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The Future Nurse Bully- Is it You?

Nurses Article   (2,276 Views 31 Comments 866 Words)
by J.Adderton J.Adderton (Member) Writer Verified

J.Adderton has 20 years experience .

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Nursing school is a competitive and high stress environment. Unfortunately, nurse faculty do not always model behavior that is respectful and supportive. Is this harsh environment producing future nurse bullies?

The Future Nurse Bully- Is it You?

Bullying and nursing have a long and well documented history.  The American Nurses Association defines nurse bullying as “repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend and cause distress in the recipient”.

"I easily recall my first nursing job and my assigned preceptor. During the first week, my preceptor instructed me to call the on-call cardiologist to report a patient’s conversion to atrial fibrillation.  However, she provided no guidance on the assessment data (including vital sign trends, labs and medications) I needed to have ready for the notoriously thorough and rude physician. I remember hanging up the phone- red faced and teary eyed- as my preceptor stated “congratulations on your first initiation”.  

My experience is not unique.  Research has shown 85% of all nurses have been bullied at some point in their career.  In addition, 60% of new nurses leave their first nursing job due to some form of harsh treatment from other nurses.

When I taught my first nursing course and clinical, I quickly identified potential future nurse bullies.  The humiliation and distressed inflicted by these students caused the same level of damage and distress as in other nurse settings.  I also discovered some faculty failed to model desired civil behaviors. Instead, faculty modeled bullying behavior through rigidity, being over critical and treating students unfairly.  Do you remember hearing these words in nursing orientation, “look to your left then right and understand most at least 1 of you will not be here at the end of the semester”?  As if nursing school wasn’t competitive enough, faculty introduce the fear of failure into an already stressful environment.  And so it begins.

If you are a current nursing student this article provides you an opportunity to reflect and evaluate if you have behaviors that could lead to future bullying. You may also identify bullying at the hands of a classmate.   Let’s look at common characteristics of bullying and relate to the experience of nursing school.

Have you ever tried to control or dominate other nursing students?

Examples of this bullying behavior:

  • Interrupting another student in class, lab or clinical.
  • Encouraging another student to break rules or act in an unprofessional manner.
  • Asking another student to not tell or report behavior such as cheating, clinical errors or other rule infractions.
  • Providing unsolicited criticism of another student’s performance.

Have you ever verbally intimidated another student?

Examples of this bullying behavior:

  • Assigning an unfavorable or offensive nickname to another student (often timid or weak) or simply engaging in name calling
  • Making insults under the guise of a “joke”
  • Telling ethnic jokes or using slurs
  • Gossiping about other students or sharing information told in confidence
  • Making outward signs of frustration with another student such as inappropriate sighing or laughing
  • Speaking in a loud or aggressive manner

Have you ever blamed another student for your poor performance?

Examples of this bullying behavior:

  • “Thanks for asking so many ridiculous questions in class.  I failed the test because you were so distracting.”
  • “I studied with you and look what happened!”

Have you ever found fault, sabotaged or withheld important information from another classmate?

Examples include:

  • “John thinks we have an hour for lunch instead of 30 minutes- let’s not tell him.  Jokes on him!”
  • “Why are you always nervous before clinical?  No one else is acting like you.”
  • Making unfair assignments in group projects or clinicals
  • Withholding information that would be helpful/beneficial to another student.

Have you ever intentionally or unintentionally demonstrate behaviors of cyberbullying?

Examples include:

  • Confronting another student on public online social media
  • Singling out another student by excluding on message boards, chats and class-related media
  • Using social media to gossip or talk negatively about another student?

Other covert forms of bullying:

  • Eye Rolling or other gestures for the purpose of intimidation, embarrassment or threat
  • Excluding a student from a group (i.e. cliques)
  • Using profanity
  • Being confrontational

There are overt bullying characteristics that lack subtlety and are easier to recognize and often occurs in front of other people.  Threatening is a direct form of bullying and is intended to scare or coerce an individual into certain actions.  Coerced actions may be engaging in verbal and physical altercations, withdrawal or avoidance of people and places.  

Note:  This article focused on subtle bullying behaviors that are sometimes difficult to recognize.  Physical violence is a clear and dangerous form of bullying.  It is also less common because the consequences are higher- being expelled, arrested or other legal issues.

