The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal (ANMJ) is currently preparing a feature story on the issue of horizontal violence and bullying in nursing (nurse to nurse). We’d like to hear from nurses and midwives who have experienced bullying, who know they’ve been guilty of bullying or have witnessed bullying at work.

What happened? What impact did it have on you or the other person? Did you receive appropriate support? What are your thoughts about this issue?

If you’re happy to share your experience for other nurses and midwives to read about in ANMJ, please email Kara at kara@anmf.org.au or post a comment below.

We know it’s a difficult issue to talk about publicly, so ANMJ will only publish your first name and a non-identifying description of your workplace, eg. ‘Kate works at an aged care facility in regional NSW’.

Image credit: rnspeak.com


  1. I was bullied in the workplace during my midwifery training.The bullying was so bad that I suffered anxiety and felt physically sick as I approached the workplace. I made an official complaint to the management of the hospital yet nothing was done about it. I will never work in the birth unit of this hospital again.

    • I too was bullied during my midwifery training and when you report it, nothing was done about it because they value senior midwives more than the junior ones, also this leads to others joining in the bullying as nothing was done about it … like piranha they saw an easy injured prey and went on the attack. I thank the Lord I left that place before I lost my confidence and sanity.

  2. After a few decades, it gets really tedious seeing someone do another study on bullying in the profession: they never result in any kind of change. I started nursing in 1982, it was there then and it’s been present everywhere I’ve worked, all across the globe. It’s endemic in hospital-trained nurses as well as Uni-trained and I’ve seen dreadful instances of bullying perpetrated by 23 year olds as well as 60 year olds. The consistency is, nothing actually ever gets done about it and nothing changes, other than people bandying about that stupid cliche, ‘Nurses eat their young’.

    I went to an excellent seminar a couple of years ago in the UK where someone pointed out that nursing doesn’t seem to have the ability to resolve bullying within its ranks because no one will take responsibility for the problem. That is, nurses blame bullying on everything but their own actions or inactions. Until nurses ‘fess up that they are a profession rife with bullies and individual nurses say ‘I’m part of this, it’s my fault, now I’m going to change things’, nothing will change.

    I’ve seen some shockers in my time, really awful cases of bullying. The very worst have been instances where nurses have treated ancillary staff such as cleaners and orderlies as if they were worthless. But amongst nurses, the most common I see is the way experienced nurses are treated when they arrive in a new job. All of them, even if they have decades of valuable experience up their sleeve, are treated like a new grad. Shameful.

    Over the years I certainly have seen at least a couple of cases where a nurse has punched or slapped a colleague they took a dislike to, once saw a female colleague refer to a male nurse as “F**khead” where his real name should have been used and keep it up for a year because “It winds him up”.

    Look, it goes on and on and on ad nauseum.

    As an exercise, think of where you worked that you really enjoyed. I bet the principle reason you enjoyed it wasn’t so much for the clinical work, but because the staff were nice to each other and you.

    And I bet there’s only one or two places like that you can name in your whole career.

  3. Thanks Jane and thank you to everyone who emailed in about their experiences. We’ve had a huge response. Look out for our feature story on horizontal violence and bullying in the March issue of ANMJ.

  4. Everything Rose said is spot on – thanks Rose, you’ve put things into perspective for me quite a bit.

    The worst bullying I’ve experienced was as a new grad. Bullying when I was young and just starting out meant my nursing career, while I ended up working as an RN for around 12 years, never really took off the ground until I studied postgrad to enter another profession. I went from being a confident, happy person to pretty much floating around from ward to ward, hospital to hospital, not specialising in anything because I had no confidence, often dreading going into work but just muddling through. My skills were there, I loved my patients but never really fit in, yet at school and uni I had a lot of friends and had never experienced bullying. I can’t help but think things might have been different if I’d had a more supportive manager and less bitchy co-workers when I first started out. Who really knows.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that nurses generally are an unhappy bunch (if you’re not unhappy going in, you probably will be); as an example, one of the things I made an effort to do with staff coming onto a new shift was to reassure them they should have a good day/night even if ours hadn’t been so great (I had hippy parents who told me to always think positively even if you don’t feel it ). I’ve lost count of the number of experienced RNs who would deliberately sneer at the new shift coming on, telling them how crap their shift was going to be. It’s a small thing I guess, but just one example of a toxic work environment. People are unhappy, so they spread it around.

