Nurses Eat Their Young – How to Stop Being a Victim of Nurse Bullying

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Nurses Eat Their Young

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Nurses eat their young. If you’re a nurse and haven’t experienced bullying, you likely know someone who has. When I speak about social media and talk about how my bullying experience lead me to find community and connections with nurses online, I always have nurses who approach me after my talk to confide in me their bullying experiences. This happens without fail. I am thankful to make connections with my audience, but it saddens me that this is often the area that sparks a deeper connection.

No one talked about nurse bullying in nursing school. When I did learn this was a common phenomena, I couldn’t believe that this caring profession would create such hostile work environments. To this day, I still struggle to answer the question: Why do nurses eat their young?

Graduating from nursing school and taking your NCLEX are huge milestones that are also stressful events. Then you finally make it and are actually excited to start your career. I remember being excited to work, eager to learn, and ready to put my newly learned skills to use. And then suddenly because I asked one simple question, I became the target of a nurse bully.

Nurses Eat Their Young

I was just out of nursing school and didn’t have any resources to help me with my bullies.

It started off with just one nurse. That nurse made it her goal to turn others against me. She would call me stupid in front of doctors, go behind me and look through my charts trying to find mistakes, and she even tried to get my patients to say I was doing a bad job. Then she was able to get the other nurses in on it. I learned all too quickly the truth in the statement that nurses eat their young.

[easy-tweet tweet=”60% of nurses quit their first job within the first year.” user=”thenerdynurse” hashtags=”#NurseBullying”]

I was learning why 60% of nurses quit their first job within the first year. Lateral violence was very real! However, I was stubborn. I was going to stick it out and I endured the torture for several years.

nurses eat their young

I did try and better my situation. I documented everything including every comment, insult, and every threat. I followed the chain of command and made sure to document those conversations also.

The Hardest Lunch Break I’ve Ever Taken

Everyone has a story of their defining moment when they realize just how bad their bullying has become. Mine came while taking a much-needed lunch break. It was a common occurrence for the main bully and her friends to go to lunch first. I would have to wait until they all came back before I could take my lunch break.

One day I was ready to take my lunch break before anyone else, so I went. I was sitting in the break room which had two tables. One by one the other nurses would file in to take their break. One by one they all sat at the other table until it was completely full. Eventually, a fifth nurse walked in, grabbed a chair from the table I was at and pushed it over to the other table. The five of them ate together leaving me to eat alone. This was the moment I realized they had all turned against me.

This spoke volumes and was one of the hardest things I have ever endured in my career as a nurse. In the end, I was forced out of my job.

Why Don’t They Teach Nursing Students About Nurse Bullying?

I have often questioned why there is not a class in nursing school to teach us how to combat lateral violence, to address this ever-present phenomena of nurses eating their young, and to teach us how to identify and stop nurse bullies. This is a very real occurrence, and even though most of us weren’t taught about it in nursing school, there are other resources available to us.

Get the Resources to Deal With Nurse Bullying

Renee Thompson has developed a new program to help you learn how to combat nurse bullies. This program is sure to be a great help and is one that I think every single nurse should take, even if you’ve never been bullied. Because although it’s often thought of as only occurring to new nurses, it can happen to any nurse, at any age, and for any reason. Renee knows this all too well, and lectures internationally on this topic. When she created an online course to share her in-depth knowledge of the subject of nurse bullying, I was thrilled and had to share it with you.

Her Nurse Bullying Modules will walk you through:

  • How to Recognize bullies.
  • How Bullies choose their targets.
  • Strategies to avoid becoming a target.
  • How to confront bullying behavior.

And finally, this program will give you articles, videos, interviews and a ton of other resources that will help you bully-proof yourself and help others.

I wish I had access to the Nurse Bully Modules when I had first started out. I would have paid thousands of dollars to get the resources I needed to stop my bully in her tracks. I am sure my first employment experience would have been very different if I had the resources available to know how to deal with it. Renee provides useful tools to help you to stop being a victim of nurse bullying and start to love nursing again.

