Nurse-to-Nurse Bullying More Than Just a Sore point,Nurse Bullying More Than Just a Sore Point

By Weisberg, Deborah | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Nurse-to-Nurse Bullying More Than Just a Sore point,Nurse Bullying More Than Just a Sore Point


Weisberg, Deborah, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Registered nurse Renee Thompson of South Park will never forget the moment that almost ended her career, but ultimately inspired her to tackle what she calls an unspoken epidemic: nurse-to-nurse bullying.

"When I was just starting out, a supervisor who was always yelling at me called me an idiot in front of a physician I really respected because I could not get a copy machine to work," Thompson says. "I was on the verge of tears when the doctor took me aside, and said, 'My dear, why would you ever let anyone less capable and intelligent talk to you in this way?'

"If he hadn't said that, I might have quit, but he changed my whole attitude."

Thompson confronted the supervisor about the demeaning behavior, and began to pay more attention to similar incidents among colleagues.

As she moved from bedside to administrative nursing, she realized how prevalent bullying is, Thompson says. "When I'd meet with new nurses, all they wanted to talk about was how poorly they were being treated by other nurses. It reminded me of my own experience and put me on a path of wanting to impact the problem."

Thompson founded RTConnections, a firm that consults about bullying and other aspects of professional development in the health care field, and recently published " 'Do No Harm' Applies to Nurses, Too: Strategies to Protect and Bully-Proof Yourself at Work."

Bullying may be universal, says Thompson, "but it is especially perverse when it involves nurses because we're supposed to be all about caregiving."

Yet, the issue is so prevalent that 60 percent of new nurses leave a job within six months, according to a study by St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, which found that abusive behaviors like sabotage and insults are perpetrated nurse-to-nurse 80 percent of the time.

So-called horizontal violence is more common than bullying by supervisors, physicians, patients or patient families, the study revealed.

The reasons are complicated, but can be traced, in part, to the sense of powerlessness nurses feel in the command-and-control hospital hierarchy, says Kathleen Bartholomew, a Washington state- based registered nurse and author of books about nurse bullying. "Not having power causes any group to turn on themselves, but there are issues particular to health care that compound hostility in nursing. It is learned behaviors from generations ago and a part of our cultural meme."

Usually, the most competent workers are the ones who get picked on, according to Gary Namie, a Washington, Pa., native who founded the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Wash.

"People are targeted for their strengths, not their weaknesses because they pose the greatest threat," he says, adding that new nurses are among the most vulnerable.

"Because they are so focused on their patients, they have their backs turned to the political wrangling. By their pro-social natures, they don't even think in terms of political gamesmanship, which can end up hurting them."

Backstabbing, unfair assignments and other bullying behaviors among staff can harm patients, too, according to a University of Cincinnati College of Nursing study, in which 25 percent of health- care workers connected bullying to patient mortality, and 75 percent to adverse clinical outcomes. …

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