Who Looks Out For Nurses? What Should I Do About the Bullying Culture?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about
the bullying environment of a hospital 

Question: Who–government, attorney, someone–who stands up for nurses? I was bullied, to the point of crying in front of patients. At the nurses station, I could not chart. I had been knocked down and finally could not get back up.  I attempted suicide, but managed to only give them more reason to talk. Now, I’m blackballed. I lost my home, everything in it, my dignity and reputation.  That’s what hurts the most. I was an ICU awesome RN.

I don’t know where to turn. Nurses around here travel from one system to the next. Those who start and carry on , believe what is said and pass it along and it gathers more lies and rumors as it’s spread. It’s out of my control. I’m broke, living in a barn and so sad.

Our response:
I’m very sorry for the sadness you are feeling—and for the incidents that led to it. Although we primarily respond to general workplace communication issues, the site-name of “Workplace Doctors” tends to attract questions similar to yours. We have heard from nurses in hospitals and medical clinics who want to know how to deal with discourtesy, lack of support, rudeness and bullying from coworkers and doctors. We have sometimes been told that our advice was helpful. However, quite often those who have written to us were mostly venting their frustrations and didn’t think any advice would make things better in a culture as bad as the one in which they were working.

There are hundreds of websites that discuss bullying behavior among nurses. However, there are many other workplaces that have similar—and sometimes worse–problems (911 dispatch centers, retail call centers, department store sales teams, warehouses and many others.) Ironically, although many people complain about bullying behavior, I’ve yet to meet anyone who will admit that they have done it.

You ask who will stand up for nurses and everyone in those other workplaces would ask the same things about their work. Unless there is an EEO violation with clear evidence of harassment based on the person’s protected status, the only people with standing to do something are supervisors and managers. Ideally coworkers will stop inappropriate behaviors, but often they’re just happy to not be the target. So, it’s up to the individual who thinks he or she is being bullied to do something. She can do her best to ignore the actions of others and refuse to be demeaned; she can formally complain and take it as far as possible; or, she can quit and find a place that, if not better, is at least new.

At this point in your life, all of that is apparently behind you, because you aren’t working there any longer. It may be true that stories travel, but unless you’re in a very small community, perhaps there will be an organization that needs your skills or your insights about medical work. You may not be immediately able to be an ICU nurse or a floor nurse, but you could get a salary coming in regularly. Consider a temp agency as a way to get immediate employment.

While you are working on finding that opportunity, I hope you will take advantage of every possible assistance provided by your state, county and city. You’ve worked hard and deserve to use the programs your taxes have paid for over the years. Your medical doctor may have resources to provide; any professional you spoke with around the time of your emotional crisis could suggest groups or individuals who could assist you. Perhaps a friend could partner with you to develop a plan of action for getting as many social services as possible. .

There are no easy answers and you probably feel that no one can completely understand what you have gone through and are going through. However, if you have family or friends who care about you, you certainly have reasons to move forward in your life—and plenty of reasons to not torture your loved ones for the rest of their lives by harming yourself. You also have something to offer the world, apart from being a nurse. There is more to you than that, even though you may love the profession. I hope you will give yourself the chance to expand your view of what you want to do and what you are best suited for doing.

I wish I had some specific and sure advice, but that will come best from someone who can spend some time with you. Please seek one or more people who can be truly helpful.

Dr. Gorden and I will both certainly be thinking of you and wishing you the best with your life and your future. If you have the time and want to do so, please let us know how things unfold for you. If you can come through the toughest times of your life, there is hope that the next part of your path will be filled with light and happiness.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Follow-up: 

Thank you replying. I’m glad you are aware. However, it is rampant! And nurses are taking their lives because they see nothing to look for. It goes deeper than hurt feelings, it is life changing and mind altering.. I will try to be the one to go forward with the energy I have left.. Thank you!