Tips for New Nursing Grads: Target of bullying? Don’t suffer in silence!

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New nurses fear two things when they start their first job: Making a mistake and that the other nurses will eat them alive! Really. I’ve talked with many student and graduate nurses over the years and get the same response: “What if the nurses are mean? Does my preceptor want to be a preceptor? What if they hate me? Are they nice to new nurses?” Unfortunately, they have every right to be worried.  

I once witnessed a new nurse on her very first day, approach the unit secretary and announce that she was there to start work. The unit secretary, who didn’t smile or even truly acknowledge her presence, hollered to another nurse and said, “Hey Carol. Your baby nurse is here.” Carol looked up and said, “Great” sarcastically and then said to her, “Look. I don’t want to be a preceptor and I tried to get out of it but couldn’t. 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 terror.

Horizontal violence has been going on for a long time and although there are a lot of theories behind why nurses “eat their young” and what bullying looks like, it’s continued to plague our profession. Instead of worrying that the nurses will be mean, new nurses should be focusing on learning what they need to do to practice safely, provide awesome care and demonstrate their value. However, one of the reasons that this issue has gone on for so long is because we tolerate it. I’ve known so many bullies that the unit managers keep on staff because they’re either great clinicians, work a lot of overtime, or because they are their friend. It’s not right however it is the truth. Until we can come together as a profession and all take ownership of our behavior and hold others accountable, it will go on. 

However, there is something you can do. Speak up – don’t suffer in silence. We need to stop this type of behavior because it has no place in a profession that is supposed to be competent, caring and compassionate.

If you find yourself the victim of horizontal violence as a new nurse, consider these 3 options:

1.     Confront the aggressor
Many schools of nursing are now incorporating conflict resolution into their curriculum – a much needed skill to learn! If you are confident in your communication skills, try to confront the bully.  Just a simple, “I feel that you are picking on me” or “Please stop criticizing me in front of everyone”, etc. may be the conversation that turns things around. It may send a message to the bully that you are not an easy target.

2.     Ask for help
Although confronting the aggressor is a great strategy, most new nurses don’t have the courage to do this in a new environment. That’s okay. I didn’t either and found myself an easy target until I gained confidence and was able to stick up for myself. If you are not comfortable with confrontation, ask your preceptor, nurse educator, or unit manager for help (this is implying that they are not the bullies). Let them know what’s been happening – don’t assume they know. Remember, some bullies use covert tactics to abuse their victims and it might not be obvious to others.

3.     Climb the ladder
If you are not getting support from your unit leadership, take it up the chain of commands. Don’t let it stop at the unit level. Organizations now have been mandated to institute codes of conduct to comply with regulatory agencies (The Joint Commission). If you take your complaint to senior leadership or the Human Resource Department, they have no choice but to take it seriously and follow the code of conduct.

I believe that the key is not to suffer in silence. We need to acknowledge that it’s happening and that it’s wrong. There are over 3.1 million of us in this country. Just think, if we all spoke up, our collective voices could be heard on the moon! We need to speak up and protect future and new nurses from this ridiculous behavior. You deserve to work in a supportive, nurturing environment. If that’s not happening, speak up. 

Take care and stay connected.


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!

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  1. Pingback: Targets, Witnesses, and Nurse Bullies - RTConnections

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