Peer-Bullying is Rampant in Our Healthcare System

Joe Weinlick
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Health care professionals are supposed to help each other and keep patient safety in mind at all times. Unfortunately, some nurses engage in peer bullying as a way to establish dominance or avoid unpleasant tasks. This type of bullying increases turnover and puts patient safety at risk.

Marie Claire reports that at least 85 percent of nurses have been the victim of verbal abuse perpetrated by another nurse. The problem is so severe that one in three nurses eventually considers quitting her job due to peer bullying. American Nurse Today says 60 percent of registered nurses quit their jobs within six months of the first workplace bullying incident. Peer bullying reduces job satisfaction and puts patients at risk for serious problems caused by poor communication between bullies and their victims.

Peer bullying among nurses is such a pervasive problem that many health care professionals say, "nurses eat their young." This phrase became popular in 1986, and it is still in use today. Experienced nurses sometimes try to establish dominance by hazing new nurses or assigning tedious tasks to some nurses and saving easier tasks for themselves. A nurse who engages in peer bullying might even ignore a colleague's request for help with a patient.

Bullying in the health care industry has very serious effects on patient safety. Christi, a nurse who would not provide her last name, told Marie Claire reporters a patient almost slipped into a coma because her colleagues refused to help her when the patient coded. Another nurse told the magazine she has seen experienced nurses watch television while younger nurses struggle to complete all of the tasks they have been assigned.

Nurses aren't the only ones who engage in peer bullying, however. An article in Medscape indicates young doctors are often subjected to hazing or abusive behavior. Some doctors are reprimanded for getting upset when a patient has a bad outcome while others are bogged down with menial work by more experienced colleagues. If this peer bullying is allowed to continue, patients are at risk for medication errors and injuries.

Peer bullying is not just a problem for employees; it is also a serious issue for hospitals. In the first workplace bullying case that made it to court in the United States, the plaintiff alleged that his boss lunged at him, swore at him and threatened him. The resulting depression got so bad that he was forced to quit his job as a perfusionist at an Indiana hospital. Allowing peer bullying to continue unchecked puts your medical facility at risk for being sued or developing a reputation as a place where employees are allowed to treat each other badly.

Children and teenagers aren't the only ones who engage in bullying. Nurses, doctors and other health care professionals sometimes bully their colleagues. If you notice peer bullying in your facility, work with your supervisor or human resources representative to resolve the problem.

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  • Ozella H.
    Ozella H.

    I agree,it's called Medical Apartheid

  • Beverly R.
    Beverly R.

    Yeah they peer bully where I work at

  • Latasha B.
    Latasha B.

    Like, but cannot comment on statement pt confidential

  • Janet C.
    Janet C.


  • Sarah S.
    Sarah S.


  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Erica thanks for your comment. You are probably right that the bullying will continue until one or more of the bullies are identified and charged/fired for it. HR should be taking note of all of the issues that have been identified and should put plans into place to stop the bullying including firing those who are doing the bullying in the first place. Too bad we can't tattoo a big B on the foreheads of those who are doing the bullying so that everyone would know! Glad to hear that you work in a secure and happy environment.

  • Erica J.
    Erica J.

    I am sad to read about all the peer bullying health care workers have experienced! I have been fortunate to always work for companies that I felt secure and happy in, being in a smaller veterinarian office helped. I think its important that HR and management deal with these issues and take note of what people have experienced. I can almost guarantee that if a person was bullied and ended up leaving the job that the next person to get hired will experience the same level of bullying.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Amy so sorry to hear what you went through. Sadly I experienced the same thing many years ago. It certainly is a shame that they have no respect for others and would abuse the residents that way. You were right in leaving such a terrible place. However, I probably wouldn't use them as a reference. It would be better to use personal references or business references from other jobs. It's really hard when you get into a she said, she said situation. When in an interview, simply state that the position was not a good fit but don't go into detail. Never, ever bad-mouth a former supervisor. Employers know that sometimes a job just isn't a good fit. Now, if you had any co-workers that would give you a good reference/review, don't hesitate to use them. It doesn't always have to be a "supervisor" who can be a reference. Wishing all the best on finding a great job.

