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When 'Mean Girls' Wear Scrubs

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

"I think that brand new, young nurses [are] sort of the classic targets," Dellasega says. Often, these nurses are idealistic about their work and excited about how they're going to make a difference, but the older, established, more jaded nurses engage in bullying to knock them down a little. In fact, Dellasega says, sometimes the young nurses' preceptors are the ones who are doing the bullying because they feel like the role is a thankless one.

"I know that even…the literature…supports that preceptors often don't feel well prepared to do the job and often don't want to do the job," she says.

Another group of nurses who are often bullied are part-time, agency, or floater nurses who are picked on because they're not part of the regular nurses' clique.

Yes, clique. Dellasega says the regular nurses who are in the clique often make rude or sarcastic comments to or about the new person, or even go so far as not sharing supplies. Even nurses who come in from other floors can be left of out, even though they're just there to help.

Dellasega says that the cliques and bullying in a hospital comes with the same kind of baggage that most of us thought we left behind in high school. But for nurses, there's the added stake of patient safety. Although studies haven't explicitly linked increased bullying to decreased patient safety, research does say that happier nurses do their jobs more effectively. (Conversely, nurse burnout is linked to higher healthcare-associated infection rates).

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