Signs & Symptoms of a Bully Nurse

Stories - Sign Theme Nurse Bullying NoThere are some nurses whose mission it is, for whatever reason, to bully and exclude other nurses. Statistically speaking, bullying leads to unneeded stress, anxiety, and sometimes burnout. Nurses actually leave the profession as a result of being bullied. It is not a reflection of them or that they are weak.

It has nothing to do with them in fact. It is the reflection of a broken and dated system that ignores the silent abuses of bullying. It goes far beyond someone getting their feelings hurt.

Research has shown that the effects of bullying can trickle down to the patient and actually adversely affect patient outcomes. Let me repeat that-bullying can adversely affect patient outcomes!!!

I quit what I thought would be my dream job years ago because of the open and accepted bullying of new nurses that occurred. It did not matter if you were a new grad or seasoned nurse, you were bullied the same. The turnover in the unit was incredible, yet management looked the other way.

Newbies would suffer in silence until they got their year in and then quickly looked elsewhere. How sad is that??? A highly respected hospital that ignores and allows bullying.

I think most nurse bullies are well aware of who they are, but here are a few signs and symptoms of a bully nurse for any newbies in the profession.

Super Inflated Ego

You know the one. Said nurse loves to hear themselves talk. They speak loud enough for everyone in the room, even down the hall to hear. This is the bully nurse’s way of marking his/her territory. The unfortunate thing is that is said nurse is usually super skilled and informed.

One could benefit from his/her knowledge and experience, but they are usually unapproachable. If you ask a bully nurse a question, they will usually respond with a demeaning eye roll followed by a “you should know this” response.

Purposely Make Reporting Difficult

You are in the middle of explaining that your patient is in septic shock with a blood pressure that is bottoming out despite inotropic support and the bully nurse is fixated on a minor, insignificant detail like why the patient’s weight was not charted.

Rolling Eyes or No Eye Contact at All During Report 

Any information about the patient is of no significance to them because everything you have done over the last twelve hours was completely insignificant to the benefit of the patient’s outcome and recovery. In fact, it is a good thing they arrived when they did because now the patient is in better hands.

Excluding Coworkers

Said nurse will purposely exclude others in a conversation, on social events, etc., especially if a nurse is new to the unit.

Blatantly Ignoring a Coworker

You pass in the hall and not even a simple, “hello.” You are sitting in the breakroom and not even a “how’s it going?” It’s called simple communication between two human beings. 

Undermining Another Nurse in Front of Coworkers

Unacceptable. The bully nurse will call out anything that the nurse before them forgot or perhaps missed. The bully nurse is of course immune to mistakes.

Undermining Another Nurse in Front of a Patient

Again, unacceptable. Undermining another nurse in front of a patient or family member is not only unprofessional to the highest degree, but it causes patient distrust of the system. Some bully nurses will even go as far as to talk badly about a coworker to the patient or patient’s family.

Talking Bad About Another Nurse

We have all talked about another coworker at some point or another to some degree. So and so is lazy or so and so is always grumpy. It is human nature. The bully nurse, however, will go as far as questioning another nurse’s competence and capability as a nurse. UNACCEPTABLE. If what a fellow nurse is doing is questionable, it should be taken up in a professional manner with the manager of the unit, not discussed over coffee in the breakroom.

All jokes and sarcasm aside, it is actually a very serious issue that gets swept under the rug. So, what is in the DNA of a bully nurse? One might think that insecurity and an inferiority complex are at the core, but research shows that a bully nurse usually has a super inflated ego and the confidence to match.

He or she is more often than not a nurse that is highly respected by peers and management. Making a complaint against such a nurse for many may seem like career suicide, but it is worse to keep quiet. Chances are you are not the only one being targeted.

What can we do? We need to lobby for a ZERO tolerance policy across the country, in every unit, on every shift. There should be a three strikes you’re out rule, not “that’s just how it is here.” Unpaid suspension would be a good place to start.

A slap on the hand is not enough when we know that bullying leads to poor outcomes for both nurses and patients alike. Managers need to step up and address complaints with swift repercussions.

How does your unit/hospital respond to bullying?

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