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March 11, 2016

There's a simple way to stop nurse bullying, research suggests

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This story was updated on August 16, 2017.

Nurses' bullying of their peers can hurt morale and increase the risk of patient harm—but there are steps hospital leaders can take to combat the issue, Andrew Pantazi reports for the Florida Times Union.

The issue of bullying in health care is widespread, Pantazi writes. Nearly two-thirds of nurses reported that they were bullied or witnessed bullying within a six-month period, according to a study from Jacksonville University. Meanwhile, about one in five nurses leave within the first year on the job, and another one in three exit within two years—with many of them citing bullying and incivility as the reasons, according to a 2014 study in Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice.

Bullying isolates nurses, which can harm patient care, says Japhetia Blackwell, who teaches at Florida State College at Jacksonville and Jacksonville University, and who has been a nurse for over three decades. "The patients suffer when we don't come together," she says.

What do you do?

To find evidence-based solutions to the problem, Sonia Balevre, who teaches at the Chamberlain College of Nursing, spent nine weeks researching nurses on a medical-surgical floor, where new nurses commonly work. She surveyed nurses, tested a new anti-bullying program, and solicited comments from other staffers.

Based on her findings, Balevre says that the best way to stop bullying may be the most straightforward: asking the bully to stop.

It sounds almost too simple, but Balevre notes that skilled nurses who have been bullying for years without objection might be unware of their behavior.

Brendan McGinty, a managing director at The Advisory Board Company who has studied disruptive behavior in hospitals, echoes the importance of challenging bullies. "Every time we let disruptive behavior go unchallenged, it reinforces acceptance and normalizes the behavior," he writes in a recent blog post. "And the probability of worse safety and quality outcomes rises."

Bullying can be especially difficult to counter when it comes from nurse leaders. But it's important to remember that "the leaders have leaders," Balevre says. She adds that, if necessary, nurses can report bullying issues to those higher up the chain of command.

Ultimately, Balevre says, the key to addressing bullying is to speak out and help other nurses, too (Pantazi, Florida Times-Union, 3/4).

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