5 Things I’ve Learned About Nurse Bullies

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I’ve spent the last 25 years as a nurse and have witnessed bullying behavior in every role I’ve held. As a new nurse working at the bedside (I was tortured by my preceptor), a homecare nurse (testing new employees and watching them drown), an educator (withholding information…’because I have tenure!!!’), and even at the executive level (major covert sabotage!) – I’ve experienced or witnessed every form of bullying.

Nurse bullies are alive and well, exist in every role, and are present at every level.

I got to the point where I was no longer willing to accept nurse bullying as the norm, “Well, that’s just the way it is in nursing.” Therefore, I’ve spent the last 8 years DOING something about it! I spend the majority of my time helping individuals and organizations put a stop to bullying in healthcare. Nurses from all over the globe reach out to me asking for help. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about bullying which I use to help others.


1. They need targets to survive

Think about it. If everyone stood up to the bullies, they wouldn’t have anyone to bully! They only way they exist are because they have targets to pick on. Starting TODAY, make the decision to refuse to be a target.

2. They tend to be really good at their job

It’s so easy to address someone’s clinical skills but much harder to address their behavior. What I know about nurse bullies is that they tend to be the experts in the department. To make things worse, that they are also more likely to get promoted!! Many bullies end up in leadership roles (charge nurse, preceptor, manager, etc.).

nurse bullies

3. They see the workplace as a battle field

Bullies operate from a win-lose mindset and every workday they get prepared for battle. We also need to prepare for battle. How? By understanding their tactics and deploy counter tactics.

4. They like to keep their targets guessing about when the next episode will occur.

When working with a bully, their targets feel like they are walking on eggshells. Sometimes they’re nice and then whammy! You let your guard down and they zing you. Just assume all attempts to be nice to you are fake.

5. They don’t play by the rules.

They cheat, lie, and don’t play fair. The reason why we have so many targets in healthcare is because we are the “do-gooders” and play by the rules. Bullies don’t. Our ANA Code of Ethics provides a blueprint for clinical and professional behavior. Bullies chew up our code and spit it out.

Understand that there will always be someone at work who tries to bully someone else. Why? Because we work with humans and humans have been bullying each other for centuries. However, isn’t it time we stop accepting bullying in nursing as the norm? We are hemorrhaging really good nurses!!

If you are working with a bully or gang of bullies, speak up, take action, do SOMETHING about it. You deserve to work in a supportive, nurturing and professional environment – free from the bullies!

Renee ThompsonThanks so much for reading my blog. If you like this post, I recommend the following:

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Take care and stay connected!


About the author: Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate bullying behavior. Find out how you can bring Renee to YOUR organization or nursing event.

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7 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learned About Nurse Bullies”

  1. I was bullied by my preceptor in my first job. And yes, she had worked there forever and everyone went to her for everything. She was mean, abusive, yelled, continuously interrupted me and called me out of rooms while drawing up meds, and even insisted i give a med when I wasn’t acls certified yet. I watched her do things that I would Never do. She set me up for failure time and time again. Took meds out of my cart to give to a patient and then told me an hour later to document it, when now the meds were late. Gave insulin coverage as someone was being transferred off the floor and their meal was an hour off and tole me to give report. Then, she told my manager that I was rude and they fired me! Why do I tell my story? Because I am now a supervisor. Only one year later. And although being fired was probably one of the deepest, darkest moments of my life, I learned from her and the experience. My staff knows they can lean on me. I offer help every day, every shift. Have to do a foley or an IV? Let me get that so you can pass meds and not feel overwhelmed. And I thank my staff. Every single day. RN’s and CNA’s. I know what they do, I used to do it. And I will never lose my passion for what we all do, nor will I lose sight of the end-game – that the patients are our priority, and keeping our sanity goes hand in hand with that. Laugh, cry, get frustrated, but do it together…. And I will always be the first to break out into dance or song to get everyone laughing. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. 🙂

  2. Renee,
    There has been some work done in New York about bullying or as they call it Horizontal Violence . Here is the link to the article published in Journal of the New York State Nurses Association, Fall/Winter 2009-2010;

    The Prevalence of Horizontal Violence in New York State Registered Nurses
    Kathleen Sellers, PhD, RN
    Linda Millenbach, PhD, RN
    Nancy Kovach, MS, RN
    Jennifer Klimek Yingling, PhDc, APRN, ANP-BC, FNP-BC

    We do need to recognize it and do something about it!!

    1. Renee Thompson

      This is great! Thanks so much for sharing the article Judy. I spend the majority of my time helping individuals and organizations stop the cycle of bullying. We are hemorrhaging really great nurses to this problem! Kind regards

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