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Cathy wasn’t just your average bully – Cathy was known as a Queen Bully (capital Q and B!). The student nurses were petrified if they found out their assigned patient was Cathy’s; new nurses typically lasted less than a year (some, less than a month) and Cathy’s remaining co-workers had three choices: become one of her cronies, try to stay out of her way, or become zombie-like – numb to her arsenal of bully weapons. Everyone was afraid of Cathy – physicians too!

Cathy used intimidation and overt criticism as her bully weapons of choice. If you asked her a question, she made you feel like an idiot. One of her frequent comments was, “Where did you get your nursing degree? In a crackerjack box?” and would then mumble, “I’m working with a bunch of idiots” as she walked away. Everything about Cathy reeked of general distain for human beings. Her body language (arms crossed, squinting eyes with fire shooting from them, lips curled back like an angry dog); her word choices (never positive – always negative); and her refusal to help others (even in a crisis) conveyed a message – You’re not worthy of me.
Do you have a Cathy in your workplace?
I hope not but unfortunately, she does exist. Why? With the focus on eliminating destructive behavior in the workplace (Joint Commission alert), how could someone like Cathy still have a job?
Anytime stories were shared about nurses like Cathy whom wreak havoc in their department yet still kept their jobs, we used to say that the person must have witnessed a murder. But the truth is not as dramatic.
Why are Cathys’ still employed?
Reason 1: Nobody has actually documented their experiences and filed a formal complaint. Everybody talks about this person but talk is just that…talk. Without taking action, this person can hide behind HR rules and avoid getting put on the disciplinary path.
Action:  Start a documentation trail of your experiences with “Cathy” and encourage your co-workers to do the same. 
Reason 2: The manager uses silence as a strategy. The manager might be afraid of Cathy too and doesn’t have the skill set to appropriately address Cathy’s behavior.
Action: If you are a manager, learn how to set behavioral expectations, identify consequences and how to follow through on consequences. Dealing with the behaviors of your employees is a skill that can be learned! Learn them!
Remember, what you ignore – you condone. It’s time for the Cathys’ to either stop being so mean or get out! You can do your part to make this happen.
In my book titled, “Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too!, I describe the “Cathy’s” in our workplace (along with other bully types) and what each one of us can do about them. Click hereto order.
Thanks so much for reading. Would love to know about your Cathys’ and what you are doing about them.
Take care and stay connected.
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For more great tips, make sure you “like” me on Facebook,”follow” me on Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to my blog. Also, check out my new book on nurse-to-nurse bullying and my new eBook titled, Survive and Thrive: A guide helping new nurses succeed! 

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  1. Renee, these are excellent tips for Managers who recognize bullying (also called Lateral Violence/Nurse-to-Nurse hostility)as a significant reason for a high turnover rate among newly hired nurses, new grads and nursign students. Unfortunately, many Nurse Managers do not recognize (or do not want to see) this as a significant problem. I learned about this topic 7 yrs. ago, & I incorporated the info into a New Grad Residency Program (with the approval of Nursing Admin., but when I offered to present the content for nurse leaders, I was told it was not a significant problem (at 2 hospitals). This info should be required content in Nursing Orientation, but needs the support of the VP HR & CNO. Jean Roberson, MS, RN, BC

  2. Thanks Jean. Yes Yes!!! The VP HR and CNO need to be on board to address bullying behavior. Managers need training to learn how to deal with the destructive behaviors of their employees.

    I'm doing my best to help individuals and organizations stop the cycle of nurse bullying.


  3. Great! I was a victim of this as a new grad. Now, I am a professor of nursing and do my best to impart the tremendous impact a positive attitude can have for not only nursing students, but everyone in the organization.

  4. So important that we start teaching the next generation of nurses about professional, respectful behavior so that the legacy of "nurses eating their young" dies!

    So proud that you didn't allow your experience to impact you in a negative way.


  5. Very good advice for the workplace-But what about the case when you have a nursing instructor was a bully. Or I went to nursing school in Minnesota we had an instructor who was a notorious bully. She seemed to take fiendish fiendish delight in Washing students out I was lucky I was a Air Force veteran And I was used a large man at Smokey the bear had screaming at me So from POB it nasty tempered the instructor was not going to intimidate me But we lost a lot of potentially good nurses because of this instructor

  6. Hi Nursedude
    Gosh. So sorry you were bullied by your instructor! Unfortunately, not a unique story. One of my favorite things to do is to address faculty bullying!

    Same rules apply. Document, document, document. Then "file a formal complaint" with the program director/Dean.

    If the bullying continues, find a different school. Seriously. Especially when you are a student, you need to be nurtured and supported!

    Grateful for your comments.


  7. I actually had a Cathy as my supervisor as a new nurse in an ER – I lasted 6 months with her – and I thought I was to blame. I have been a nurse for 7 years now and I still have some of her legacy in my head. We maintain many mutual acquaintances and soon will be at the same function. I still feel self conscious in the presence of her and her cronies. I am trying hard to forgive her and get past this – I can't tell you how hurtful she was on so many levels. I have used this experience to nurture student nurses and make sure my team mates know I have their backs – even if they make a mistake. I will never throw anyone under the bus in the brutal fashion I was.

  8. So sad that the wounds she inflicted years ago are still active! Hold your head up high…refuse to let her bad behavior impact you. Did you read my blog post about verbal abuse – Buddha.

    I beg you to read it…embrace his wise words.

    Thank you for not continuing "Cathy's" legacy. Kindness counts!


  9. This is more of a wide spread problem than realized or many want to discuss. It happens at all levels of nursing, often at the senior and mid level leadership positions.
    At the last organization I was with, there were many "Cathy's" in the work place. It started with the VP of nursing who had a well established history of bullying. She was notorious for openly criticizing, belittling and exhibiting tantrums when things didn't go her way. From this senior leadership position, the behavior flowed down hill to many of the nurse managers. And those who were not party to this behavior or chose not to partake, became paralyzed to do anything. HR choose not to get involved as well as many others who resided in the senior leadership roles. More Nurses have to learn to embrace, mentor and become more of a positive influence to our honorable profession.

  10. Nurses who exhibit Bullying and Narcasstic personality traits have been well researched and published in many nursing journals. This problem needs to be addressed and brought to the forefront. We must embrace strong leaders who have positive,compassionate leadership styles who promote and support those who have valuable contributions. Too many nurses leave nursing due to the traits mentioned above. Nursing leaders check your egos and remember that success comes from building teams who display respect, appreciation and positive acknowledgment. Great leadership takes a significant amount of confidence, self discipline and an ability to lead by example. Let us rise to the challenges that health care faces, one of which is great leadership…..

  11. Thanks so much for your comments. I couldn't agree with you more!! Many think that nurse bullying only occurs towards new nurses. Soooo not true!

    Agree that leadership is the key. The problem is, that we don't provide the skill development necessary for managers to address bad behavior…but managers spend 85% dealing with the behaviors of their employees!

    I just posted a blog about how nurse bullying is in direct violation of our ANA Code of Ethics!

    Grateful for your comments and insights!

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