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10 Responses When Your Preceptor Is A Bully

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10 Responses When Your Preceptor Is A Bully

Are You Being Bullied?

10 Responses when your preceptor is a bully

Is your preceptor a bully?

You may be bullied and not even realize it, because bullying among female nurses is highly passive aggressive.

Here's how to tell if you are being bullied...and 10 responses to bullying tactics

Read Are You Being Bullied by Your Preceptor? to find out and to read examples of bullying. Chances are that if you are feeling defenseless, humiliated, undermined…you are being bullied.

Realize the organization may not help you

If you are being bullied by a preceptor, realize that the organization may not help you. You may be told to “work out your differences” by the manager or to “put on your big girl panties” (in so many words) by coworkers.

Seasoned nurses forgot the steep learning curve they experienced as a new nurse. Read Nursing’s Dirty Little Secret.

Managers should be counted on to prevent lateral violence but in some cases, managers themselves are complicit with this behavior. Many managers do not have the training, skills, or willingness to address the behavior, and so they condone it by ignoring it. Managers may be friends with the bully, or may themselves be part of the ruling clique, and unable to extricate themselves from their friends enough to do their job.

In some facilities, bullying is the norm and bullies are protected. Bullying behaviors are entrenched in the organizational culture. Poor working conditions are breeding ground for bullying behaviors. The worse the working conditions at your hospital, the higher the likelihood of bullying. Within  facilities, some nursing units and even shifts have more bullying  than others.

10 Responses When Your Preceptor Is A Bully: What Not to Do

Before we look at the 10 responses, let’s look at what not to do.

10 Responses when your preceptor is a bully

Bullies can be protected by the organization

First of all, don’t blame yourself. After a day of being criticized or even shamed, be on guard for self-defeating thoughts such as “I’ll never be a good nurse. Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen nursing as a career.” Don’t allow a bully to  define you. The problem is not you, it’s the bully.

Don’t approach the nursing manager or Human Resources (HR) as a first strategy. It may backfire as HR may well back management over an individual employee, and the manager may back an experienced nurse over a new employee.

Do not appear weak. Bullies pick on people they perceive as weak. They do not prey on confident people with high self-esteem because inside, bullies feel “less than” and are afraid of others. Don’t be fooled by their bravado- they are cowards.

10 Responses When Your Preceptor Is A Bully: What to Do

You can only change yourself, not others. Here are ways to deal with the situation.


Find a safe person to talk to. If you are in a Residency Program, the Residency Director is generally a safe person and has probably heard the concern before. Ask her what to do and discuss options. Residency Directors are invested in you, the new grad, and are on your side. The same goes for the  Nurse Recruiter if you have a relationship with her. If nothing else, just talking helps  put the problem in perspective.


When dealing with a bullying preceptor, stay calm and cool. Make eye contact and maintain your dignity and poise. It will throw them off their game because they have you pegged as a weak person. Bullies do not target confident, self-assured people. Showing that you are hurt, crying, or appearing weak are all behaviors that encourage bullies.


Do take constructive feedback under consideration. Even feedback delivered in a cruel fashion can have some truth in it. Reflect on what was said and if valid, use it to improve your performance.


If you are repeatedly being abandoned by a disappearing preceptor, ask your preceptor how you can find them if you need them. “Where will you be if I need you and what’s the best way to get ahold of you?” and..”If something comes up and I need help and can’t locate you, who would you like me to go to for help? The Charge Nurse?” This puts them on notice.


Negative and passive body language. If your preceptor rolls her eyes or sighs, ask “I noticed you rolled your eyes when I asked if I should re-check Mr. Peterson’s blood pressure. Was there something wrong with my question? I really appreciate your feedback and I need to know if I’m not on the right track”.  Practice confrontive conversations such as these at home and with friends to become comfortable. The key is to be open and not accusatory (use “I” statements).


Know that some bullies really do not know how they affect others. Tell them how you feel. Pick a time and be genuine. Here’s a true story. Natalie was a new grad in the ED and had a preceptor everyone knew to be a very strong personality. Jackie was critical of others, sarcastic, intimidating, and an excellent ED nurse. Natalie was having stomach trouble every day driving to work and crying at night from the treatment she received from Jackie.