Renee Thompson Nurse Bully Proofing Modules

If you’re experiencing bullying in nursing, I strongly recommend taking Renee Thompson’s Nurse Bully-Proofing Modules

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15 thoughts on “Nurses Eat Their Young – How to Stop Being a Victim of Nurse Bullying”

  1. Hi. I was bullied by two nurses at my first nursing job and what astounded me was one was the head nurse on our floor that precepted me during school and the other was someone that went to nursing school with me. I kept all the written stuff they left for me and got statements from coworkers that saw the signs put on my back and some of the “love notes” that were left for me. I took all of this to the vice president of HR and the head nurse of the hospital and they did NOTHING!!! I had anxiety and depression so bad I took time off work and found another job. To this day I cannot go to that hospital without having really bad anxiety. I thought that job was going to be the one for me and they wrecked it! I wish they would have told us in nursing school how to handle bullies!! Not doing so is an injustice to ALL nurses!!

    1. How is that not a lawsuit against the hospital since HR did not address the issue? If they did address the issue then that’s a different story. If the VP of HR didn’t do anything you got a case, I would seek legal advise, you can sue especially if you got documentation and statements from co-workers. My husband is the head of HR for a large company and I’m a nurse. Just letting you know you have rights.

  2. Janice Rodriguez

    Bullying is real! I think now that people (even an NIH article surfaced) are starting to talk about the issue and bring it into the light for perhaps the first time, it has a real chance of being minimized. We didn’t talk too much about this when I went through nursing school. We were also given a lot of toxic advise. I didn’t make it through nursing school because of bullying by a nursing faculty, who did actually turn some of the other nurses against me. The few who vouched for me, were not heard or no longer teach there.

    I guess no one thinks they are a bad person and has their rationalizations; the nurse bullies I’ve encountered feel they are actually doing the world a favor via “toughening someone up”/hazing them/filtering the weak, what have you.

    I picked up on a lot of non-verbal language when I was in nursing school, both towards myself and towards some other students. Some of it was of the schoolyard bully variety like you described; a certain person would be treated coldly, outside of a friend/lunch group, etc. When a nursing student’s standing was in peril, people would not reach out to help them or study with them; rather, they would distance themselves from the person or (worst case) join in with the bullies via documentation/character assassination, further adding to the person’s stress and odds of failure.

    1. Bullying at work as a Nurse is all too real. It saddens me to know that a loving, caring profession can have so many hateful people. I have read your stories and I can relate all too well. It’s Mentally Draining. My incident is on their video camera, I even told the CEO; nothing was done. They all continued to punish me by allowing the abuser to work on the floor and wing that I worked on every night for a month after the attack. 2 Nurses witnessed it and also set it up. I just couldn’t believe it. I’ve Prayed & Prayed, asking God for strength. No one did anything about it. I went through the chain of command and still nothing. All verbal abuse and attempt assault is on Video… Still No Action. What you have all experienced; so have I. Anyone New at this place of employment gets harassed. I have been a Nurse for YEARS, and never would I expect a Threat of bodily harm with verbal abuse /harassment on the job.

  3. Bullying is real! As an intern, I had a terrible experiences. It was so bad that I almost quit, but luckily the head nurse (who was the main perpetrator) was dismissed (on different grounds).
    I tried to be stronger ever since, and have continued to support/protect younger nurses

