Bullying in the Clinical Setting

As an undergraduate nursing student, I am no stranger to clinical rotations. While theory and lectures are an important part in learning, I feel that the most learning comes from hands on patient contact that we recieve as students in the clinical setting. We get to come face to face and even participate in the care of patients with problems we learn about in our books and from our professors. I particularly enjoy my rotatons, as they are the core reason I chose nursing as my profession, because they give me the chance to have human interaction and to hopefully make a meaningful difference in someone's day. However, there are many times that I as a student nurse have felt ignored or like I was burdening the nurse on duty, when my only goal is to help the patient, and hopefully alleviate some of the nurses tasks for the day.

It is upsetting to know that people who have chosen a career that is known for its compassion and understanding can be so rude to students who have also chosen the same path. While I myself have never experienced what I would consider bullying, I did find many online articles and posts detaiing accounts with nurse on nurse bullying, including a study done in Canada by Clarke, Kane, Rajacich, and Lafreniere (2012). In this comprehensive study it was found that in a 4 year nursing program 88.72% of students reported that they had personally experienced an act of bullying in the clinical setting. Most of these acts of bullying were verbal and came from nurses, aides, doctors and even clinical instructors (Clarke, Kane, Rajacich, & Lafreniere, 2012). 

I know that due to the nursing shortage, there is alot of pressure put on nurses to have more patients, work longer hours and provide better results. This puts undue stress on them and can in turn cause them to have bitter attitudes and cause negative experiences for both students and possibly patients. If we are to end the nursing shortage and aid in the promotion of health, we need to be accepting of new nurses coming into the workplace, including students. Though this post was mostly about bullying in the clinical setting, this is not to say it is the norm. I have also had many wonderful experiences with nurses who want to teach new nurses about their craft, but it is a sad truth that bullying still exists. I vow to always remember my experiences in nursing school, and to foster students should I come in contact with them later in my career. 


Clarke, C.M., Kane, D.J., Rajacich, D.L., & Lafreniere, K.D. (2012) Bullying in undergraduate clinical nursing education. Journal of Nursing Education, Vol 51 No. 5, pp 269-276. 

by Kimberly Oldham | July 15, 2014

Tags: new-jersey

Lauren Nierstedt

Kimberly, I really found your post interesting and I agree that bullying in nursing often does go unnoticed. There is a saying I have heard many times “nurses eat their young” and find it particularly true within the community of nurses. I am also a nursing student and I work in a hospital in New Jersey and have witnessed firsthand the intimidation and bullying that goes on within the hospital. I personally have not been a victim of the bullying as a student, but as an employee I have been bullied by my superior. I am a data coordinator and was in my position for a little over a year when my boss, a nurse, came to me asking for the password to my database to review the data to make sure all the clinical information was correct. Since she was my superior and a nurse I trusted she would review the data and go over any potential discrepancies with me, but she didn’t, and about a week later I received a phone call from the national office asking why I changed data. I changed my password immediately and when she asked for it again I declined, told her about the phone call, and insisted I would be getting any data she requested from then on. Instead of coming clean and admitting her mistake she yelled at me saying “I am the boss you are not and I am the nurse you are not” before storming out of the office. After that incident she spoke negatively about me and demeaned my character behind my back and it wasn’t until a physician spoke to me in confidence about what she was saying that I knew her true feelings. I feel that as my superior she should have acted professionally instead of bad mouthing me to others causing their trust in my knowledge to be swayed. I think nurses may bully subconsciously because they want the new nurses to gain “thick skin”, but they don’t fully grasp the negative effects it may have on our self-esteem and our confidence in our new field.
Posted on: July 17, 2014, 8:36 pm

Annice Kpana

In many ways Nursing is a contact sport. As a social worker working on psych floors, I can tell you that in a high stakes, high pressure environment, people tend to react to each other in more pressurized ways. I've never been in an Emergency room that weren't full of raised voices, or on a Telemetry floor that didn't feature frequent situations that began as small problems and through understaffing and neglect turned into much larger ones that ended up plaguing each staff member there and the patient as well. With that said, there is no excuse for bullying in the workplace. Especially the bullying of nurses, where, because of sexism or the perception that nurses are not as educated as their Doctor colleagues. In my personal case, a nursing manager I was working with did not inform me that I was a necessary member of the code unit. Upon a code occurring she reprimanded me when I covered for the nursing staff while they were handling the emergency instead of jumping in there myself. I told her that I simply wasn't told, but upon hearing so she reprimanded me in front of the staff and then initiated a campaign of bullying for next six weeks that I was there. Techniques included intimidation, spreading rumors and innuendo about my competency, and giving me misinformation. To this day I still don't know what I could have done differently to stop her rage, but I do know what I could have done differently. I should have gone to my supervisor and started a mediation between I and the nursing manager in question. I then should have followed that up by recommending a zero tolerance policy to the upper management in charge. It was an embarrassing, but ultimately fulfilling distraction, however. It taught me much about myself, and the true nature of what could go wrong in a work environment.
Posted on: July 18, 2014, 7:06 pm