  • amy c.
    amy c.

    I just quit my job b4 having another job lined up, I am not a nurse was a pca personal care asst. I was abused by the other co workers and ran around all evening while the other pcas where either sitting at the nurses station or just flat out refused to help....I did witness a pca who has been with this company 4 5 years slap a resident in the back of the head and guess what I was written up and she still works there.. Those workers are lazy and abuse the residents and keep getting away with it, If I didn't leave there I would be a mess, I feel horrible 4 the residents who live at this horrible place, and since I quit I still have no job which has left me broke. and to top off my bad situation the lady who hired me is giving me bad reviews to 2 jobs a applied to

  • Lynda  D.
    Lynda D.

    Lisa Please Please pull yourself up enough to look at other jobs, get mad and go over their heads, anything because none of this is your fault, don't let these people ruin you. Maybe you need some meds for a while, maybe you could just not give a darn, make something else more important in you life, take a judo or karate class. You are a special person that is why they are acting the way they are. You can do it I know you can.

  • Madeline S.
    Madeline S.

    Not only nurses bully but in my years of experience I've seen it in many levels of health care; from nurse aides to medical assistants to even staff on the business end of care like receptionists. It's sad really

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Lisa so sorry to hear about your predicament. It's truly a sad commentary on our times. Unfortunately, since there is no one else to turn to at your place of employment, your therapist might be right. You are just going to have to pick yourself up, dust off and start looking for a new position. Think about how great it would be to be happy to go to work instead of dreading it and crying all of the time. The fact that you realize that you could end up very sick should be enough of an incentive to spend the time necessary finding a new position. Get out and network. Talk it up around family and friends. Use social media to find that next position. No one should work under conditions such as yours. Everyone's situation is different and only you know what yours is. No one deserves to be treated this way. So I would start looking immediately for that next position. Being depressed could cause you to make mistakes that you would not normally make. You need to what is best not only for yourself but for your patients. We wish you all the best.

  • Lisa S.
    Lisa S.

    I am in the middle of this situation right now. My boss is abusive. I have shown some of her ugly e-mails to a therapist who confirmed that these messages were, indeed, abusive. She even threatened to fire me in front of another co-worker. And don't tell me to go to HR. She is a VP of HR in our health system. The only thing HR does is back up management. I have gotten very depressed and I cry a lot of the time. I question if I can do anything right anymore. My therapist has strongly advised me to resign. She is worried about my health. But I am a single mom, and cannot afford to quit. But at this rate, I am afraid that I may end up being hospitalized (in the psych ward) myself if things don't get better soon. I know I should be looking for another job, but I am too depressed to look. As awful as this sounds, it is nice to know that others have gone through this. Thank you everyone for sharing.

  • Yvonne  B.
    Yvonne B.

    This site is very helpful.

  • Kimberly Illg
    Kimberly Illg

    These are the reasons that healthcre needs to change. So smart yet, so dump at the same time. Just think the power healthcare would have if they practiced Emotional Intellegence rather than trying to make people feel worthless. Agree with all that commented, the time will come and, us, that have so much talent, and confidence will be working in much healthier environments with those that appreciate us.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kimberly so very sorry that you had such a negative experience. Saddens me that HR doesn't step in and help to resolve the issues. We truly wish you the best on your job search. Try some temp agencies to get temp work while you are searching. Consider taking some classes that will add to your background and skills so that you can maybe get into a different area of a hospital in your next position. Above all, stay positive and remember, that in the end, bullies never really win. Their time will come too.

  • Kimberly K.
    Kimberly K.

