What if Your Nursing School Instructor is Bullying You?

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nurse bullying, horizontal violence, vertical violence, incivility, disruptive behavior
In the last 3 weeks I’ve received over a dozen requests for help from students who believe their instructors are bullying them. Many of these students are at the end of their program but there is typically one instructor who is hell bent on failing them before they can graduate. It’s so sad to read and listen to their stories about how unsupportive and downright nasty their instructors are to them.  Examples include telling a student, “I have the power to pass or fail you,” an instructor rolling her eyes in front of other students once the targeted student walks away; repeatedly giving failing grades or asking a student to rework papers over and over again that look almost identical to other students; and openly criticizing and embarrassing a student in front of patients and peers.
What messages are we sending when the nursing instructors who are responsible for the clinical and professional competence of our newest nurses are the ones who are behaving badly?

48% of graduating nurses are afraid that they will become the target of workplace bullying but many of these students experience bullying well before they ever step foot in the workplace.
Disclaimer: I recognize that there are some students who aren’t willing to accept accountability and are just blaming their instructor for being too hard on them by calling it “bullying.” However, some of the worst bullying behavior I’ve seen has been within the academic environment.
If you find yourself the target of faculty bullying, consider these 3 steps:
·      Get a copy of any policy that addresses discrimination, incivility or harassment.  Read it and compare your experiences to the language used in the policy. In particular, pay attention to anything that indicates how to file a formal complaint.
·      Document, document, document. Documenting your experiences is the key to addressing the bullying behavior and staying in the nursing program.  
·      Seek support from the Academic Affairs department. The Director of Academic Affairs is responsible for ensuring academic and professional excellence and may be a great resource for you. You may decide to file a formal complaint with this department.
If we are ever going to eliminate nurse-to-nurse bullying, we have to start within the academic environment. If you believe an instructor is targeting you, speak up early and start documenting everything.
Nurses should be kind – not cruel.
I’d love to read your comments and experiences about faculty to student bullying. 
Take care and stay connected.

To sign up for my anti-bullying mailing list, click here.

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19 thoughts on “What if Your Nursing School Instructor is Bullying You?”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I had the same problem (nursing instructor bullying), and ended up taking it all the way to the top–a complaint with an oversight organization in Washington D.C. I tried talking to the nursing department, filed a grade appeal, filed formal complaints with the university chancellor, spoke to the nursing accreditation board, and so forth.

    This comment you made really stuck out for me: “Get a copy of any policy that addresses discrimination, incivility or harassment. Read it and compare your experiences to the language used in the policy.” I was filing a grade appeal and using their student handbook as part of my argument. What did they do? Go back and re-write their own policies so they could win the dispute and not have to amend my grade. Crazy.

    At the end of the day, I wasn’t a nurse and didn’t complete school, but I know I wasn’t alone–several others were bullied and failed out with me, two of whom are now successfully working again in the healthcare profession (they went back to nursing in a different town and started all over). I like to think I had an impact and the nursing school/administration that gave us such a hard time was made to be more accountable for their actions. As far as being able to stay and flourish in the career field…sometimes the problem is too big to solve, especially when it is systemic and the university is complicit in not rocking the boat. It’s time to move on.

    1. Wow! I’m so impressed with your willingness to take action despite the outcome. Although changing their policy to win their dispute is outrageous, by you speaking up, you may have prevented future students from going through what you went through. I agree. There are times when I actually recommend leaving a hostile, toxic environment – sometimes it’s just not worth it!!! Kind regards, Renee

  2. I was an excellent nurse for over 20 years – trying to get my Masters from TCNJ. One Professor decided to physically advance on me – verbally threaten me with her face within inches of mine!!! Her eyes were bulging, neck veins distended, never have I experienced anything like that in my life!!!!

    I complained to the counseling center, HR, and of course the Nursing Dept!!! They all looked at me like I was the one with the problem.

    Filed a lawsuit to no avail – three years later with intensive therapy with a trauma counselor for my PTSD. I am finally able to live again after spending three years suicidal and self destructive.

    Mary Chen vs. The College of New Jersey

    1. Hi Mary. I’m so sorry to hear this! I’m glad you sought counseling. So many nurses are traumatized but don’t get the professional support they need. We need to take action against bullying so nurses like you won’t have to suffer!!

  3. I have faced harassment and bullying by the clinical instructor at Lansing community college. The same instructor I had in my previous level and she used to lie and make up stories, unfortunately the department had put me again with her. She is hell bent upon failing me, she makes up things, lies about things which I have not mentioned, misguides me about procedures then holds me accountable, if I have questions she yells at me and refuses to answer my questions. I’m an elderly foreign student, I have reached out to my lead instructor but they are all support each other. I have no support there. It’s affecting my health, my academic performance. I heard this instructor takes pride in failing students and the more students she fails she is promoted by the nursing department. This same department was sued by another foreign student two years back. I need help as I don’t know how to handle the bullying, harassment and discrimination by this department.

