3 Steps to Claim Your Independence from Bullying in Healthcare

Wen was looking forward to a second career as a nurse. She already had a biology degree and spent 6 years working in a lab but felt the calling to become a nurse.

The call happened during the time she spent at the hospital when her mother was recovering from a stroke. She was so impressed by the nurses who cared for her mother.

They were smart, extremely attentive to her mother, and showed genuine compassion towards her and her mom. Working in a lab, although interesting, didn’t provide her the same satisfaction she thought becoming a nurse could provide.

However, it wasn’t long before Wen starting questioning whether or not she made the right decision. From the start of her nursing career, Wen found herself the target of bullying and incivility from the very same nursing professionals whom she admired before.

9 months after she started her first job, Wen quit.

If you’ve been a target of a nurse bully, I don’t have to tell you how destructive bullying can be. I’ve known nurses who have called off work, suffered from anxiety and depression, and even quit, like Wen, all because of how terribly they were treated by their coworkers.

Nurses are jumping ship not only from healthcare organizations but also from the nursing profession!

Did you know…

Nursing Solutions, Inc. showed that 81% of nurses who leave an organization cite peer and nurse manager relations as a cause for leaving. And the problem is even greater 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. 

Enough is enough. Like the people who sailed across an ocean over 200 years ago to claim their independence from England, it’s time to claim our independence from bullying,

On July 4, 1776, 13 colonies claimed their independence from England, and later on, formed the United States.  The Continental Congress declared that the people from those 13 colonies were no longer subject to the Monarch of Britain and that they were free.

Decide today that you will no longer cower to any “bully” in your department; that you will no longer follow their unprofessional and inappropriate rules, and no longer put up with their shenanigans.




Step 1: Mentally Separate Yourself from the Bully 

When someone becomes a bully’s target, they tend to blame themselves. Trust me. The issue is with the bully – not you. For you to believe this and NOT blame yourself, you need to mentally separate yourself from the bully.

Think back at times when you were yelled at, criticized, or secretly sabotaged by your coworkers. Now, pretend you are simply an observer watching the events unfold. Can you see how the problem is with the bully and not you? Even if you make a mistake, it’s unprofessional and inappropriate for another person to yell, openly criticize, or “zing” you when you’re not looking. You don’t deserve to be berated or publically humiliated for a mistake. No one does.

Step 2: Name the Bully Behavior 

The single most powerful response you can make in the face of either blatant (overt) or subtle (covert) bully behavior is to name it. Bullies who feel a sense of power during their overt tirades gain momentum as they scream and yell. Interrupting a bully midstream and labeling the behavior can short-circuit the verbal assault. Likewise, when a colleague secretly tries to sabotage you, rolling his or her eyes behind your back or undermining your ability, acknowledging that you are aware of the behavior brings the bully out of the closet. Typically, once the covert bully’s cover is gone, the behavior stops.

To be effective, naming the behavior must describe specific, observable actions. For example, if you say to a bully, “You always give me the worst assignments,” the bully can deny the charge. If you say, “For three shifts in a row, I’ve been assigned four patients while the other nurses on my shift have been assigned only three,” it’s hard for the bully to deny this fact.

STEP 3: Take Control of the Conversation

So often when being berated by a coworker, we stand there and in a sense, just take it. It’s time for a new approach! If someone is berating you, criticizing, or yelling at you, especially in front of others, walk away. When you walk away from a bully attack, you take the audience away with you. Seldom will a bully continue screaming, yelling, or criticizing without an audience. Here are sample situations and possible responses that involve walking away:

In any situation when you feel someone is not communicating with you in a respectful manner, whether it is yelling, criticizing, or being condescending, look that person in the eye and say, “The way you’re talking to me right now is NOT okay.”

Yelling and screaming: Interrupt and say, “I’ll be willing to continue the conversation when you are not yelling.” If the yelling continues, walk away.

Openly criticizing: Interrupt and say, “I’ll be receptive your feedback when you deliver it calmly and respectfully” If the bully continues to criticize, walk away.


Be Brave and Courageous, like our forefathers were.

We’ve done this for more than 200 years ago. We can do this again! It takes courage and bravery to address bullying at work, just like or our forefathers who crossed an ocean to be free. You deserve freedom too.

It’s time to claim our independence from bullying and incivility. Let’s celebrate that!

About Renee Thompson

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. To find out how you can bring Renee to YOUR organization or nursing event, visit www.healthyworkforceinstitute.com

There are 2 comments on this post
  • Renee Thompson
    Patricia J Hoffer
    Jul 02, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for new insights to bullying in the work place

    • Renee Thompson
      Renee Thompson
      Jul 03, 2019 Reply

      You're welcome Patricia! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. We all need to do a better job addressing disruptive behaviors - especially in healthcare!

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