Kristen Baumann

Kimberly, I am a nursing student as well. I was glad to read what you had to say and to learn that I am not the only one who thought some of my clinicals were like boot camp, with the nurses being the ones "bullying" us around. Of course there were many kind and helpful nurses there willing to instruct nursing students and willing to show them as much as possible during each clinical rotation. However, there are multiple nurses that stick out in my mind who were rude, not helpful, and would give attitude if one of the students asked a question. It was because of these nurses that I would not like going to my clinicals. I felt like I was in the way and not wanted there at all. It made learning more difficult and definitely not fun at all. In the future, when I become an RN, I wonder how I will treat nursing students. I feel as if I would be more compassionate and open toward them because of some of my own negative personal experiences with nurses. I can absolutely understand being stressed out and overly tired if the nurse has been working multiple shifts in a row and has a full floor of patients, but I would think they would then welcome students to help them with their workload. It is a shame that some students do not get the full clinical experience due to this "bullying" going on in some hospitals. We as nurses need to help each other out and that includes helping students. Nurses need to be a team and work together to achieve the greatest outcomes. "The character of the nurse is as important as the knowledge she possesses." (Carolyn Jarvis).
Posted on: July 18, 2014, 7:32 pm

John Palumbo

Kimberly, As a nursing student myself, I certainly respect your concerns and opinions on this subject. Many of us are nearing graduation and will soon be thrown into the nursing realm. As if the thought of this is not scary enough, we also are reminded of the obstacles ahead of us as we reluctantly listen to friends and former classmates share their horror stories of being graduate nurses. Although I have had very positive experiences with nurses and other healthcare personnel during my clinical rotations, I am aware that not all encounters will be as educational and uplifting. A majority of student nurses have chosen this profession in hopes to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families. We strive to help others through our compassion, honesty, and perseverance. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same outlook. In our society there will always be those individuals who are unwilling to help others and receive gratification from seeing others fail. Individuals who share these pessimistic traits make the beginning of a rewarding career challenging for new nurses. The American Nurses Association (2014) acknowledges their anti-workplace violence position by stating that all nursing staff have the right to work in a positive environment that remains free from offensive conduct such as bullying, lateral abuse, intimidation, hostility, sexual harassment, and abuse of authority and retaliation for speaking out about violent behaviors. According to statistics, 53% of student nurses had reported being put down by a staff nurse, while 52% claimed they were threatened or a victim of verbal violence. In addition 18 to 31 percent of nurses have experienced abusive behavior in the workplace (ANA, 2014). The Joint Commission (2008) issued a sentinel event alert in 2008 which addresses the behaviors that challenge patient safety. This report states that abusive behaviors among staff can lead to medical errors, and poor patient satisfaction and preventable adverse outcomes. Nursing is an ever changing field that requires constant education and training. As nurses, we should be open and accepting of peers who are seeking advice and knowledge, especially those just entering the field. We all have a common goal, which is to promote the health and well-being of society. We should be working together as a team, no matter age or gender, to accomplish our shared objective. American Nurses Association. 2014. Bullying and workplace violence. Retrieved from http://nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/WorkplaceSafety/bullyingworkplaceviolence The Joint Commission. 2008. Behaviors that undermine a culture of safety. Retrieved from http://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/18/SEA_40.PDF
Posted on: July 18, 2014, 8:27 pm

Amy Ciraulo

Kimberly, Congratulation on making it this far in your journey of becoming a nurse. I have been a nurse working in acute care for 15 years. Having been a student nurse, new graduate nurse, and change specialties multiple times I can identify with the feeingl of being the "new kid on the block". While being a bedside nurse, I have encountered hundreds of nursing students and precepted at least 50 new grad nurses or experienced nurse newly hired onto my unit. There is never an excuse for any bullying in the workplace especially within the profession of nursing. However, I believe that there is a culture of "nurses eating their young" that still exists. I feel that this is a learned behavior passed down from one generation of nurse to the next. It is our responsibility to stop this cycle. I would also like to point out the perception of the bedside nurse working with the students. I remember being a student and thinking I could "help" the nurse. After being in the situation, I realized that having a student and teaching him or her actually takes up a lot more time and effort on the part of the nurse. This by no means is an excuse to bully someone. I think it's important to identify and respect the constraints put on nurses today. Patients are sicker, assignments are tighter, and charting takes longer. Lastly, there is still a lot of inconsistencies and judgmental behaviors felt by experienced nurse that hold associate degrees from nursing students in baccalaureate programs. Experience can't be taught in a classroom and doesn't appear simply with earned letters behind your name. It comes from crying at the bedside during a patient's last moments. Delivering a newborn in the elevator. Identifying DKA just by the smell of someones breathe. At the end of the day, it's all about taking care of patients and taking care of each other. As you begin your career my hope is that remember what it feels like to be the nursing student and stop the cycle of bullying if you ever see it in your work place.
Posted on: October 26, 2014, 9:16 pm


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