A Matter of Respect and Dignity: Bullying in the Nursing Profession

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


September 30, 2010

In This Article

Workplace Bullying in Nursing

Bullying is well known, if not well understood, in the nursing profession. Despite the great many articles written on this topic, little is known with certainty about why such rancor exists among nurses. At least, this literature exposes the "hidden" problem of workplace bullying to the light of day. Perhaps by acknowledging it, we will finally be able to put an end to it.

Cheryl Dellasega, GNP, PhD, author of Girl Wars[1] and Mean Girls Grown Up,[2] Professor of Humanities at Penn State University College of Medicine and Professor of Women's Studies at Penn State University, doesn't mince words when speaking about bullying in nursing. "Nurses are really vicious to each other," explains Dellasega, noting that the problem is profession-wide: "It's not one hospital. It's not one type of nurse. It's the new nurse, it's the nurse who transferred from another floor, it's the ICU nurses feeling superior to the med-surg nurses -- it's endless."

As interesting as it may be to delve into the motivations of bullies, it is more important to consider the effects of bullying on its victims, or as they are sometimes called, "targets." Is this animosity just an inevitable consequence of people (and primarily women) working together, something that nurses must get used to if they are to remain in the profession, or is bullying a persistent, destructive presence that is poisoning our profession?

Before anyone hits the "discuss this" button to inform me that bullying isn't unique to nursing, I'm going to state right here, at the start, that you are quite correct. A quick search reveals that bullying occurs not only among other health professionals but in nearly every imaginable workplace environment. Bullies, it seems, are not limited to the playground anymore.[3]

We can't solve the worldwide problem of workplace bullying, but we can turn the mirror on ourselves and try to discover why bullying exists in a profession that is supposed to stand for caring.[4]


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