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Nurses Are Being Bullied

Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson wrote an interesting article on the subject of "nurse bullying," and how it affects patient care, retention of staff and the effective bottom line of an organization. Kasson reported that Nina Gerber, a psychiatric case manager in Greenwich, Conn., who has seen the effects of bullying first hand, said, "What's the bottom line in a hospital, or any other healthcare facility? It's 'keep the patient safe.' That's difficult to do if someone's work is being affected by someone else's behavior."

Author: Gloria Hao Schneider
Date: Mar 23, 2011 - 5:02:29 PM


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The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Mean behavior among kids is a universal problem.

In a poll of 232 kids in kindergarten through 8th grade at a Connecticut elementary school, every child claimed to have been the victim of at least one schoolmate's or sibling's meanness in the previous month. Then there is Cyber bullying. The psychological and emotional outcomes of cyber bullying are similar to real-life bullying outcomes, except for the reality that with cyber bullying there is often no escape. School ends at 3 p.m., while the Internet is available all the time.

Nearly 42 percent of kids have been bullied online and almost one in four have had it happen more than once. The primary cyber bullying location where victimizing occurs, at 56 percent, is in chat rooms. Bullying among our youth is a significant problem, and it is steadily increasing.

Many experts fear bullying has become so widespread and common, adults are blinded to its extensive harm. Or are they?

It turns out that bullying is also a problem affecting the healthcare industry, and the perpetrators are not children. The practice of bullying in the workplace is not illegal unless it is based on discrimination and does not fit the legal definition of harassment.

Reporting concerns to a senior manager or HR often times exacerbates the problem because there is a very fine line between verbal harassment and constructive feedback. In 2009, the Boston College William F. Connell School of Nursing conducted an anonymous electronic survey, which found that bullies in the healthcare industry included physicians, nurse managers, charge nurses, and senior nurses, "who publically humiliated, isolated, excluded or excessively criticized staff nurses."

Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson wrote an interesting article on the subject of "nurse bullying," and how it affects patient care, retention of staff and the effective bottom line of an organization. Kasson reported that Nina Gerber, a psychiatric case manager in Greenwich, Conn., who has seen the effects of bullying first hand, said, "What's the bottom line in a hospital, or any other healthcare facility? It's 'keep the patient safe.' That's difficult to do if someone's work is being affected by someone else's behavior."

Also in 2009, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices conducted a far reaching survey among medical practitioners. It found that 88 percent encountered deliberate, condescending language, 87 percent had been met with extreme impatience when asking questions, 79 percent were confronted with a reluctance, or outright refusal, to answer questions, 48 percent had been verbally abused, 43 percent were subjected to threatening body language, and 4 percent reported actual physical abuse.

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing reports that disruptive behaviors among healthcare workers threaten the safety and well-being of both patients and staff. Although "nurse bullying" is a long-standing concern in the industry, it has often gone unchecked, and even worse, become an accepted aspect of the system. Because of their status within the healthcare system, physicians are often the focus of attention when it comes to disruptive behaviors.

However, all groups of healthcare workers can be involved in these acts, including nurses. In 2008, Rosenstein and O'Daniel studied hospital workers, including medical and nursing staff members, administrators and other healthcare disciplines. 75 percent of the participants reported having witnessed disruptive behaviors in physicians, and 65 percent of the participants identified disruptive behaviors in nurses.

Generally the term bullying is used to describe situations of repetitive harassment that occur between one person who has some type of authority over another, such as a manager to a staff member. Stories have been told of surgeons who throw instruments in the operating room or physicians who yell at the nurse for calling in the middle of the night. These actions exemplify overt behaviors displayed as physical or verbal aggression.

However, there are also covert or subtle behaviors that can be just as detrimental to staff and patients. Nurses have often been associated with the phenomenon of "eating their young," which occurs when new nurses are not supported by experienced nurses, but rather are thrown into a situation to learn via 'trial by fire.'

All of these behaviors discourage the teamwork that is essential to a healthy work environment. The 2009 Rosenstein & O'Daniel study confirmed that disruptive behaviors threaten patient well-being due to a breakdown in communication and collaboration. In their study of 4,539 healthcare workers, 67 percent felt there was a link between disruptive behaviors and adverse events, 71 percent felt there was such a linkage with medication errors, and 27 percent felt there was a linkage with patient mortality.

The good news is that in the increasingly complex healthcare industry, bullying has recently come under increased scrutiny, and measures to report and prevent it are being put into place. The American Medical Association has stated, "Personal conduct, whether verbal or physical, that affects or that potentially may affect patient care negatively constitutes disruptive behaviors."

The American Association of Critical Care Nurses has noted that collaboration among healthcare providers, which is paramount to establishing and sustaining a healthy work environment, is lost in the presence of disruptive behavior.


About the Author:

Gloria Ha'o Schneider is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has written advertising / senior-related issues and has a passion for writing human- interest stories like Assisted Living Tampa and Hospice House



View all articles by Gloria Hao Schneider

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