Did you experience bullying behaviors in nursing school or are you experiencing as a student now?  Share your experience.

Reference:

Violence, Incivility and Bullying

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J.Adderton RN MSN has over 20 years nursing experience in a variety of healthcare settings. Enjoys writing articles related to the student experience.

80 Likes; 6 Followers; 28 Articles; 24,203 Visitors; 183 Posts

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Emergent has 25 years experience and works as a Emergency Room RN.

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This was a good, comprehensive list, thanks. 

I personally don't think nursing school causes this. Instead, it is human nature. Call it original sin, if you like.

And, disagree if you like, I find many of these traits more common in the the female side of the human species. For me, a natural born tomboy who preferred the simplicity of playing with the boys, I found the complexity of female society daunting when I entered nursing. Over many years I learned to play the game better, and survived. 

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OldDude works as a School Nurse.

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22 minutes ago, Emergent said:

This was a good, comprehensive list, thanks. 

I personally don't think nursing school causes this. Instead, it is human nature. Call it original sin, if you like.

And, disagree if you like, I find many of these traits more common in the the female side of the human species. For me, a natural born tomboy who preferred the simplicity of playing with the boys, I found the complexity of female society daunting when I entered nursing. Over many years I learned to play the game better, and survived. 

You struck a cord with me with this and I'm sure it will "trigger" (our new term we just learned) some females out there...but my Sweet Petunia grew up in a house full of girls. She married up with me and became the mother of 4 boys followed by our adoption of a daughter. She will tell anyone willing to listen the effort associated with parenting a girl collectively outweighs the effort associated with parenting 4 boys.

I entered nursing school as an OldDude and I saw a lot of the stuff itemized above; Fortunately, I recognized a lot of it and didn't go there...it's certainly alive and well, and as you reference, I think it permeates through human nature.

 

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Below is a very good website that accurately describes true bullying behaviors. Too often people conflate incivility and bullying. They are not the same. Let me repeat, they are not the same. Some of the behaviors listed in the article meet the definition. Others do not and should not lest we water it down to the point where people just roll their eyes at the concept entirely. We are very nearly at that point. 

https://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/index.html

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LilPeanut has 8 years experience as a MSN, RN, NP and works as a NNP.

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I agree with @Wuzzie  There is a difference between being bullied, which is a pattern of behavior towards someone or a group, and people occasionally being mean/rude/impolite to others at times.  Everyone can have their moments of not being the nicest person in the world, having a shorter temper, or being more self-centered, but bullying is definitely different. 

It was something I tried to teach my kids too: not everyone who is mean to you is bullying you.  Sometimes people just randomly suck. 

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6 minutes ago, Wuzzie said:

Below is a very good website that accurately describes true bullying behaviors. Too often people conflate incivility and bullying. They are not the same. Let me repeat, they are not the same. Some of the behaviors listed in the article meet the definition. Others do not and should not lest we water it down to the point where people just roll their eyes at the concept entirely. We are very nearly at that point. 

https://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/index.html

I don't think the list you linked is that different from the article. The .gov link is childhood bullying, and the article is more specifically in a nursing environment.

I think the key is that the behaviors need to occur frequently over time and be directed at a particular person for the purpose of causing a certain kind of harm in order to be considered bullying.

But I completely agree that it hurts the cause to mix-up incivility with what is true bullying. In the example given in the article I would say that the preceptor was bullying if he/she continued those kind of behaviors. That one incident alone would not fit the definition. if her intent was to make a better nurse out of the OP, that was a horrible way to go about it. If she continued, and her goal was to harm rather than to teach, guide and strengthen a new nurse for the job, then yes that would be bullying.

 

 

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2 hours ago, J.Adderton said:
2 hours ago, J.Adderton said:

The American Nurses Association defines nurse bullying as “repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend and cause distress in the recipient”.

In other words the definition given in the introduction to the article should have been stressed throughout. Meaning that isolated behaviors do not qualify as bullying. 

In every situation you have to ask is the person looking for either personal gain in some way or wanting to cause harm to another.

