Workplace Bullying: One Medical Center’s Nurses Assess and Respond

photo by Ronald Keller

photo by Ronald Keller

Bullying against or by nurses has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Aside from the suffering bullying inflicts on its victims, research tells us that bullying (which takes a number of forms, from overt insults to more subtle acts that undermine and demoralize) can also endanger patient safety and quality of care.

As described in our February article, A Task Force to Address Bullying (free access until March 1), recently a large Magnet-designated academic medical center in the Northeast developed an initiative to evaluate and address the issue at their institution. In order to first measure the problem, the task force developed a confidential online survey.

The survey had a 38% response rate. Here are some of the findings about who’s doing the bullying, who’s suffering it, and how its victims are affected by it:

 . . . . two-thirds (66%) of respondents reported having experienced or witnessed bullying in the workplace; and ‘bullies’ were most frequently identified as staff nurses (58%), followed by physicians (38%), patient care technicians (34%), and nurse managers (34%). Among the individuals who reported having been bullied, more than half experienced the following personal consequences: loss of confidence (63%), anxiety (59%), and diminished self-esteem (50%); and more than half experienced the following work consequences: decreased job satisfaction (83%), decreased teamwork and collaboration (72%), and impaired communication (63%)

When asked how they dealt with the bullying, 58% of participants said they discussed the situation with family or friends, 53% ignored the bully, 42% spoke to their nurse manager, 41% confronted the bully, and 30% considered resigning.

It’s obvious that bullying is far too common, and highly damaging in a number of ways. The task force developed a plan to address bullying, sharing the survey results with hospital staff and starting a slogan-based program called the Be Nice Champion program. Central to the plan was promotion of “third-party intervention,” not to confront the bully but to support the victim and short-circuit the isolating effects that being bullied can have.

The program described in the article met with some success—nurses at other hospitals may be able to more easily develop their own initiatives based on the work described by the authors.

There’s little doubt that current pressures within the health care system can set the stage for divisive bullying behaviors. These systemic factors will need to be addressed over time, but no workplace is perfect, and anger at an unfair or stressful system is never a good excuse for bullying one’s colleagues. Read the article to learn more.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. SallyPA February 16, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    I am really glad this conversation is beginning to be talked about and receiving more attention. This is the type of stuff that no one wants to talk about formally but informally, every nurses has been through it, in various degree or form. I am shock the survey only showed 33% of bulling in US hospital, i think it is much more than that, like high 70%. I was bullied in my very first nursing job. i was pinched, and verbally abused. I did nothing wrong. Being an immigrant, i was ignorant of my civil rights. The nursing union rep, who was suppose to advocate for me but didn’t, advised me that the best thing was for me to leave and quit, so they convinced me to forced myself to sign myself to quit, because i was told i had no other options.
    Now, i know better what to do if i was in those situation again but still the traumatic effect still lingers. It took me years to re-build my confidence back and learn to forgive, but i still have issues trusting people. I am very glad this is the first article to focus on implementation on how to help the victim transition better. I like to see what comes of it.
    I hope this can help transform and uplift the discipline, encourage nurturing relationship rather then accept “the old eats the young” mentally with out question or a fight. We are in a compassionate field, if we do not take care of our future nurses or children, who will? who is left to care for the older ones? who is left to take care of you? We all know how costly it can be for the institution or hospital to ignore bullying ( employee dissatisfaction, lower quality of care…) and that trickle down to the discipline itself; more often then not, most nurse do not want their children becoming nurses. Because they see the type of stuff that goes on and ignored.

  2. Susan February 9, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    After years away from clinical nursing, I returned only to have my preceptor turn out to be a bully. I was never sure until the day she got inches from my face and said ” …and if you tell anyone I did that, I’ll deny it. The manager and I have been friends for years.” It took a year to build the self confidence to transfer. Best thing I ever did!

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