I like to highlight real stories from real nurses. This is the story of a nurse who encountered nurse bullies at work when she tried to do the right thing.
She believed her nurse manager would want to know about unsafe practices on her nursing unit…but she was wrong. And it backfired in the form of bullying.
Guest Post Deena Sowa McCollum, RN, BSN has been an RN in Texas for 22 years at the bedside and in various leadership roles. Her experience includes acute care Cardiac Progressive Care and Telemetry.
Nurse Bullies at Work
Being a nurse for 22 years and working in many areas, I always felt at my best when I was at the bedside. I often told my husband “When our children graduate from high school I am going back to bedside nursing.”
Leadership roles worked well for us while they were in junior high/high school and though I enjoyed leadership, I found the “politics” involved in leadership roles limited my ability to make an impact.
Upon returning to bedside nursing, I quickly identified many practices by nurses and aides which were not in line with either policies of the facility or nursing scope of practice. My preceptor had worked on this unit for more than 10 years.
I asked her questions regarding these practices and she always verbalized the appropriate process but it wasn’t what she practiced. I found this to be the norm for the unit, not the exception.
A few weeks into my orientation, I asked the Director and Nurse Manager for a few minutes of their time to discuss some of my observations. They seemed eager to meet and appreciative of the opportunity to make improvements.
They said they knew there were issues on the unit, it is a “work in progress” and having my experience and expertise is just what they felt the unit needed.
I was excited. I loved being part of improvements in the delivery of care. I left feeling optimistic that I had done the right thing by reporting these issues.
Nurse Bullies at Work: Repercussions
Quickly, things were very different. There was little interaction from my peers, and it seemed people weren’t visiting with me as they had been. This behavior became the new norm.
The aides didn’t respond to my patients’ call bells. When I asked for help they would tell me all the things that they had to do first before they could help me. It was evident leadership had shared my concerns regarding safe practices with the other staff members and breached my confidence.
Nurse Bullies at Work: Hostile Work Environment
I found myself very paranoid, fearful of each shift and what behavior would occur. I second guessed myself at every turn. After a few weeks, this hostile work environment was a trend so I asked to meet with the Director and Nurse Manager again. I shared my observations.
They seemed receptive, as they had in the first meeting.
They assured me they would address the issues and asked me to please continue to keep them in the loop. The very next day, toward the end of my shift, I kept hearing them page overhead “Assistance to room 3022”. That was my patient and I was assisting another patient to the bathroom. I pushed the call bell to let the clerk know I couldn’t get to 3022, could someone else assist her.
No one answered.
When I finished, I went straight to 3022. I apologized to the patient for having to wait and thanked her for her patience. She made this comment, “They don’t help you, do they?” Totally caught off guard, I assured her all was fine, it was nearing the end of the shift and things seem a little crazy at shift change.
She repeated, “They don’t like you. I heard them talking outside my door and they said you needed to straighten up or else.”
When I left her room, I was literally shaking. All my paranoia and fears were validated. It was a Friday evening and leadership was gone.
I notified the Nurse Manager and she assured me it would be addressed and that she and the Director would meet with me Monday. I wrote a detailed note of what transpired and I slipped a copy under the Director’s door.
Nurse Bullies at Work: Avoidance
Over the next few days I noticed a change in the Director and Nurse Manager. They were not approaching me to engage in conversation, nor asking me how I was doing, and they never spoke to me regarding the latest incident. I spoke to the Human Resources (HR) Manager about the issues on the unit and the lack of leadership involvement.
She took notes and seemed very interested in my experiences. She assured me this was not a reflection of the whole hospital, this was an isolated incident.
Again, I felt optimistic.
Over the next week I questioned all my actions. Things only got worse after I reported my concerns. I felt leadership was avoiding me and HR didn’t follow up as promised.
I was scared
Scared for myself, but more so for my patients. I know a healthy work environment is crucial to positive patient outcomes and this work environment was not healthy.
I decided to continue up the chain of command and contact the HR manager’s boss, the vice president of HR. She seemed very receptive to my concerns and willing to assist me.I told her I didn’t feel leadership at that facility was supportive of me and it would be best for me to move to a sister facility.
Nurse Bullies at Work: I Had to Leave
I don’t know if anything ever came of the concerns I voiced. I was fortunate to have an amazing recruiter who assisted me in a transfer. The unit I’m on now is much harder, the patients are sicker, but the overall teamwork is such a welcome change.
I speak up when I observe unsafe practice
I make a conscious effort to approach my surroundings differently. I focus on the positive people and thank them at the end of the shift. I thank them with specific examples of what they did that made the day better. I work on not giving “life” to negative peoples’ actions. They bring no value to the table.
Bullying in the workplace can be through the “act of silence” as in my situation. It’s an action with far too little accountability. I’m confident, if faced with similar circumstances, I would report again. I have an obligation to protect my patients as well as my license.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognizes that incivility, bullying, and violence in the workplace are serious issues in nursing.
Read Renee Thompson, cautions that speaking up about nurse bullies at work can cost you your job and gives guidelines on what to do if you are facing nurse bullies at work. Renee is an expert author and speaker on nurse bullying.
Until next time friend,
You can also come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at allnurses.com for all kinds of entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