Bullying within Nursing

Nursing is well-known as an occupation in which workplace bullying and horizontal violence is common. A 2018 study of nursing students in New Zealand found that 40% of those surveyed had experienced bullying or harassment during their clinical placements. Additionally, Māori students reported a higher incidence of bullying compared to other ethnic groups (Minton, Birks, Cant & Budden, 2018).

Bullying and harassment at workplace

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying can be defined as persistent, repeated, negative and harmful actions towards a target. It can manifest as physical, verbal, psychological or social attacks which may be repeatedly inflicted upon less powerful people within the workplace (Minton et al., 2018).

Examples of workplace bullying could include:

  • Ignoring or excluding
  • Malicious gossip
  • Excessive monitoring of subordinates
  • Sexual harassment
  • Constant humiliation, degrading comments and belittlement

Johnson (2019) suggests a reason that workplace bullying has become so entrenched within nursing culture could be due to methods in which nurses are being disciplined. Nurse managers may utilize bullying tactics to increase productivity, elicit behaviour change or even encourage an employee to self-terminate (Johnson, 2019). Additionally, a highly stressful work environment could lead nurses to direct their dissatisfaction towards each other (Hartin, Birks & Lindsay, 2018).

Effects of Bullying in the Workplace

Psychological effects:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Burnout
  • Decreased job satisfaction and increased intention to leave job

Physical effects:

  • Hypertension & cardiac palpitations
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Disrupted sleep

Structural effects:

  • Higher turnover of staff
  • Increased absenteeism & decreased productivity
  • Decreased patient satisfaction and safety

Effect on nursing students:

  • Feelings of inadequacy, anxiousness, embarrassment
  • Afraid to check for orders or ask questions

(Hartin et al., 2018; Johnson, 2019; Minton et al., 2018)

Bullying clearly has serious consequences for not only individual nurse but the whole profession as well. What can be done to shift this culture so that we actually support each other as nurses so that we can all succeed and provide high quality patient care?


I constantly hear that student nurses need to prepare themselves for workplace bullying. Why is that the case? Change must come from the top as well as the bottom. Nursing leaders need to take a zero-tolerance approach to workplace bullying and make it clear that there are consequences for such actions. Preceptors should demonstrate and role model professional teamwork skills and set an example to students on what it means to be part of a nursing and multidisciplinary team which respects each other (Minton et al., 2018). Academic institutions should set a zero-tolerance stance on bullying right throughout nursing school so that this attitude becomes the norm alongside the influx of new graduates into the profession (Minton et al., 2018).

I struggle to understand how a caring profession can have such a strong reputation for being so callous and uncaring towards their own kind. I see nursing as a team game. You can try all you want to do it on your own, but you will eventually sink without the help of your team. Respect your peers, work as a team and contribute towards making our caring profession the one that students envision it to be.


Hartin, P., Birks, M., & Lindsay, D. (2018). Bullying and the nursing profession in Australia: An integrative review of the literature. Collegian, 25(6), 613-619. Retrieved from https://www.collegianjournal.com/article/S1322-7696(17)30308-6/fulltext

Johnson, S.L. (2019). Workplace bullying, biased behaviours and performance review in the nursing profession: A qualitative study. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 28(9/10), 1528– 1537. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.14758

Minton, C., Birks, M., Cant, R., & Budden, L.M. (2018). New Zealand nursing students’ experience of bullying/harassment while on clinical placement: A cross-sectional survey. Collegian, 25(6), 583-589. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2018.06.003.


3 thoughts on “Bullying within Nursing

  1. Hi Ben, excellent post. Here in America I experienced bullying many times in my 40-year career but we didn’t call it that. We always said the nurses eat their young which is terrible. I agree that we need to be kind and supportive of one another. When I mentered students I always tried to be supportive. I remember what it was like when I was just learning. When I became a nurse practitioner I never experienced bullying from one of my physician supervisors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear of your experiences. Yes, I have heard bullying be described like that here in New Zealand many times too. I suppose at nurse practitioner status you gain some kind of authority which might exempt you from being at the receiving end of bullying. This shouldn’t be the case though. Nurses at all levels, from beginner to experienced, should be exempt from bullying.


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