    1. Oh no! I’m so sorry you are going through this. Find out if you have a Director of Academic Affairs. This person is usually responsible for student experiences and you may be able to file a formal complaint there. Hopefully you are documenting your experiences with this instructor. If not, start a documentation trail right away! You should expect to be supported by your instructors!

      1. Thank you for your response. Yes, I’m documenting each incidence. Unfortunately the nursing department along with my lead instructor do not care. Rather my lead instrctor was upset at me for not following the chain of command and reaching out to the counselor’s office when they had called nursing department directly, and arranged a meeting with the associate dean, which earned the fury of my bully clinical instructor as well as my lead professor. At this stage should I just endure silently all her harassment or should I file a formal compmaint?
        I’m an A student and had not faced similar situation in the past like I’m now. This week too, she made my life miserable on the floor, giving me tons of CNA task, like throwing poop, vomiting patient’s hygiene etc which had put me behind on my other tasks, then she tells me that I can’t be successful, she twisted things which I never mentioned she said I told her that patient was on isolation, which I had never even mentioned, she gave me 30 minute lecture on it, then will write me up that I miscommunicate. She is building grounds to fail me. I’m about to graduate and unfortunately I’m facing and enduring all this harassment at this stage.

      2. Do you think I will face backlash if I file an official complaint? I’m scared they may retaliate by failing me. The instructor is already taking a vengeance since I had complained against for harassment and discrimination in my first level of nursing program and luckily my Professor at that time was very supportive My other question is can I still continue to be a nursing student despite filing for discrimination? How will the Department look at me.

        1. They may so it’s always good to prepare ahead of time. This is why documentation is so important!! Get a copy of your school’s code of conduct and show how your instructor’s behavior is violating their code. It will help. Ultimately though, you are taking a risk by filing a complaint. It’s up to you if you want to take that risk. I hope you do!!

  4. I want to thank you so much for your “Clinical Nursing Instructor Bullying” Article. Even though the article is around 3 years old, Clinical Instructor Bullying is alive and well and still occurring even in the smallest of colleges.
    I’m a 4th semester registered nursing student – hoping to graduate in around 47 days (on May 4th, 2018). I am a non traditional college student; I am almost 40 years old and put off finishing my nursing degree until my daughter was grown. I have done very well, especially in clinical due to working in/around hospital settings the majority of my adult life. Most recently, I left a full time night shift Phlebotomist position, which I had for approximately 7 years, in order to pull out my retirement to be able to pay to go back to school.
    Anyways, here I am about to graduate and dealing with an instructor, who used to be my most favorite instructor, who has been targeting me. Today, she told me that she was going to give me my second “Unsatisfactory” because of an IV I attempted, but was unsuccessful…. long, very difficult to explain, story.
    The first “Unsatisfactory” I received on the FIRST day of clinical was due to the same thing she accused me of today – which was our SECOND day of clinical. Now why would I do the same thing over again, when I was given an “Unsatisfactory” the first time?! This very same Clinical Instructor attempted to administer an IV each time I was unsuccessful. The IV’s at this particular medical facility have the push button needle retraction safety device. Each time, instead of pressing the button to retract the IV needle, this Clinical Instructor backs the needle out of the patient’s body and casually tosses (literally) the clear chamber of the angiocath, with the bloody needle protruding out of the end at least an inch, onto the patient’s body! The first time, the clear chamber and the protruding needle landed on the blanketed leg of the female receiving the IV. I immediately grabbed it, pressed the white safety button retracting the needle safely inside the clear chamber. Today, after manually backing the needle out of the angiocath again – which was inside the vein of the patient’s hand leaving the IV needle protruding out of the clear chamber, she tosses the clear chamber, along with the protruding needle, onto the abdomen of an elderly patient, who suffers from a severe form of mental retardation. This patient has a colostomy and a midline surgical incision, held together by 29 staples, on the very side of the abdomen the needle landed on. Another student who witnessed the entire occurrence, picked up the needle tossed on the patient’s abdomen by our Clinical Instructor, and pressed the button engaging the safety device, retracting the needle. Thankfully nothing was punctured and/or penetrated by the tossed needles during each instance.
    Speaking of throwing/tossing, this same Instructor “teaches” the Pediatrics Course this semester. Approximately a month into the start of this semester, she literally threw my cell phone at me in front of the entire second year of Nursing student body. There hadn’t been any classes for about 7 days in a row (including regular days off with a few “snow days”). While classes weren’t in session, I had set an alarm so I could call my daughter and wake her up in order for her to have sufficient time to get ready for work. Unfortunately for me, I had forgotten all about the alarm. About an hour into class, I hear my alarm start to sound. I was “lucky” enough to have gotten a seat in the front row, adjacent to this Instructor’s desk. She hears my alarm sounding, walks up to me, sticks out her hand and, after I placed my cell phone in her outstretched hand, she says, “Next time, I will expel you from class!” – while pointing and shaking my phone at me. A few minutes after the Instructor “confiscated” my cell phone, it dawns on me that the “Snooze” option was turned on for the alarm which had just sounded. I was attempting to prepare myself, the absolute best I could, physically, mentally, and emotionally, as best I could, for what was about to take place when this Instructor heard my “Snooze” alarming. I can easily say I could’ve NEVER prepare myself for her reaction!!

