South University Blog, a foundation in tradition. Education for modern times.

The South Way

A foundation in tradition.
Education for modern times.

Welcome to South University

A school with a proud past and a promising future

Established in 1899, South University is a private, nonprofit institution with a long history of driving student success. 

Get Started Today

Request info# Request info# Chat Live

Expert Advice on How to Address Nurse Bullying

by South University
July 30, 2013

Caring for others is at the heart of the nursing profession. However, this attitude doesn’t always carry over into workplace interactions among nurses. From journal articles to posts on nursing organization websites and in national newspapers, nurse-to-nurse bullying is a point of common concern and discussion.

To learn what our nursing students can do to recognize and address bullying, we turned to author Renee Thompson, MSN, RN, CMSRN, who explores this topic in her book “Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too!. Here’s a bit of our conversation with Renee (referred to as RT below).

Renee Thompson

How do you know whether someone is being a bully or just having a bad day?
RT: As nurses, we haven’t developed good coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of continuous crisis or the unpredictability and ever changing complexity of health care.

However, the difference between someone having a bad day at work and a bully is that if I lash out at you in the middle of a crisis, when the crisis is over, I’ll realize I treated you disrespectfully and apologize. A bully doesn’t apologize. A bully is someone with a repeated pattern of destructive behavior and attempts to do harm.

What do you recommend for a nurse who is a target of bullying?
RT: Nurses sometimes respond by ignoring the bullying, talking about the person behind their back, or finding a way to get them back. This is all destructive behavior. Even if we ignore it, over time, we start to internalize what bullies say about us. You start to believe them, you to start to feel bad about yourself, you start to question your competence.

Instead, start a documentation trail with objective observations about the behavior so that you can see if a pattern exists and escalate the issue if needed. Another thing to do is address the behavior as it happens. Nurses have to find a way to say “I may not know everything, but I don’t deserve to be treated this way. I need your support, not your criticism.” It can be very empowering for nurses to finally stand up to a bully.

In your experience, does bullying take place among students? What would this look like in an online classroom?
RT: Bullying can also happen online –it’s just taking place in a different format and it’s not always intentional either. Really important body languages cues are missing and messages can be misinterpreted. When you’re a student typing a post at 2am, you don’t realize how your message is coming across. When you’re tired, you don’t always have a sensor.

If you’re a student who thinks you are being bullied, it might be that you’re being sensitive, but if you’re taking offense, share it privately with another classmate or someone in a leadership position. Say, “Can you read this and give me your feedback?” to get another opinion. Always tell someone about it, and if you’re not comfortable addressing it right away, find someone who can provide you with support and advice on how to handle it the next time.

To hear more from Renee Thompson, visit To learn about our nursing programs, visit

Tags: nurses nursing nurse practitioner nurse educator

Return to Blog