With so many nurses having entered the profession because of their caring, altruistic, empathetic natures, it’s understandable that people might think bullying wouldn’t be a problem in a health care workplace. They would be wrong.

    According to a HealthLeaders survey:

    • 41% of nurses have been victims of bullying, incivility, or other forms of workplace violence
    • 27% of nurses have witnessed workplace violence

    But only 10% of nurses surveyed for that article said their organizations addressed the situation extremely well or very well, and the overwhelming majority — 63% — said their organizations did not address the situation well at all.

    Are you currently facing workplace bullying and harassment? We encourage you to make use of our Employee Assistance Program for counseling, wellness resources, even legal consultations. Call 800-865-1044 or go to anthemEAP.com and enter your company code: Freedom Healthcare Staffing.

    Bullies can exist at any level of an organization. Bullying doesn’t always occur in a hierarchical fashion, with those of greater power or higher (perceived) prestige targeting those of lesser status, education, or credentials, or job title. Bullying is equally pervasive among peer groups at every level of an organization, and hospitals and other nursing environments can be particularly prone to bullying situations.

    What makes a bully? Just like bullies in a schoolyard, workplace bullies seek out victims they perceive as threats and target their weaknesses — or create imaginary weaknesses — to assert their “superiority.” It’s easy to spot a bully’s motive for harassing a coworker: fear of competition, resentment of another’s competence or perceived advantages, desire to assert dominance over a new hire, male-female or sexual dynamics, or some combination of any or all those. Whatever their cause, intimidation, fear, and emotional distress are the result for the bully’s target.

    Bullying — better termed “workplace violence” — often escalates along a continuum, according to the Crisis Prevention Institute. It begins with simple, casual discourtesy, like rudeness, and progressing to overt disrespect through intimidation, harassment, retaliation, and verbal assault, to actual physical aggression. Of course, not all workplace bullying is so clear-cut or ends with physical violence, but bullies to tend to up the ante when they see their tactics succeed — or when they don’t.

    As in any workplace, bullying in a hospital can cause serious physical and emotional trauma in the victim. Negative effects include stress-related issues such as headaches, gastrointestinal upsets, emotional lability, and sleep disruption. On the job, victims can experience lowered work performance, difficulty concentrating, irritability, career burnout, and even posttraumatic stress disorder. Add the unremitting stress of a pandemic like the one we’re experiencing now, and the physical and emotional toll can be devastating to the bullied nurse — and to the patients they care for.

    It should be obvious that workplace bullying indirectly but negatively affects patients. Understandably, clinical staff who are harassed by coworkers or superiors may become distracted, irritable, and even careless in performing their jobs. At the least, they may be abrupt with a patient; at worst, they may make or fear pointing out a critical procedural or medication error.

    A survey of over 4,500 nurses and doctors in a VA Hospital system showed that physicians and nursing staff perceived a distinct linkage between “disruptive behaviors” and patients’ adverse events:

    Seventy-one percent felt that there was a linkage to medical errors, and 27% felt that there was a linkage to patient mortality. Eighteen percent of the respondents reported that they were aware of a specific adverse event that occurred because of disruptive behavior, 75% of whom felt that the adverse event could have been prevented.

    Travel nurses are often easy targets for bullying because of their perceived privilege (and above-average pay) and simply because they’re newcomers. If you are being bullied, what can you do? First, confront the bully tactfully, pointing out the behavior and respectfully asking the person to stop. Be sure to write down the time, place, and details of the conversation. If the behavior persists, create a paper trail of each new event so you will have documentation to support your case. And put your Freedom Healthcare recruiter in the loop as soon as you become aware that you are being systematically bullied. We will be able to step in with hospital administration to help resolve the problem.

    Remember that you are far from the first nurse to experience bullying, and you don’t have to simply put up with it until you complete your placement. For additional support, here’s a full YouTube channel devoted to nurse bullying. You may find some helpful suggestions that will help you deal with a bully or avoid being bullied in the future.

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