, and the first 3 weeks I cried as soon as I got to my car after the shift was over. It is a very small unit, full of very experienced nurses that made it known, to my face, that I had no place being there. I had never had a hard time fitting in, so this was an extreme challenge, but over time I won them over. I asked a million questions, both clinically related and job related, and life slowly got better.
    It is a shame that the above statement is frequently true….which is why I strive hard to mentor the newer nurses, give them tips (I wish someone would have given me) and CYA!

  5. You have to expect a certain amount of desensitization in a place where people die all the time. Many nurses/doctors are worn down, unable to keep their compassion for fellow human beings. When these people will hold onto their own petty desires and feuds even at the expense of patients who are counting on them to do their job, you realize they're truly gone. I met many nurses who regarded me as an inconvenience, but they didn't say anything because, well, it's England. We take professionalism very seriously. There were some nice nurses too.

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