Natalie didn’t know what to do because she knew she would be ostracized by the ED group if she requested a different preceptor, and feared retaliation. One evening after shift, Natalie walked with Jackie to the parking garage and told her how she felt.

Jackie, can we talk for a minute?  I feel intimidated when you correct me in front of my patient and coworkers. In the future, can we have any performance discussions in private?

Sometimes I feel afraid to approach you with a question. You have so much to teach me. I want to feel I can come to you with my questions. Is that OK with you?

Jackie took the feedback to heart and changed. The best part of this story is how Natalie blossomed as a new nurse and got back her power. This is not always the outcome, but is well worth considering.


When given snide remarks and general, unhelpful criticism, ask for specific, measurable goals. Preceptors have evaluation tools to track your performance that they are expected to use (document). Writing out goals for you helps them to articulate the plan, and provides a clear record of expectations.
If you are not receiving feedback, ask for it. Some preceptors wait until the end of orientation to tell the manager their resident “is just not cutting it”. This can come as a complete surprise to the resident.

It is nearly impossible to meet expectations that have not been set.

What specific behaviors do you need to see for me to improve my performance ?

The expected behavior should be specific, measurable, attainable,realistic, and timely (S.M.A.R.T.) Be sure and read what to do and say when you are given a low performance rating.


You can choose to ignore or tolerate the situation. If you have 3 more shifts left with an unbearable preceptor, maybe you can endure it knowing that soon you will be out from under.


In some situations, you may decide to involve the manager. Sometimes the manager, you and the preceptor can meet together. It is better to have an ally with you, such as the Residency Director, so you are not out numbered, depending on how the dynamics play out. A wise manager can facilitate the conversation between you and the preceptor.

It can be risky to complain about another employee to a manager when you are new. It has to be done thoughtfully and professionally. The focus should be on goals, performance, and expectations, and not on personality.


Pay attention to distress signs such as crying after work, insomnia, anxiety, fear of going to work, eating disorders. Consider using Employee Assistance Program if your hospital provides it- an anonymous counseling service. It’s important to talk to someone when you are under a high amount of stress.


Affirm yourself daily.

I am a good, new nurse. I am learning daily. I help people and am compassionate towards my patients. I am here for a reason.


10 Responses when your preceptor is a bully

New nurses should be nurtured

Nurse bullying affects you, patient safety and morale. If you are going through this, my hope is you find a healthy way to deal with it. If you have any tips to share, please do, to help others and to stand together against bullying.

New grad nurses should be nurtured and celebrated. As Renee Thompson, nurse guru on bullying says, “Do No Harm” Renee has dedicated her career to speaking out against nurse bullying. Check out her website  to learn more and make a difference.

Until next time friend,10 responses if you are being bullied

Nurse Beth

Author, “Your Last Nursing class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job…and Your Next!”

Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at for all kinds of  entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂

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About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

6 Comments on 10 Responses When Your Preceptor Is A Bully

  1. Wonderful article and helped me out tremendously.

  2. I’m reading this article in tears. I’m nauseous, anxious and cry after most shifts. I have a BA, MBA and a BSN and feel so unbelievably stupid. I worked so hard to become a nurse and I’m questioning why I did it. On my days off I think over and over again about how much I don’t know and never will. Did I mention its only been 3 weeks? My preceptor is extremely intelligent but his normal speaking voice is at a scream, everyone is stupid (at least it’s not just me). He seems done with the entire profession and is disgusted with the patients. I’m not looking for a hug or to be coddled but this is awful. I want to be a good nurse but he is killing the desire for me to be a nurse. I’m so glad I found this article and I’m not alone. I’m not going to sit back and take it. I’m going to talk to my educator about changing as my current preceptor goes on vacation in two weeks and it would be a good time to move. I don’t believe he’d be receptive to a discussion. Please keep me in your thoughts.

  3. Great article Beth. Too often we “grin and bear it”, which just means we sit around waiting for things to magically get better. But even if it seems scary, being proactive and looking for ways to help yourself in this situation is always going to make you feel more powerful. And guess what – bullies don’t like powerful targets.

  4. Great tips Beth! We know that although anyone can become a target of bullying, new nurses are still the most vulnerable. Great tips for nurses to take action!

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