  4. I’m glad you are covering this topic! I was a victim of bullying early on in my career. The residual effects of it, however, have haunted me throughout my 22 year career.
    I’m not sure if I see less of it in work situations these days because there actually is less of it or simply because I won’t work in a place that treats any of the staff that way. It could also be that my years of experience mean I am past the victim stage. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the subject through the years and should probably write a book about it. I’ve found a few common threads to the bullying situation.
    First of all, in places where the facility is good at training and supporting new staff, there is less bullying. This is because if you have a strong mentor she or he is not only tasked with teaching you while you are on orientation, but also should be a resource for you as long as you work together. So a good facility should give you at least one ally in the form of your mentor or mentors and they should not be giving mentor roles to people who are not supportive teachers. Good facilities know this and train their mentors instead of just picking the most senior nurse on the floor and giving her a new grad. Also, being careful what jobs you apply for helps. I realize a new grad has a lot less choice, but if the environment is bad, your nurse patient ratio is high and the other staff is hostile and you are not getting good support, LEAVE. It’s a lot better to have a couple of jobs where you were only there for a few months than to have toxic people ruin your enthusiasm and confidence. Granted you don’t want to have 10 jobs you worked at for less than 6 months but a lot of nurses job hop a little until they find the right fit.
    I once saw a comment on the subject that said “nursing is what mean little girls do when they grow up”. I’d like to think not all of us are like that, but if you think of the personality that gravitates toward nursing you can see why that is often true. The personality of a nurse is typically someone who likes to be in charge and who can be extremely particular and usually protective of her patients. Yes, we are nurturers, but often it is with the sense that we are the only person who can care for the patient properly. That gives rise to the problem experienced nurses have with thinking everyone else, especially a newer nurse, is a terrible nurse. If you are a new grad who is a bit insecure, you are instantly seen as “incompetent”. If the new nurse doesn’t strike a balance between insecurity and “Know-it-all” then she or he is often fair game to the bullies. Every time I have seen someone get bullied it was because they were either insecure or they acted like a know- it- all. Be kind to others yourself. Even though you are new, you still need to look around and help others, especially with call lights, lifting etc. Even a new nurse has a lot to give, so give it.
    Nursing is also very political. Be very diplomatic with your co-workers. and know that the person who is actually in charge may not be the official boss. I’ve even seen CNA’s have quite a lot of the power on a particular unit, if they are experienced and the facility is short on CNA’s or if that CNA is related to or good friends with a boss or manager.
    I guess my best advice would be, ask questions, but be careful who you ask. Ask your mentor and only the nurses that are obviously more approachable. Don’t ask nurses who appear nervous themselves or who always seem to be the last ones done. Those nurses will only get frustrated by your questions and make you look even worse. On the other hand, don’t be a know-it-all either. If you come across as a know-it-all you will alienate your coworkers who also think they are good at what they do and will take offense to a new person telling them how their instructor did it.
    Every facility has a policies and procedures manual, use it and THEN ask any questions. Then when someone shows you how to do it, be gracious.
    Also, don’t be afraid to bring goodies, nurses can be bribed with food. Kidding aside, food brings people together, goodies lighten a mood and they make a shift go faster.

    1. Having a mentor would have been so valuable. I wish organizations would place a stronger focus on this. Every new nurse should have a mentor, provided to them, for at least the first year. Someone needs to help them get through the psychological devastation that is the first year as a nurse.

  5. The Workplace Bullying Institute definition for bullying that is not schoolchild-based is this: “Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :
    Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
    Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or
    Verbal abuse”

    What should be done to address this problem? I’d encourage anyone who’s serious about this to consult psych colleagues about tools and techniques to promote self-efficacy and ego strength. In my personal, direct observation over many years, it is my opinion that the existence, prevalence, and severity of most such problems is much more in the head of the aggrieved than the reported mean girls’ behavior (the oh-so-trendy “lateral violence”).

    The (mostly new) people who feel bullied because coworkers don’t say hi when they come in to work, don’t ask them out with the gang at the end of the day, or critique their practice need to realize that rude or clueless aren’t like messing up your med pass or contaminating your sterile field, libel or slander, or physical assault. Sure, there’s an argument to be made that anxiety can be injurious to your health; however, this takes us directly back to ego strength and self-efficacy.

