Nurse Bully Profile Series: The Deadly Viper Nurse

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Katie, an experienced but newly hired nurse, became an unsuspecting target of Doris, a classic Viper Nurse. Doris was working the night shift and gave report to Katie, who was working the day shift. Doris gave Katie the report on a patient who had an a.m. CT scan ordered. When Katie asked Doris if she had taken the patient to radiology for his CT scan, Doris replied that it was the day shift’s responsibility to take care of all a.m. CT scans. After all, said Doris, “a.m. occurs during the day.” Katie thanked Doris for letting her know.

Katie worked the night shift over the next few weeks and because Doris told her “CT in a.m. means day shift”, she left the a.m. CT scans for the day nurse. It wasn’t long before Katie got called into the boss’s office and reprimanded for “dumping” on the day shift. Katie learned that the night shift had responsibility to take care of the a.m. CT scans. Doris deliberately sabotaged Katie by giving her false information and then setting her up to fail. What’s worse, Doris was one of the nurses in the boss’s office complaining about Katie.

Viper Nurse is a silent-but-deadly nurse. Viper Nurses are the most dangerous of all bullies because, as with the viper found in nature, you don’t even see this bully coming. Viper Nurses are so nice to your face but then stab you in the back as soon as you turn around. They act like they are so excited to be working with you but trust me; they will talk badly about you behind your back. Viper Nurses are back-stabbers, and when you least expect it, the nurse will “zing” you. Sometimes it takes years for Viper Nurse’s covert bullying to be uncovered, but it’s always there lurking and waiting for its next victim.

For the targets of Viper Nurses, the problem isn’t just that the bully is two-faced; the problem is that they slowly influence others on the unit into negative thinking about their targets. Viper Nurses rely on building trusting relationships and making their targets feel secure. A target may reveal a weakness (e.g., anxiety when talking to doctors) and then find out later that the entire department knows about it. The Viper Nurse denies saying anything and is hurt that the target would even think such a thing!

Viper Nurses undermine, sabotage, and find ways to bully you without being obvious about it.


1. Know they are there
Just like in nature, Vipers hide and unsuspecting targets walk right into their trap. When someone is super nice to you, pay attention to how they treat other people. If you hear them gossiping about others, showing favoritism, or rolling their eyes, chances are, they are doing it to you too. Be on the look out but don’t be paranoid.

2. Confirm information
Remember, Viper Nurses are covert bullies and my lull you into a false sense of trust. Put your guard up. When someone gives you “helpful” information, verify it with someone in an authority position. If Katie had confirmed Doris’s instructions, she would have quickly learned that Doris gave her wrong information.

3. Confront their covert behaviors
When you suspect you are dealing with a Viper Nurse, gather information and then “name it”. Naming the Viper’s behavior can send a powerful message that you’ve discovered her Viper ways and will not succumb to her bite! Katie could have named Doris’s behavior by saying, “Doris. Help me to understand why you told me that it was the day shift nurses’ responsibility to do the a.m. CTs but then our boss told me a.m. CTs were always the night shifts’ responsibility.” Don’t worry about her response, just name the behavior and she will be less likely to sabotage you again.

Although sneaky, Viper Nurses can be stopped. The key is to know they exist and to use the strategies above to lessen their bite. You deserve to work in a supportive and professional work environment – Free from the Vipers!

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

Renee Thompson


Do you work with a Viper Nurse? How have YOU handled it? I’d love to read your comments about this topic.

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. To find out how you can bring Renee to YOUR organization or nursing event, click here.

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