5 Ways Novice Nurses Can Stand Up to Nurse Bullying

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Nurses Can Stand Up to Nurse BullyingNurse bullying has been in existence for a long time and although there are a lot of theories behind why nurses “eat their young” and what bullying looks like, not a lot has been done to stop it. One of the reasons that this issue has gone on for so long is because we accept bullying behavior as the norm. We tolerate or try to ignore the crusty, mean nurses who seem to find great joy in squashing other nurses. Many nurses believe that there is nothing they can do and just bide their time until the bullies choose a different target.

Although we know older, experienced nurses can become the target of bullying, new nurses are still the most vulnerable.

New nurses fear two things when they start their first job: Making a mistake and that the other nurses will eat them alive! I’ve talked with many student and graduate nurses over the years and get asked the same question:

“What do I do if the nurses are mean?”

Unfortunately, they have every right to be worried. 

I once witnessed a new nurse on her very first day working in a small community hospital, approach the unit clerk and announce that she was there to start work. The unit secretary, who didn’t smile or even acknowledge her presence, shouted to another nurse, “Hey Debbie. Your baby nurse is here.” Debbie looked up and said, “Great” sarcastically and then said, “Look. I didn’t want to be a preceptor and I tried to get out of it. Just don’t get in my way and try not to kill anyone okay?”

The look on this new nurse’s face was a look of horror.

Another newer nurse shared that she was hired with four other new nurses. When they got to their unit during orientation week, two of the experienced nurses pointed their fingers at them and said, “Listen here bitches. You just took away our overtime.”

Did you know?

A 2012 study showed that 21% of novice nurses were exposed to bullying behavior daily (Berry, Gillespie).

Nursing Solutions, Inc. showed that 81% of nurses who leave an organization cite peer and manager relations as a cause for leaving. The problem is even worse with newly graduated nurses.   A study in the current issue of Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice reveals that an estimated 17.5 % of newly licensed RNs leave their first nursing job within the first year, and one in three (33.5%) leave within two years.

I receive no less than 5 emails a week from nurses, young and old; new and experienced; staff and leaders asking for help.


If you find yourself the target of nurse bullying, there are things you can do right now.

1. Start a documentation trail

One of the most powerful weapons we have against bullying behavior is our ability to document. Seriously, as they say in legalese – if it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done. Document any acts of bullying you witness with date, time, person, and facts. To strengthen your documentation, align the behavior to a patient safety, patient quality, or patient satisfaction concern! Think…how did this person’s behavior impact patients?

Get a copy of your organization’s policy on disruptive behavior or code of conduct. You can use this to validate the bully’s behaviors are disruptive and that they undermine a culture of safety.   You may have to do this retrospectively, but do the best you can to recall the events as objectively as possible.

2. File a Complaint with Human Resources

If your attempts to address the bullying don’t work, consider filing a formal complaint with an HR representative. Even if HR doesn’t take action, you now have a record that you reached out for help.

3. Develop Your Skills

The good news is that addressing workplace bullying is a skill that can be learned. The bad news is that we don’t do a good job teaching new and experienced nurses these skills.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t develop the skills on your own. Numerous resources are available for you to learn how to recognize bullying behavior (not everything is bullying), how to utilize simple confronting techniques, how to document bullying behavior, and how to protect yourself from the bullies.

Go to my website and read everything I’ve written about bullying. I have articles, blogs, videos, interviews, etc. You want to equip yourself with as much knowledge about bullying so that you can use this to address it.

4. Engage in Continuous Professional Development

The more you learn and grow, the more you will create an invisible force field surrounding you against negativity, bullying, and the other nasties that sometimes accompany the work environment. The stronger YOU become mentally, professionally, and emotionally, the more you will be able to ward off any potential bullies. Learning and growing can be formal or informal. READ something educational or inspirational every day – Numerous blogs (like this one) can support your learning by providing practical tips, resources, and strategies to grow your nursing career.

Have you read my book, “Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too! Strategies to Bully-Proof Yourself at Work? If not, why? This book has helped thousands of nurses stop the bullying!

5. Join The Movement To A Healthy Workforce

We don’t all eat our young. There are more nurses who LOVE mentoring and supporting other nurses, especially our newest. Find them. Spend time with them. Ask them for help. They will help and protect you!  The point is you don’t have to suffer alone. Not when there are numerous people and resources available to help you. I’ve just given you a few ideas. There are more! Until we can come together as a profession, take ownership of our behavior and hold others accountable, bullying will continue.

One person who stands up to the bully can inspire others to do the same.

The world will not end if you stand up to a bully. In fact, others around you will see that an assertive response is possible. A mirror phenomenon can occur where others start to model or “mirror” your assertive behaviors. Not only will you be a role model for professional behavior, but you will also be sending a message to others that bullying doesn’t have to be tolerated.

For more help on nurse-to-nurse bullying, you can check out my YouTube Channel videos by clicking here. Also, my first book titled, Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too!  Strategies to protect and bully-proof yourself in your work environment is available for purchase.

Know a colleague that could benefit from this article? Please share with your colleagues and friends using the social share buttons.

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

Renee Thompson

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8 thoughts on “5 Ways Novice Nurses Can Stand Up to Nurse Bullying”

  1. Renee, I would like to know if there have been repercussions to leadership for when bullying occurs in their organizations. As you say this behavior has been going on for a long time. Why? How are WE allowing it to continue? There needs to be a strong movement to stop this. I would like to see what the ANA and other nursing organizations are doing to educate the workforce and putting policies that promote behavioral change. As we have seen with domestic violence it is difficult for those who are abused/bullied to handle the situation on their own. Your suggestions are good, but bullying has to be addressed with changes in policy and with repercussions such as financial penalties when this behavior is allowed to continue.

    1. Thanks for your comments. It’s sad to say but in many organizations, they KNOW there is a problem but are unwilling to do anything about it. I’m doing my part to convince leaders that the way employees treat each other is just as important as the care they provide. And that they need to equip their front line leaders with the skills and tools they need to set behavioral expectations and hold their people accountable!!! It’s an uphill battle. But I’m NOT giving up!

  2. Have you reached out to the national organizations to raise the bar on this issue? I know you and a few others are working on it and have done a lot of work, but to change the culture and behavior we need a major campaign. Maybe an organization like Johnson and Johnson or the Campaign for Nursing to start to focus on this issue might be one way to make an impact.

    1. Thanks Anne! Yes. I’m working right now on developing strategic partnerships with large organizations. You’re right…it is about changing a culture!! And we need courageous, authentic, and equipped leaders to do that. Thank you!

  3. I read your article this evening, and never has there been a article written that was so true and on target. I have been an RN for over 25yrs, and moved to a new city to be closer to family. My backround has been Emergency and critical care. I started a new job on a Medical-Surgical unit think I needed to let the younger RN”s have the fast-past acute care. I’m in orientation, and to my shock the bullying I’ve experienced has been not only from a preceptor with 2yrs RN experience but from the Educator and Supervisor themselves. I was called in, given a sloppy subjective report from them, many accusation being untrue, but was put on administrative leave and told my performance was ” not meeting there expectations”>. All along I had the “gut” feeling something was up. I am blown away.
    Really now???? Seriously LOL. Please add to your list that supervisors and educators can also be the most lethal bullys of all. Thank You !!!

    1. Renee Thompson

      Oh no!!! So sorry to hear this. However, bullying by people in supervisory roles is more common than you think. Some studies show that 60% of all bullies are in a supervisory role!! Shame on them – they need to be the role models for professional behavior. I’ve actually written about this – it’s a big issue. We need to do better!

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