Before Saying “I quit!”: 7 Powerful Tips on How to Work with a Bully Nurse


Article Categories: Caregiver Corner & Legal and Ethics

Nursing assistants are at the bottom of the healthcare food chain. Given their place in the hierarchy, CNAs can often be the target of bullying.



Take the case of Fiona, an assistant to Nurse Vicky. Here’s a peek into what her life was like while working with her nurse:

Fiona goes to work early to avoid bumping into Vicky. It’s ironic, because Vicky should be the first person that Fiona looks for to prepare for her shift. But Fiona chooses to avoid her nurse because she starts the day ranting about Fiona’s “poor” quality care.

In huddles, Vicky lies about Fiona’s “mistakes,” later assigning her the most difficult and back-breaking tasks. She refuses to help Fiona, even when patient safety is at stake.

Nurse Vicky’s bullying consists of verbal attacks, sabotage, back-stabbing, and intimidation, especially to emphasize Fiona’s inefficiencies.

Fiona is just one of many nursing assistants who are mistreated by their nurses. Victims of such bullying undergo severe stress that in time results in physical, mental, and emotional suffering. Their misery can make them ultimately quit the work they love and abandon the job that pays the bills.

Amidst zero tolerance agency policies to workplace hostility and the call to create and sustain a culture of respect that is free of bullying, hostility against CNAs still happens.

If you are reading this because you believe you are a victim of bullying, read on and keep these powerful tips in mind:

1. Practice mindfulness.

Observe how you and your nurse treat each other. Is she bullying you, or just stern while correcting your errors? Do you insist on doing things your way, or are you uncooperative? Or, maybe you are indifferent to her solutions to patient care challenges.

Ask yourself if you are being overly sensitive to remarks. Not all difficult working relationships are a result of bullying. Check whether you are reacting out of fatigue or are currently overwhelmed by personal problems. Being aware of your own actions and feelings can help you adjust to and understand the situation, not to allow hostility to happen, but to realize that incivility can be partially subjective.

So, if you are burnt out and your nurse starts to see only your mistakes, it's time to do self-checks. But, if after reflection you can say that you're clear of these self-destructive behaviors, do the next necessary steps below.

2. Be kind to yourself.

If the bullying is unrelenting and affects your ability to care for patients, start doing something about it.

The first step is refusing to accept the blame that it’s your fault you are being bullied. In fact, it might be that you’re being targeted because you’re good at your job.

Protect your self-confidence by reminding yourself that you are a good person who just wants to do their job properly. Focus on your accomplishments and your patients’ kind words.

3. Accept constructive criticism.

Bully nurses may tone down their hostile behavior if they see that you are intently listening to what they are saying and able to find the lesson in their harsh words.

Acknowledge their efforts if they are trying to teach you something and thank them. For situations such as this, never underestimate the power of gratitude.

4. Keep a diary of all bullying episodes.

Like documenting patient records, keep an accurate account of every incident of bullying and harassment by writing down details such as the date, time, triggers of the hostile behavior, and the conversations in quotes. Include a list of witnesses if possible.

5. Take a stand and let your bully nurse know that you find their treatment unacceptable.

When bad behavior persists or gets worse, do not put off telling them that their conduct is unacceptable. You can talk to them in private, taking with you a trusted colleague for support, if needed.

6. Put on a protective shield.

By this we mean knowing your rights and following agency policies and state laws on how to deal with aggression in the workplace.

It also means making a plan to protect your career as well. Ask to be reassigned to another nurse or unit, and if necessary, request to be transferred to another branch or department.

7. Never hesitate to seek help.

Know what support is available and determine who are right people to help you. When the management addresses your case, do your best to present the facts calmly and clearly, providing your documentation.

Explain how the incidents negatively affect your ability to work and how your experience puts patients at risk.

Bullying has wreaked havoc on many nurse-CNA work relationships, causing the victim nursing assistant to quit their job altogether. These cases shouldn’t end like this! There are ways to deal with bully nurses, and CNAs must do their best to stand up to hostile behaviors as well as protect themselves and their careers.

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