Monday, March 12, 2012

Tell Your Story About Bullying

Bullying is a nasty phenomenon, and the last place we should expect to find it is in a workplace full of nurses. After all, we are healers, nurturers and advocates. But sadly, bullying among nurses is not uncommon. A 2006 survey of more than 4,000 critical care nurses in this country (published in Critical Care Nurse) found that 18 percent had experienced verbal abuse from another nurse. More than one in four respondents rated the quality of their communication and collaboration with other nurses as fair or poor.

In doing research for a story on nurse mentoring recently, I came across Cheryl Dellasega, GNP, PhD, a professor of humanities at Penn State University College of Medicine and of women's studies at Penn State University. She published a book last year with Sigma Theta Tau International, “When Nurses Hurt Nurses: Recognizing and Overcoming the Cycle of Bullying,” and she says that bullying is a big reason nurses leave their first jobs within a year.
“I doubt there is a nurse who hasn't heard the claim that we ‘eat our young,’” she says. “This expression refers to the negative and even hostile behaviors of nurses toward newcomers.”
No one seems to know for sure why nurses bully other nurses, but Dellasega thinks several factors could be at play:
• Medical facilities are often female-heavy, and women tend to use “relational behaviors” more than men. “One theory is that females may be biologically hardwired to respond to stress differently than males,” she says.
• Confined workspaces and tight schedules with few opportunities for respite can give rise to tensions.
• For the first time, Dellasega says, four different generations of women practicing at three levels – nurse, nurse practitioner and physician – find themselves in close company. (About half of all medical students are women.)
In an article in the January 2009 edition of the American Journal of Nursing, Dellasega summarized six types of nurse bullies. For example, the Super Nurse considers him/herself to be better at everything and doesn’t hesitate to let others know it. The Resentful Nurse holds a grudge – maybe for years – is hostile and encourages others on the unit to gang up on the victim. The Backstabbing Nurse cultivates friendships and gains confidences, then betrays.
The other bullies include the Chronic Marys who are stuck in a rut and unable to say anything positive about their lives and can turn the workplace into a toxic environment with gossip. There are the Middlers who watch the havoc take place and may even facilitate the bullies by laughing or joining in, all the while feeling uncomfortable.
A nurse who feels uncomfortable around bullying but doesn’t know what to do about it is what Dellasega calls a “middler.” These nurses watch the action and sometimes even encourage aggressors by laughing or joining in. They can, however, play an important role in change.

“Letting a [bully] know that gossip isn't appealing or that watching others be humiliated is not a spectator sport can be a powerful anecdote to [bullying],” Dellasega says. “Even something as simple as saying: ‘Ouch! That hurts!’ can be effective.”

Dellasega is co-authoring a new book on nurses and bullying and is looking for personal stories about it. The authors are especially interested in facts surrounding the description of the bullying. For instance, "It was sum¬mer and the unit was short-staffed…,” or “I was nearly finished with my 12-hour shift…” They also ask contributors to describe the feelings the incident (or incidents) triggered (i.e. embarrassment, anger, shock, etc.). Narratives should be no longer than 500 words. Email your stories and/or questions to nursingnarratives@hmc.psu.edu , or mail to PO Box 768, Hershey, PA 17033. Deadline: April 9, 2012.

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