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When 'Mean Girls' Wear Scrubs

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, May 28, 2013

For many nurses, leaving high school doesn't mean leaving the bullies behind. Bullying has been called nursing's "dirty little secret," but judging by the numbers, it's hard to believe it could be kept secret at all.


Cheryl  Dellasega, PhD, RN, CRNP


Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, RN, CRNP

Most women can relate in some way to the 2004 Lindsay Lohan movie Mean Girls, in which her character encounters a group of bullying high school girls who say things like this: "Half the people in this room are mad at me, and the other half only like me because they think I pushed somebody in front a bus."

But while most women can leave memories like this behind when they graduate from high school, for those who enter nursing and become victims of nurse-on-nurse bullying, leaving high school hasn't made the mean girls disappear; they're just wearing scrubs now.

Bullying has been called nursing's "dirty little secret," but judging by the numbers, it's hard to believe it could be kept secret at all.

Twice as many nurses as other Americans have experienced bullying in the workplace. According to study of 612 staff nurses in the Journal of Nursing Management, 67.5% had experienced bullying from their supervisors, while 77.6% had been bullied by their co-workers. Compare that to the 35% of Americans outside healthcare who've reported workplace incivility, says the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Not only is bullying among nurses an issue, it's one that most nurse managers aren't equipped to handle properly, according to Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, RN, CRNP, co-author with Rebecca Volpe of the new book Toxic Nursing: Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil.

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