Bullying and Lateral Violence in Nursing

By Jannise T. Baclig, PhD, RN, Clinical Content Director, AMN Healthcare
Bullying and Lateral Violence in Nursing
Megan was a new grad nurse on a busy medical/surgical unit, only five weeks away from completing her 20-week residency program. During one of her shifts, Megan answered a call light while her preceptor, Sarah, was at lunch. Her patient, Mr. Calhoun, needed assistance getting out of bed so he could use the bedside commode. Megan knew she needed to ask for help in order to safely get Mr. Calhoun out of bed. She then noticed fellow nurses, Amanda and Kyla, out in the hallway, talking as they walked her way.

“Do you both have time to help me lift Mr. Calhoun in Room 2203? My preceptor, Sarah, is at lunch and I would appreciate your help because it’s unsafe for me to lift him by myself,” asked Megan. “Sure, whatever,” responded Amanda, rolling her eyes as she turned to follow Megan into the patient’s room. Kyla shrugged her shoulders and followed suit. Their non-verbal behavior made Megan feel very uncomfortable and insecure.

When Sarah returned from lunch, Megan provided a status update on their patients, but left out the unpleasant interaction with Amanda and Kyla because Sarah was good friends with them. Later during her shift, Megan walked into the break room, saw Sarah, Amanda, and Kyla huddled together, and heard her name mentioned. As soon as they noticed Megan approaching, they discontinued their conversation and abruptly left the break room.

On her way home from work that day, Megan began to wonder if she really fit in on her unit; worse yet, she began to question her career choice. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time she had been treated this way. Megan decided not to tell anyone what happened because she reasoned with herself, “This should get better over time, right?”

What would you do in this situation if you were Megan? Has a similar experience happened to you or a nursing colleague you know?

Unfortunately, the above scenario is more pervasive in nursing than we think, and it is often unrecognized and underreported. According to Bechner and Visovsky, authors of “Horizontal Violence in Nursing,” lateral or horizontal violence is defined by acts of unwanted abuse or hostility in the workplace, where bullying is described as repeated acts of aggression over a period of time (2012).

The statistics on lateral violence in the workplace are disconcerting. In 2007, a study of student nurses reported that 53% had been put down by a staff nurse at some point in their career (Longo in ANA, 2012), and 48% nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals reported experiencing strong verbal abuse in the workplace (Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 2004, in ANA, 2012). Additionally, the effects of workplace bullying extend beyond emotional and physiological distress; it can erode work satisfaction and increase staff turnover, as well reduce patient safety (Townsend, 2012).

We all deserve a healthy work environment. Take a stand and put an end to lateral violence and bullying in nursing! For additional information and resources, click here. Also, check out the course from RN.com entitled: Managing Assaultive Behavior for Healthcare Professionals.

American Nurses Association [ANA]. (2015). Bullying and Workplace Violence. Retrieved from here.

American Nurses Association [ANA]. (2012). Lateral Violence and Bullying in Nursing Factsheet. Retrieved from here.

Bechner, J. & Visovsky, C. (2012). Horizontal violence in nursing. MEDSURG Nursing, 21(4). Retrieved from here.

Townsend, T. (2012). Break the bullying cycle. American Nurse Today, 7(1). Retrieved from here.

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