    A professional work setting is not high school. You want to solve the biggest problem of our profession? Promote maturity and do what can be done to extinguish all vestiges of perpetual victimhood. There’s plenty of literature to indicate that bullies back down when confronted. But that takes self-confidence and maturity; promote that at the learner level. Learn to recognize what real bullying is, and what it is not (thanks, Florence). If you see someone being picked on, stand up for her — bullies always back down when called out. If it’s you, “Killing them with kindness” is a helpful coping style, and remember they’ll move on to someone else if you’re no fun, perhaps the next new hire. And then you can call them on it and help her be stronger. Many a unit culture has been transformed one nurse at a time in this way. Be a leader.

    Save the big guns for the real thing: genuine workplace violence.

    1. GrnTea,

      I appreciate your comment an opinion, but I respectfully disagree.

      While my example of nurses sitting at another table was certainly not the worst thing they did to me, it still illustrated a bigger issue. I was pushed into med room corners and threatened. I was called all manager of names and insults. While I wasn’t physically assaulted, the emotional abuse I endured was very real and has left it’s big ugly scar on me.
      I confronted my bully, but you know what? She had the boss in her corner and felt untouchable. And the thought that they will just move on to someone else is no solution either. It should not be tolerated. Not at all.

      1. “Pushed into med room corners” sounds like a physical assault to me. “Calling names” and “threatened,” also on the unacceptable list. So you see, we don’t disagree at all.

        My reference to accomplishing culture change one nurse at a time is something I’ve seen done in the setting of unsupportive management, where the last recipient supports the next one, and together they stand up for the next one, and this does get noticed and gets results.. Maybe management tolerates it, but if staff doesn’t, one at a time adds up. Let it start with you.

        I stand by my assertion that stronger ego and self-efficacy will serve anyone well, including you. What could you do to feel stronger, yourself?

        1. When I discuss my bullying experience, I am speaking about something I experienced 8 years ago. I am not the same person today that I was then. I cannot honestly say what my experience would be like if I were put in the same situation again. At this point in my life and career, I simply don’t tolerate that sort of behavior. When I was a new nurse (a newly wed, new home owner, and new mother all in a year) I didn’t have the same level of professional leverage that I do today. I was job scared. I was afraid of how I would feed my family and pay my bills if I didn’t have that job. You can’t presume to know the answer for everyone dealing with bullying. Each situation is unique.
          Bullying may start at the staff level, but it’s allowed to occur because management doesn’t stop it. In my case, management turned a blind eye because the bully was the favorite and would work 70 hours a week.

          But this really isn’t about me anymore. I share my story because I want others to know they aren’t alone. I want them to know that I’ve been there too and things do get better if you take steps for them to get better. We can’t pretend nurse-bullying doesn’t occur and we certainly shouldn’t be blaming the victims. Even though victims of bullying do have strategies they can use to overcome the situation they’ve been placed it, it’s not their fault they go there in the first place. A thought process like this is the same kind of thinking that says that if a woman wears a skirt, she’s “asking for it.”
          You think any nurse is asking to be bullied? You think nurses should just blend in a corner, remove their personality, and avoid making an effort to build relationships with the people they see as often, if not more, than their own families?

          1. Janice Rodriguez

            I completely agree with your sentiments, and this statement was especially true: “A thought process like this is the same kind of thinking that says that if a woman wears a skirt, she’s ‘asking for it.’” As a society, we are generally beyond putting up with sexual harassment, rape culture, etc. (see the movie North Country for a great illustration); we should be beyond the psychological bullying in nursing too.

            I understand the fear of job insecurity, having a whole family to support, as well. It’s an extremely tight spot to be in when your mental health is being eroded daily, you’re not sure how to best handle the threat, and not keeping that job/placement has dire consequences for those who depend on you. It’s not something I would want to experience ever again.

      2. I would like to share my story about what has happened to me when someone had misspelled one letter in my name into the hospital’s computer system. You can search ” Discrimination and Abuse of Immigrant Single Mother Student Nurse at UNBC ” to find out more.

        Note that UNBC removed all evidence from YouTube about the mistreatment and supported the professor. Furthermore, UNBC has removed students’ reviews if they have not awarded UNBC 5 stars.

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