December 11, 2019

Insulting bosses, cruel letters, and more: This is what 'nurse bullying' really looks like

Daily Briefing

    In the CT Mirror, Corin Mauldin, now an RN at the University of Connecticut, describes her personal experience with nurse bullying—a problem that "happens every day" in clinical settings, but often goes unreported.

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    Writing in the CT Mirror, Mauldin recalls two incidents of bullying that she's experienced as a nurse.

    One instance involved a conflict with a charge nurse. Mauldin writes, "Imagine that you are a nurse with less than two years' experience. At this point in time, you are finally beginning to feel comfortable and confident in your job."  

    But over the course of a 12-hour shift, Mauldin's patient's blood pressure began "swinging between high and low pressures." Mauldin writes that she made several attempts to get in touch with the physician and followed their orders, but her charge nurse that evening showed no signs on confidence in her skills. Amid all of this, Mauldin writes, imagine that "your charge nurse is coming up to you every 30-45 minutes asking you: What is going on with your patient? Did you call the physician? What are you doing about this?"

    Now, you're worried about your patient and trying to deal with your charge nurse who is only "contributing to a difficult situation—all of which is conflicting with what the physician told you," Mauldin writes. "Anxiety provoking right?"

    At the end of her shift, Mauldin writes that the charge nurse told her, "[Y]ou did a 'terrible job'" caring for the patient.

    In another scenario, Mauldin tells readers she was checking her mail before a long shift only to find an anonymous letter that said her appearance was in violation of the dress policy because of her weight. After reading the letter, which Mauldin recognized as a "hoax," she still "ha[d] to go to work all the while wondering who was cruel enough do something like that."

    How to deal with nurse bullying

    Instances of nurse bullying like the ones Mauldin experienced, happen "every day" in clinical settings, Mauldin writes, and have impacted approximately 85% of nurses at some point in their career, according to the American Nurses Association.

    The high incidence of bullying impacts nurses ability to perform well in their jobs—and to enjoy them, Mauldin writes. She cites an article in the Journal of Managerial Psychology that found workplace bullying can lead to depression and anxiety, which can eventually lead to high turnover and absenteeism. Each of those outcomes can impact patient safety and care quality, Mauldin writes.

    However, while bullying behavior is prevalent in nursing, it often goes unreported, according to Mauldin.

    "Nurses are afraid to speak up and report this behavior for various reasons; thinking that it is OK because you are 'paying your dues,' a lack of resolution from prior reported instances of bullying, a lack of confidence, or fear of further bullying," she writes.

    The best way to handle nurse bullying, according to Mauldin, is to talk about it. After the first incident with her charge nurse, Mauldin writes she gained the courage to report the second incident involving the fake letter.

    "If you are the target of this type of behavior, please report it to your unit manager, HR director, or hospital leaders," she writes. "Reporting can actually be empowering and sends a strong message to those who tolerate, condone, or participate in bullying. Only by speaking up will we be able to halt nurse bullying, which will help to not only improve patient safety but nurse’s mental stress and health as well" (Mauldin, CT Mirror, 12/10).

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