Why is it okay for Doctors to yell at Nurses?

  1. 2
    I'm currently in Nursing School to get my RN license and I noticed something that is bothering me. Maybe I'm still naive, I just find it baffling to hear how it's almost seen as a given that doctors at times will be disrespectful to nurses. My professors, who are all experienced RN's, frequently comment on the fact that as a nurse you can expect to be yelled at by the doctors. In almost every lecture they will say something along the lines of "if you, as the nurse, don't do exactly what the doctor wants he will probably yell at you." What bothers me most about these comments is that nobody seems to find them shocking or is even a bit upset about it. In what other profession do you hear people talk about being yelled at in such a matter of fact way?

    My other question is: why do nurses accept this kind of behavior? I've never been yelled at by a doctor but my natural reaction to somebody yelling at me would be:" I'm not sure who you think you are talking to, but you don't speak to me like this." Even if you made a mistake you could say: "I know I made a mistake but that doesn't give you the right to speak to me in this tone. We are all just human."

    Maybe I'm missing something here and I hope some of you will enlighten me. What is the worst that could happen if you said something like that to a yelling doctor? He would probably think twice about yelling at you again. Please help me to understand, what are nurses afraid of?

    I'd love to hear some thoughts on this from you guys. Thank you!
    lindarn and hopefulwhoop like this.
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  3. 71 Comments so far...

  4. 15
    The term "yelling" is misleading. The theatrical tantrums you are probably imagining, I have never seen in my 18 years in the business.
    How about "annoyed" or "disgruntled". Can people you work with get upset?
    If I get an order for a STAT blood transfusion, and the doctor checks back at the end of the shift and no transfusion has been given, what kind of reaction would I expect?
    For yellers (patients and their families in 95% of the cases). I remain silent and continue silence until it becomes uncomfortable. There is something unnerving about a nurse who is not trying to defend herself. The person usually apologises if they know they are being unreasonable.
    Anaya_1de, dee78, owlRN01, and 12 others like this.
  5. 5
    I've not been "yelled at" as a nurse.....in part because I'm nearing 60 and male. I probably don't appear as a passive target to would-be-screamers.

    That said, I have had my share of criticisms, most deserved, some not. We all, as you point out, make mistakes. When I'm wrong, I acknowledge it and if I don't understand why, I'll politely ask.

    As a practical matter, in hospitals doctors drive revenue while nurses consume it. There will always be a preference for those that bring in $$.

    I think faculties at nursing schools are trying to prepare their students for the challenges and stresses of being a nurse. It's far from easy. But there are literally millions who have pulled it off.....you and I can, too.

    As RNperdiem said, silence until the yeller gets uncomfortable is a pretty good tactic. You no longer look like the donkey's rear end that way.
    Anaya_1de, LockportRN, echoRNC711, and 2 others like this.
  6. 4
    Agree with above. After many years in different specialties, different states and facilities, I just don't see this. Not saying it doesn't happen, just not where Im in hearing distance. I keep everything very professional and businesslike and always try to have my ducks in a row. As a provider myself, I really really strive to be very even tempered and if there is a mistake, I work around it, explain why its so important, and we go on. I also try to talk with the individual nurses caring for my pts and a little tact goes a long way. Good luck...
    Anaya_1de, nursel56, Altra, and 1 other like this.
  7. 11
    In my hospital a doctor that yells is dealt with. Abuse of staff is unacceptable says the sign by the desk. I know of one surgeon who was sent on an anger management course when he had a hissy in the OR. The OR manager document it, the nurses filed grievances, he had his OR time taken away until he went to the course and apologized.

    Abuse is abuse. Doesn't matter if you have a medical degree.

    No, if only management would handle patient families the same way.
  8. 2
    I've never been "yelled" at, but I have had doctors displeased with something that happened. I've also been displeased with things they have done though, and expressed it calmly to them. I don't think actual yelling would be acceptable from either end at my facility.
    laborer and Fiona59 like this.
  9. 2
    I only had a doctor yell at me once (posted about it here a couple of days ago!). It was unsettling. In general, our docs are great. They don't ever upset the nursing staff. We all respect each other.
    Last edit by JDZ344 on May 14, '14
    laborer and Fiona59 like this.
  10. 4
    People use the expression "yelling at" to mean any sort of negative reaction. It's actually rather rare for doctors to actually scream at nurses. In 35 years as a nurse, I have never seen a physician actually scream at a nurse.

    I have seen some inappropriate comments that I would consider abuse. And it's not OK. But that doesn't mean that the nurse doesn't have to be careful in how she handles it. Learning the politics and interpersonal dynamics of a particular workplace takes a little time and experience. Each place and situation are different. It pays to develop strong relationships with your co-workers so that you can go to them for advice on how to handle such situations. "One size does NOT fit all."

    The worst case that happened to me was when a physician "spoke harshly to me" about a clinical issue on a day when he had gotten in trouble about something else. Everyone knew he had taken his frustration and anger about other issues on me ... and he called me later than day to apologize. I forgave him and we had a good relationship after that.
  11. 1
    Agree with everyone that doctors *literally* "yelling" at nurses just isn't happening with any sort of regularity. A doctor who did so wouldn't last long.


    And, if we're going to be totally honest, I think we'd all admit that any *actual* yelling at the workplace is most likely to come from another nurse.
    llg likes this.
  12. 13
    I had a doc yell-- really yell-- at me in the middle of a busy ICU; I was the hospital case manager for the med practice group and he was their hospitalist. He was famous around the hospital for being a jerk. I was puzzled when eople expressed sympathy to me when I took the job, and this was the day I found out why they did. He had had a personal conflict with the behavior of a elderly patient's wife (the patient died) and was apoplectic when I mentioned I had heard from her that she was applying for an office job at the hospital (for which she was richly qualified and he had left her with no insurance). Absolutely none of his business, totally bizarre.

    So I said firmly, "Harry, stop yelling right now." He didn't. So I picked up the phone and called the hospital risk manager, and then I called the practice chief and the practice risk manager. I put it all in writing, and the ICU nurses backed me up. He was quite subdued for a few months, then got riled up again over some damfool thing, and got fired.

    Students, do not worry that physicians have carte blanche to abuse nurses or anyone else. They don't. Put the thought out of your head. If someone ever behaves inappropriately and unprofessionally to you or a colleague, do the right thing. Note: cowering and freaking out are NOT the right thing. Act like the professional you are (or aspire to be).


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