Do nurses eat their young?
Renee Thompson asks. The answer may surprise you. “Nurses know we eat our young. Some nurses think it’s good to “toughen up” the new nurses. In reality it’s not. It decreases confidence and competence. “
Renee Thompson, nurse, author, educator and advocate for workplace change, is making it her mission to bring bullying in nursing to light. She speaks nationwide to healthcare organizations and academic institutions on bullying. Thompson has witnessed behaviors ranging from “overt-screaming, yelling and openly criticizing in front of others to covert-sabotage, backstabbing and undermining.” Bullying can be as simple as “being nice to your face, but then complaining about you to other nurses all night” to as complicated as “gathering a “posse” against you.”
Seeds Planted During Nursing and Medical Education
Thompson speculates that medical and nursing school education may start the process. “Doctors and nurses learn separately, then are forced to work together without training. We wouldn’t do that with an all star basketball team,” Thompson says. “Respectful communication is a skill that can be learned and it is just as important as clinical knowledge.”
The Journal of Professional Nursing in 2009 published a study revealing medical-surgical units and critical care units had the highest frequency of bullying incidents at 23 and 18 % respectively. Bullying incidents occurred within nurses’ first 5 years of employment. Senior nurses were the highest percentage of perpetrators at 24% followed by charge nurses, nurse managers and physicians (8%).
Bullying can impact patient care. “Organizations with a high rate of bullying have worse patient outcomes. Many studies demonstrate bullying prevents nurses from asking for help and calling docs at 3am,” Thompson observes. “I know some nurses who feel they can’t rely on co-workers if they need help for patient.” Nurses who are bullied suffer physical, emotional and mental distress which is disabling and they are not able to effectively care for patients. “Bullying is pervasive, destructive and nurses are suffering all over the world. I know because they call me!”
Be Aware and Speak Up!
“Awareness is vital to change. The first step for organizations is awareness. You have to know how bad it is first before you can take action,” she says. “We get numb to bad behavior, accepting it as normal. Too often we believe what the bully tells us.”
The most powerful intervention to stop bullying, she notes, is for witnesses of bullying to speak up.
“We need to teach people how to establish peer-to-peer accountability. A simple way is to just starting naming behavior. ‘You are screaming and yelling at me in front of others.’”
Have you as a patient or caregiver seen nurses bullying other nurses? Have you as a patient or caregiver seen physicians bullying nurses? Have you experienced bullying as a nurse? Do you think naming the behavior as bullying will make a difference? Please share in the comments section.