    One thing I can say to new nurses starting out is: find a speciality you love, find a good workplace through friends or other contacts and stay there. Also, if you aren’t confident, fake it till you make it because you can’t show any sign of vulnerability in the nursing profession.

    • Emma, that’s a great post and very insightful. Often it is a toxic work environment and your introduction to the shift you are coming on to usually begins with someone predicting your day is going to be crap. It happens at all levels, believe me, and is nearly impossible to stamp out. If you tell someone they are going to have a great day and they don’t, there’s hell to pay! Unfortunately, this is part of the disease of extreme pessimism that has afflicted nursing for a good couple of decades at least. I have tried countless solutions and nothing seems to work. As a manager, I’m now tending to the theory that it is not so much the profession that makes people like this, as it is a profession that (at the moment) seems to attract fully formed pessimists, negative personalities and bullies. We may just have to wait out the culture change and wait for this huge population of miserable people to either retire or leave. I think your idea is good and will help progress a more positive culture: only work in a speciality that you love and listen to recommendations by friends and colleagues when you are sussing out a place to work.

      So, here’s hoping for more Emmas in the profession and fewer of the negative, miserable bullies (go work in retail: they want you there!)

  5. Last week I resigned my job as nursing unit manager anaesthetics and recovery for a small private hospital. I had worked there for eight years and have many happy memories. However 15 months ago a new theatre manager was appointed and everything changed.
    At first I felt we got on well and I certainly endeavoured to make her feel welcome and to help her familiarise herself with how we functioned as a highly skilled professional team of mature, responsible, loyal and hardworking nurses. Within three weeks one of my colleagues said ‘Look out you’re being sidelined’. I was surprised because on the surface I felt I had established a good relationship with my new boss.
    Over time this prediction became painfully real. I was frozen out of all decision making, although 2IC I was never allowed to be in charge and instead had to answer to whichever nurse was most favoured by our new boss. While I found this humiliating it was also dangerous for the unit as the person had no broad idea of the unit or issues which could arise. My entire team were asked to report to the new boss, bypassing me completely. In order to curry favour, my team, which been cohesive and collaborative, withdrew from each other, seeking only to survive. Information generously shared, assistance offered, tasks undertaken jointly all became a thing of the past. Our boss’s shifting favouritism and general dishonesty painted bleak pictures, confronting colleagues and developed an aura of suspicion and paranoia. Xmas gifts delivered to the unit were witnessed being bundled into large bags then secretively dispatched to her car boot never to reappear.
    The pogrom against me involved intimidation, lying, calling me a liar, refusing to speak or even turn in her chair to speak when addressed in a polite manner. Denial of critical information, false accusations of poor performance, dismissal during attempts to discuss issues, withholding of items addressed to me directly and significant reduction of working hours and my ability to function as a manager.
    When I attempted to escalate this problem after 15 months and witnessed by many, I was informed by the CEO that all Surgeons, anaesthetists and nursing staff had expressed their delight and support with the new manager and that I was the only person who had a problem. I was then also informed that I had a history of having negative relationships with managers and others.
    At that moment I realised I was living in a parallel universe and withdrew my services by resigning. I feel battered and bruised by the experience and resent leaving a position where I had previously felt respected and enjoyed friendship and camaraderie with each and every person I had contact with.

    • I wonder if the new manager was younger and could talk the talk that secured her the job. Unfortunately nursing seems to be going the way of the corporate world where younger, less experienced people are employed because they have the marketability with not much experience. Also management like to be surrounded with like minded people and are probably bullies themselves and therefore employ people who will bow and scrape before them but crack the whip with their juniors in order to get brownie points from management.