If an instructor has set themselves against a student and has determined that student should not be successful in the class,  there may well be bullying taking place. But single behaviors listed may simply be describing a personality defect or an instructor with poor teaching skills

 

Edited by mtmkjr

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5 minutes ago, mtmkjr said:

I don't think the list you linked is that different from the article. The .gov link is childhood bullying, and the article is more specifically in a nursing environment.

 

 

 

I hear what you're saying but the definition doesn't really change as we age or with the environment we are in however some of the behaviors might. Can you clarify why you think it does?

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OldDude works as a School Nurse.

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34 minutes ago, Wuzzie said:

...Too often people conflate incivility and bullying. They are not the same. Let me repeat, they are not the same...

Tell me about it!!! I see this every day where I work as a school nurse in PK-5 public school. What was, a few years ago, frequently someone acting out and being a goofy kid, has evolved into them being a bully; and the "victims" parents pouring gasoline onto the fire!! 🙄

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2 minutes ago, Wuzzie said:

I hear what you're saying but the definition doesn't really change as we age or with the environment we are in however some of the behaviors might. Can you clarify why you think it does?

No absolutely I believe you are correct - the definition does not change.

The two lists are specific examples of behavior. One list is what you might see among adult students and nurses, the other is what you would more likely see among children (and adults acting like children 😕)

My main point is probably the same as yours... Not to take any rude/mean behavior and calling it bullying.

You said some of the behaviors in the article would not count as bullying. I would just say any of those could count as long as they were in a bigger picture and not taken in isolation.

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1 minute ago, OldDude said:

Tell me about it!!! I see this every day where I work as a school nurse in PK-5 public school. What was, a few years ago, frequently someone acting out and being a goofy kid, has evolved into them being a bully; and the "victims" parents pouring gasoline onto the fire!! 🙄

Yeah, we've seen a few examples of that here. "A nurse didn't say good morning to me when I passed her in the hall. I feel bullied" while describing how their life has now been ruined by this non-incident.

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Make it stop.

😭

Okay, I do have something productive to say, but that was my first reaction and yes it was in regards to the constant barrage of commentary on this topic.

I have some major issues with the ANAs tackling of the subject.

First, I completely disagree that "incivility and bullying" issues should be comingled with that of violence against nurses/HCWs. VIOLENCE. It is ridiculously irresponsible and I think it should be obvious why it is - this article provides examples. On the one hand you have people who bring weapons into care areas or who become violent in care areas even without weapons, and on the other hand you have Joe Blow who thinks Susie Q may have rolled her eyes.

I will be blunt: *THIS* apparent inability to discern and to discuss issues clearly and tackle them reasonably and factually and without constant exaggeration-to-the-point-of-disingenuousness is embarrassing.

It's such a trainwreck handling of the separate issues and a really funky way to focus on low-level employees and conflate only their behaviors with violence. I mean, this is so trainwreck that even in trying to explain it I feel "all over the place." Well, that's because it is. It's "all over the the place" in a very convenient way, though.

This is an utterly opportunistic theft of a serious issue in order to further an agenda.

What it boils down to is that, although nurses and HCWs may be subject to physical violence and threats in the course of duty, we are going to conflate that with eye-rolling behavior, and we're also leaving the employer out of it for the most part - - their job is to have more policies and make it look like people have a voice, and to tell people about their policies. They aren't even remotely implicated as having more to do with this than that. Sure, they're supposed to treat every episode of "violence" swiftly and the same regardless of who is involved, but since they don't see themselves as being involved, they're off scot-free while nurses read and do millions and gazillions of articles, papers, power points, posters and projects about huffing, sighing, eye-rolling, cliques, exclusion, pressuring, threatening, "failing to help," withholding information, and anything else that individual low-level employees can be blamed for.

My statements are not to be taken as an attempt to defend selfish, jealous, catty, mean, or otherwise impolite behavior. Just the same, nearly all HCWs are working in conditions that involve at least some compromise that could be considered serious or ethically troublesome. Is there any good reason on earth that we can't discuss that and people's reactions to it, and then also (separately) make strides to control and utterly not tolerate things like punching, kicking, scratching, pinching, spitting, shoving, slapping, and use of weapons (at times) - you know, guns, knives/blades of various kinds, home implements, against nurses/HCWs??

VIOLENCE.

Check Maslow.

🙏🏽😫

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