Nurses say peer bullying is rampant--and patients pay the price

As the issue of violence directed at healthcare workers gains ever more attention, research shows that nurses and doctors suffer some of the worst abuse at the hands of their own colleagues.

At least 85 percent of nurses have been verbally abused by a fellow nurse, and some experts estimate that 1 in 3 nurses will consider quitting because of the bullying, Marie Claire reports.

Since the phrase "nurses eat their young" emerged in 1986, it seems as though the practice of hazing, ostracizing and abusing newly minted staffers has become worse, according to Gary Namie, Ph.D., director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. "Nurses uniformly seem to accept nurse-on-nurse violence as just part of the job," Namie told Marie Claire. "But they're losing nurses by the drove."

This bullying also poses a significant threat to patient safety. One nurse, identified only as Christi, told the magazine that former coworkers once ignored her request for help when dealing with a coding patient, who she said nearly slipped into a fatal coma. Another nurse identified as Megan said she has seen senior nurses at a Virginia hospital assign other nurses patients who need one-on-one care, then watch TV as the nurses struggle to juggle the workload.

A major component of the problem is that victims often lack the ability to stop the abuse, the article states. Christi's manager refused to take action against the alleged offenders. Administrators also often find their hands tied, as same-gender abuse can't be labeled discriminatory and it may be difficult to discipline staff for interactions they didn't witness.

The medical establishment also largely condones bullying of young doctors, argues an article from Medscape. The publication cites a slew of online comments on a previous article about physician suicide, many from people who said they were medical professionals and faced abuse and hazing as residents. Others claimed to have been reprimanded for showing emotion, their supervisors telling them that it's "unprofessional to cry."

Some nurses, however, told Marie Claire that they feel younger staffers misinterpret their often stress-fueled interactions as abusive when they are only intended to improve patient care. "If you come in on your high horse, you need to be knocked off a bit," one nurse told the magazine. "Because it's those nurses who do things wrong and hurt people." Others, however, believe that "arguments such as these run counter to all the data we have on patient outcomes," FierceHealthcare has reported.

To learn more:
- read the Marie Claire article
- here's the Medscape piece

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