Bullying in the Nursing Industry Part I
If I throw the word ‘bully’ out, what comes to mind? Surely not college educated, sophisticated adults, right?! Sure… Bullies belong on the playground or in middle school where they harass the weaker, smaller or perhaps ‘different’ students. Right?? RIGHT?!? Wrong. Dead wrong. Bullies don’t cease to exist beyond the age of 12, or even 18. In fact, bullies very much exist among adults and unfortunately bullying is extremely prevalent in the workplace, particularly in the nursing industry. Of course, the word ‘bullying’ isn’t what’s used. It’s just not, how should I say it… politically correct. Nope. When we’re dealing with adults it becomes lateral/horizontal workplace violence, harassment etc. Let me be clear, though. The bully you knew back in 1st grade is one and the same as the 45-year-old bully you know today. The tactics are more polished and the jabs more subtle (usually,) but the motive is identical; to make themselves feel better.
The question begs to be asked, though. Why is the nursing industry in particular, a breeding ground for bullying?? Researchers even suggest that as many as 85% of nurses have experienced harassment at one point or another in their career. Why? Well, there’s the oppression theory. In this theory nurses feel oppressed by their lack of authority within the health care system. Nursing is a tough job. You don’t just throw on a cute pair of scrubs, sling a stethoscope around your neck and make patient’s boo-boos go away, although Hollywood may make it seem as such. You’ve got to deal with real life people and real-life issues, which is complicated and stressful to say the least. But when there’s a lack of respect the job becomes almost impossible. So when doctors, management and yes, even some patients make nurses feel inferior, they’re likely to take that oppression and turn it on other nurses.
While we’re on the topic of oppression I’d like to take a moment to point out just how deep rooted this oppression is. It starts way back in nursing school. Whereas in medical school students are taught to project confidence even when they’re not feeling too confident and to always have an answer to any question thrown at them, nurses in nursing school are taught to be subservient. Doctor knows best… huh?? We all know who the backbone of the medical community is, don’t we?? And still, nurses, known as the silent majority, are overworked, paid by the hour, under-represented when it comes to decision making and are quite frankly, viewed as a commodity.
While all this in no way excuses the bully who clearly needs to do some internal work, the aforementioned gives us a glimpse into what can trigger the already vulnerable bully to take the actions he/she does. Watch out for the next post where we tackle the many faces of bullying and what to do about it.