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Bullying in a ‘Caring Profession’: 3 Empowerment Tips to Help New Nurses

07/02/18

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Katie Davis, RN, BSN, MS-HSM, Director of Nursing Programs

It’s no secret: It’s not easy being ‘green’ in the nursing profession. Nurse bullying, particularly against newly licensed registered nurses, happens more often than you may realize. They can experience verbal or emotional mistreatment, ranging from rude comments, yelling or scapegoating to hiding supplies, gossiping or even sabotage.

A 10-year study published in 2014 by the RN Work Project found that 17.5 percent of newly licensed nurses leave their jobs in the first year. Another 33.5 percent leave in the first two years. That means we are retaining barely half of the new-nurse workforce in a given 24-month period. We must continue addressing this sensitive topic head-on for the benefit of the entire nursing profession and the patients who count on them for care.  

As director of nursing programs for the Vizient Nurse Residency program, I am an ardent advocate for nurses who are just beginning their careers. The new professionals I see are eager, talented and want to put their hard-earned degrees to work. But professional environments, where “nurses eat their young,” undoubtedly contribute to high turnover rates. I’m suggesting three strategies that can help reduce RN bullying, new-nurse turnover and burnout in your organization.

Listen to nurses

It is imperative that an organization has a system in place for listening to what nurses have to say and also a process for responding to that feedback. Leadership may not be aware of bullying issues taking place on their units, and they won’t be aware of it if there isn’t a system to share that feedback. A forum for sharing feedback could be at the unit level, in larger groups, or even smaller groups of new nurses to discuss their experiences with someone not in a management position or who can influence their performance reviews.

Establish a culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying

Leaders play an essential role in battling bullying behaviors. They are in a position to set the tone for what type of behavior will or will not be tolerated in an organization. The fact that almost half of all RNs report experiencing some kind of bullying in the workplace is a sign that more needs to be done on this front. Reducing negative behaviors is important, as is providing positive ones that support resilience. Here are a few examples from an excellent 2017 white paper, “Restoring Joy to Nursing.”

  • The 45-second pause. This is an intentional process that gives team members 45 seconds after a stressful event, such as losing a patient, to stand around a patient’s bed, honoring the patient and one another for their work.
  • The RISE team (Resilience in Stressful Events). This is a team available to be called upon when a stressful event happens on a unit.
  • Creative huddles. Use daily meetings to foster connections and gratitude among and for team members.

Mentor programs for new nurses

Mentoring can also provide a critical connection that new nurses need as they begin their careers. And it can be especially beneficial in responding to bullying. A nurse-mentor draws on a combination of experience and empathy in this role and may be identified through a formal program or the organic development of trust between two people.

As an experienced professional serving as a mentor, you may think that there will only be a one-way flow of knowledge from you to them. But don’t be surprised if you learn a few things yourself. If you’re considering becoming a mentor, here are a few tips to help you in this role:

  • Build trust and respect to establish a solid foundation in the mentoring relationship
  • Leverage your experience to help new nurses identify gaps in knowledge or skills, and then guide them to find answers or to gain skills
  • Begin with simple applications and move to more complex ones to build a sense of accomplishment and boost self-confidence

Nurses are the lifeline of health care. By supporting them with proven, effective techniques and programs, we are positively impacting their futures and ultimately, the future of quality care in this country.

To learn more about the Vizient Nurse Residency program, click here.

About the author. Katie Davis is director of nursing programs at Vizient and works with the Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Program, supporting the nursing program team with training and data interpretation for members engaged in the Nurse Residency Program. Davis also directs coordination and oversight of training and educational offerings for participants of nursing leadership programs and services. Davis previously worked as a collaborative advisor in the Vizient Performance Improvement Collaborative department, as well as a product specialist, where she worked with academic medical centers and their affiliates participating in the Clinical Database and Resource Manager.

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