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Nurse bullying is alive and well in our current health care environment. But is it a new problem? “Nurses eating their young” has plagued our nursing profession for decades. Maybe that’s why the American Nurses Association decided to address this problem when they created the Code of Ethics.

The ANA Code of Ethics was developed as a roadmap – a guideline for carrying out nursing responsibilities according to high quality standards and ethical behavior. The Code includes nine provisions with sub-provisions.

And guess what? 

Nurses who bully other nurses are in direct violation of the ANA’s Code of Ethics first provision.

According to Provision 1, “the nurse, in all professional relationships, practices with compassion and respect for the inherent uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, person attributes or other nature of health problems.”

The sub-provision that I believe addresses nurse bullying is sub-provision 1.5, relationship with colleagues and others.

Basically, it states that nurses need to…

·      treat EVERYONE whom they interact with, with respect

·      maintain compassionate and caring relationships with colleagues

·      commit to the fair treatment of others

·      resolve conflict

·      value the distinct contribution of individuals or groups

·      collaborate to meet the shared goals of providing quality health services

Whoa! Can you recognize how behaviors such as…undermining, unfair assignments, sabotage, public criticism, backstabbing and being unapproachable are in direct violation with our Code of Ethics? Me too.

What should we do?

The first step is to know that as a nursing profession, we have guidelines for behavior and practice. Go to the ANA website and read the code!

The second step is to start behaving in ways that honor the code. Are you treating others with respect independent of their individual attributes? Remember, the key to changing others is to start with you.

The third step is to commit to honoring the code by addressing the bad behavior and bad practice of others. According to a survey done by Vital Smarts and the AANC, only 10% of nurses spoke up when they witnessed bad behavior or bad practice. Remember, according to the code, nurses have an ethical responsibility to the public to speak up!

Ending nurse bullying is possible. Heck, we have a roadmap that shows us how to behave. Read it…Know it…Own it…Share it with others.

Thanks so much for reading. Would love to read your thoughts about nurse bullying as it relates to the ANA Code of Ethics.


Thanks so much for reading. Take care. Be kind and stay connected.

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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations that want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day.

If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website

Contact Renee today at to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.

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  1. Enjoyed your post! I agree the framework for professional nursing behavior is already developed and nurses should start using it! The code should really be covered at length
    in nursing school in Nursing Ethics and continued in the workplace. I think with your devotion to this message changes will occur!

  2. Thanks Erica! It's about getting back to basics…respect for everyone as humans first. Nurses have an ethical responsibility to our public to make decisions based on what's best for them. Bullying, therefore, can't exist if nurses were following the code.

    Warmest regards

  3. Renee, bullying has been deeply rooted in this profession for many years. It will take time and the great energy of many to address. For those of us who have addressed bullying behaviors and used the proper channels, encountered forced resignations, and dismissals from positions and or educational programs. Some of our worst offenders reside in the power positions of facility and as CNO/VP of nursing. In order for bullying to become a part of the forefront, organizations have to admit the problem exists. Having a platform for open communication will help. Nursing leaders and educators have to own professional behaviors and then step up and address bullying behaviors. This has to occur often and in open forums. Nursing schools can also address and assist with bullying by incorporating leadership and professional conduct into their curriculum. This needs to be done at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels and once again OFTEN. Because bullying is a deep seeded problem, retraining and counseling has to be offered for those nurses who own the behaviors. Most of the time these behaviors are long standing and need proper counseling. And yes Renee we can overcome with professional nursing leadership, some redirection, professional training, counseling and coaching. Thank you for your courage and dedication. MP

  4. Thanks so much for your comments! One of my favorite things to do is to work with academic leaders – I do faculty development and specifically teach nursing school faculty how to address bad behavior in the academic environment, prevent the next generation of nurse bullies AND prepare their students to "bully-proof" themselves before they start their first job.

    We need to hit this problem at all angles until it's not worth talking about any more.
    Thank you for your encouragement!

  5. Very True Renee, this problem has to be addressed from all angles. It will take a concerted effort by all nurses and in every professional tier of nursing to be on board. Nurses working in large organizations can join or form committees to openly discuss the problem and invite leadership if needed. These types of discussions can also be done in the educational environments. These discussions should be ongoing as you indicated until we as nurses have exhausted all angles and presented many workable solutions. Nurse need to take back their profession. It works when we work it…Thanks again Renee for the discussion.

    My Best, MP

  6. Thanks for writing your blog. I am doing my research paper on bullying for my health policy and bioethics class.

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