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How to Lose Good Nurses

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, June 25, 2013

Hospitals that fail to stamp out verbal abuse among RNs and those that demand 12-hour shifts risk losing valuable employees to other organizations where working conditions are more favorable.

New nurses, especially if they are young, are classic victims of nurse-on-nurse bullying. But while the practice may have been viewed as a rite of passage in the past, hospital leaders can no longer afford to let it go unchecked.

One reason is financial. Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, RN, CRNP, an expert on bullying among nurses told me that left unchecked, it can result in good employees leaving an organization.

New research adds more evidence to Dellasega's point. A study of newly licensed registered nurses finds that nurses who are verbally abused by nursing colleagues report lower job satisfaction, unfavorable perceptions of their work environment, and greater intent to leave their current jobs.  


See Also: Healthcare Workers Dissatisfied with Stagnant Pay Raises


The study, "Verbal Abuse From Nurse Colleagues and Work Environment of Early Career Registered Nurses," was conducted by the RN Work Project and published online in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship.

Researchers surveyed 1,407 newly licensed registered nurses about how often they were verbally abused by nurse colleagues:  

  • Never (low level);
  • One to five times in the past three months (moderate); or
  • More than five times in the past three months (high)

Almost half (49%) experienced moderate verbal abuse and 5% said they had experienced high levels of verbal abuse. The most commonly reported experiences involved being spoken to in a condescending manner and being ignored.  

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4 comments on "How to Lose Good Nurses"


Veda Andrus, EdD, MSN, RN, HN-BC (7/3/2013 at 8:02 AM)
This is such a tough topic to truly address! The theory of oppression (consider Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed http://www.pedagogyoftheoppressed.com/) captures the deeper issue here as Betty Jo has indicated but how to get to the proverbial bottom of this issue has eluded nursing for decades. I teach my students to send lovingkindness (see Sharon Salzberg's book Lovingkindess: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness) to challenging colleagues with the intention of "rising above" the negativity, competition, and fear-based thinking. I also encourage them to choose to not get involved with gossip, which is a form of bullying that separates nurses from one another. I would appreciate hearing other strategies to end the cycle of bullying in nursing ... and in our world.

moda year (7/2/2013 at 1:00 PM)
As a veteran RN of more than 30 years, I have witnessed the bullying throughout my entire career. It is, as you stated, insidious. Often, it is also thinly veiled as teasing. "Do some cloak themselves as abusers in order to avoid becoming the abused?" I've wondered this many times over the years. Keeping your head down, minding your own business, tending to task, and avoiding the cliques unfortunately doesn't keep you from becoming a target sooner or later. It is not just the young or the new nurses who are vulnerable. Bullying can and does occur at any interval along the path of the nursing career. It doesn' matter if you are thin or fat, attractive or not, highly intelligent or average, high on the career ladder or entry level. As much as new nurses, those nurses who are nearing the end of their career are especially vulnerable. I'd like to see an article dedicated to the entirety of bullying in nursing.

Pat Akinyombo, RN (6/28/2013 at 11:45 AM)
It has been said that nurses eat their young. I think the biggest problem is that new nurses are being sent in to be trained by overworked, overstressed and often disrespected nurses and the end result is bullying. Perhaps we should look at why nurses behave the way we do towards new nurses. People who are happy and fulfilled don't usually take on bullying behvaiors.