    1. Renee Thompson

      Gosh. I’m so sorry you experienced this! Clinical instructors should have patience with those who are learning a skill for the first time!! Glad you are graduating soon! thanks so much for taking the time to comment 😉

  5. My story would probably shock people, because I was targeted after I talk board of accreditation that we need library and more space to study. I was 3.2 student, 1 week later my clinical instructor told me that I am not fast enough passing pills. Long story short, I failed 2 clinical s and I was kicked out of school. I develop PTSD. Now I am in other school working very hard to graduate with 3.7 GPA honor . Believed or not at my old school I was told by “professionals” in 1 on 1 meeting that I should not be a nurse, even so I never asked for their “professional” opinion. I could not wait to graduate, because as soon as I get my name on state board I would send e-mail to this “professions” and let them that in my professional opinion they should not teach because they bad teachers who was not able to educate student with 3.7 GPA. 2 other steps would be to file complaint with board of nurses and with an accreditation agency. If I would be person of different color I would file law suit in heart bit. I just want justice

    1. Renee Thompson

      I’m so sorry to hear that you had this experience! Faculty should be the role models for professional conduct. However, as you’ve seen, it’s not always that way. I know some of the most amazing instructors who do EVERYTHING they can to support, nurture, and encourage their students. It’s not always this way – but unfortunately, happens way too often. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. My daughter is an excellent nursing student at a private collage. She has made the Deans List every semester. Unfortunately, a nursing instructor is bullying her at her clinical. Every Friday she would come home in tears. I always stuck up for the instructor, until finally I sat her down and really found out what was happening. She was being belittled, humilated and grabbed by her arm every clinical~. I insisted you report it to Director of Nursing, which it took alot for her to do. The director didnt even give 5 min of her time. My daughter had made an appointment with her and she said walk with me, i have a meeting to get to. She showed her a statement with ALL her classmates signature stating they witnessed the abuse, and all she said was we dont take that here and she has heard good things about her instructor. she would talk to her and get back to her. REALLY??? She is going to have her go back to that ABUSIVE CLINICAL!! I then advised she go to the Dean, She wont, she feels let down.

    1. I so appreciate your sharing this. How horrible for your daughter. Nursing instructors should be the role models for professional and respectful behavior!! Tell your daughter to go to the Director (or Dean) of academic affairs – she needs to go outside of the school of nursing for help. And, tell her to document EVERYTHING! It’s not like this everywhere.

  7. Your daughter’s story sounds similar my daughter, the humiliation and belittling, thank God there is no physical contact. I am a newly graduate Masters’ degree nurse with 27 years nursing experience. Nursing school was difficult but not because of bullying teachers like what my daughter has been dealing with. I had teachers who took pride in supporting us to succeed. My daughter is a junior and today she had simulation lab but was kicked off campus because she went to the bathroom twice ( lab is extremely cold for her) and she took a minute to bite on a snack when she had already completed her simulations. She says the policy says they can take breaks, but at that time the teacher told her that she had to leave campus because of her breaks and the minute she questioned why she was being kicked off campus the yelling began. She called me crying uncontrollably and was attempting to speak with the Dean who offered her no empathy even after being aware of my presence on the phone, in a very stern voice treated her childish by her tone and focusing only on her keeping her mask on. I don’t know how these individuals become educators but something need to be done about this. They complain that my daughter asks to many challenging questions but, she has always been a deep thinker and asks questions that even I have not thought of and I would research or have her do it to get the answers. I don’t know how else to help her deal with these ongoing situations but I am going to encourage her as Renee advises to speak with the Dean of Academic Affairs and to review the school’s code of conduct. I have also been encouraging her to document everything.

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