    This is an incredible phenomena that I too recently experienced, but in hospital administration at a highly regarded, prestigious city hospital. As a new hire with a degree and 15-year background in my field, I was excited and looking forward to sharing what I knew and moving things forward as discussed during the very lengthy interview process. A small group of individuals was determined to see to it that that did not happen. After about four months and multiple conversations with HR and the manager, who were both fully aware of the ongoing and long-standing behavior of this group, I resigned feeling confident a new position would be readily available. That was four months ago, and I have been out of work since then, which is presenting both financial and professional challenges. The bullies are still working busily at blocking any positive experiences that might be possible and not being called upon to take responsibility for their behavior and understand the ramifications it has on unsuspecting individuals who believe in and represent professional and human courtesy. It's a very sad reality.

  • Wini Hamilton
    Wini Hamilton

    Thank you for this article. I found bullying rampant when I worked in hospitals many years ago. I just had to leave.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jeanne sad to say that sometimes our only choice is to resign. But kudos to you for confronting the situation and shame on HR for not getting involved and solving the situation. Sooner or later someone is going to come along who is senior to this nurse and who is a bigger bully. Come on, we saw it all of our lives. Think back to when you were a kid in school and on the playground. There was always a bully but then a bigger bully would come along. Personally I think all bullies should be put in their place - fired from the company or otherwise taught to get along well with others. What is the Golden Rule that were taught as a child - to treat others as you would like to be treated. We need to keep that in our workplace to harness a better and more harmonious work environment. So now, when you have your next interview, one of the major questions to ask is about bullying within the workplace. Ask the interviewer what they do with a bully supervisor or ask what your options are should you encounter the situation again. Based upon their response will determine if you want to work for that company or not. Stick to your guns! Wishing you the best on your next adventure.

  • Jeanne G.
    Jeanne G.

    I lived this hell. The hospital would do nothing to help out. Even though they were fully aware of what was going on. Not just with me but with others as well. I confronted my bully and reported her to HR and my Director. NOTHING happened. Theyre actually intimidated by her as well, and with the Nurses Union on her side, its nearly impossible to get her fired. She is a NO HIRE in the local area because she had been fired for her behavior and bullying. Being bullied, makes you feel humilated, ashamed, fearful, and small. I loved my job but had to resign because it made me phyiscally ill to go to work. I had never come across that type of situation at work and was not prepared or knew how to deal with other then the way I did.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Cathleen good for you for taking action against a bully. Sooner or later she will run into someone who is a bigger bully and will find out what it feels like! So happy to hear that you landed on your feet in a much better position. Best of luck to you.

  • Cathleen K.
    Cathleen K.

    I experienced it in my hospital Pharmacy, where I was a Pharmacy Tech. A co-worker made it her personal mission to be very dis-respectful and just a general pain to work with. As the new person, if I did something just a hairsbreadth different than her, it was WRONG. I dealt with it, talked to the supervisor ( like talking to the walls), finally went to HR and still she was there, but (slightly) calmer. I left NOT because of this dipstick, but I had no growth potential in that hospital. I know am learning so much at my new job and have people I can ask questions and NOT be told, I'm a moron for not knowing.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Beverly thanks for that. It gives others hope that they can find a job in a good company - one that values the employee and does not tolerate bullying of any kind. The local hospital will continue to have issues until they resolve the bullying problem.

  • Beverly Hibbler
    Beverly Hibbler

    Bullying is a problem. I got so stressed out from the bullying at a local hospital until I quit a job I loved and was good at. The upper management was informed and acted as though it was okay. They seemed to try to act as though I was he problem. I am now happy on a job that has afforded me security and some serenity. It is a shame that this is still happening today.

  • Patricia R.
    Patricia R.

    Yes, peer bullying is rampant in the healthcare profession on all levels. Like the first, cnn job I got, the nurse went so far as to hit me without provocation. I went to my supervisor and I was the one who got fired and put on the underground black list, which makes it hard for you to get another job.

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