      Bullying comes from the top of the organisation. If you have bullies running the hospital, then you can expect bullying to be the practice that is rife throughout the ranks. Recently a nurse who accidently set off the fire alarm at work was approached by a divisional manager who informed the nurse that the CEO of the hospital wanted her (the nurse’s) name and wanted the nurse to know that he may be charging her for the call-out fee that the hospital would have to pay the fire department. This was an extremely frightening experience for the nurse, who was very remorseful about the whole incident. It had been noted that the electrical equipment in the kitchen had not been checked for the last two years. So in effect it could have been the equipment that was faulty and not the nurse’s fault at all. But to be approached by someone so high up the organisational ladder and be told that the CEO wanted her name amounts to scare tactics which equals bullying.

    • *Very* vitriolic – in a sense, she’s doing what she accuses other nurses of doing – being very condescending, dismissive and derogatory. It’s a shame, as there are doubtless grounds for some of her feelings.

      • Vitriolic is the word, but some points are perfectly relevant and I agree with them.

        I especially agree with the point she makes about nursing not ‘creating’ bullies, but being a magnet for bullies that are fully formed before they commence the profession.

        The career is fine, great even, but the virtues that make it so great make it very unlikely that we will ever do anything about the bullying problem.

        As a friend of mine once noted: “Another year, another study on bullying that will result in not a lot being done about it”

  6. In 40 years of nursing, I have seen probably hundreds of nursing workforce studies done on the topic of bullying. Every one shows the same results: between 50% and 80% of nurses think they are bullied in the workplace. And every study results in…. nothing happening. For 40 years I have never seen bullying effectively tackled, and I have never seen someone accused of bullying disciplined. I see no reason to see anything change for the next 40 years.

    • I agree so far nothing effective has been done regarding bullying in hospitals. I also agree that usually the culture of the place depends on who is at the top of the ladder – that also includes the HR manager and whether they are arrogant enough to think they are above the law. Most of the bullying I have seen has been done by nurse unit managers and the studies I have seen never mention this aspect. I think APHRA needs to have a unit that investigates bullying because it does impact on patient safety and bullies should be fined and moved on to a different area of the hospital or be forced to resign. If it happens on three occasions and if they keep up the behaviour they should lose their registration because they are an OHS risk.
      Saying the victim is the liability quite often is nonsense. The hospital spends more money training up new staff and it costs the hospital in agency staff when the victim has to take time off work. Furthermore, if it affects a patient there is the legal liability too.
      Internal investigations are usually biased. I always think this, when I see an article in a paper saying that “an investigation was done” in a hospital. I also think bullying needs to be defined to staff in writing. I hope other people on this forum can come up with ideas on how to stop it. I see time and time again stories about nurse bullying but rarely solutions – we all need to start thinking about solutions and putting them on the web etc. The more people that read these ideas, the more likely we will eventually get change.

      • I’ve always been of the opinion that any possibility of dealing with bullying from a HR perspective went down the gurgler when anti-bullying activists introduced the concept (now a mantra) that “you are bullied if you feel that you are being bullied”. Which, although perhaps true, made the concept so abstract that it became impossible to deal with the perpetrator in a punitive or restorative manner. I’ve come across scores of colleagues over the years who feel they were victims of bullying because they were directed to do something by the nurse in charge in a no-nonsense, businesslike manner, irrespective of whether the direction was reasonable at the time. I’ve also come across colleagues who have complained they were bullied by the doctor giving curt directions in an arrest scenario. This is such a pervasive mentality, I note that some employers now include in their HR policies that “no appropriate direction given by a senior staff member in the course of work will be regarded as intimidation or bullying”.

        What needs to be taken into account is that nursing, and medicine, are hierarchical (with the hierarchies being based on skills and qualifications) professions and directions are sometimes given curtly, but may be appropriate. Same as when you screw up doing something, it’s not bullying if someone points it out. The real approach to dealing with bullying should focus on where the perpetrator has a malicious intent.

  7. I too have experienced bullying in the workplace as a student, nurse on the floor and then in aged care management. It is prolific in our industry and I experienced it from my own staff making up lies and accusations about me after I found out about a workplace extra-marital affair and expressed concern to the individuals that this was inappropriate conduct in the workplace. I was suspended from duty for 7 weeks after they made a claim that I physically abused residents, which was totally untrue. I was not supported by my management team and had to sit through 4 hours of interrogation from 2 managers, a lawyer and a witness. The individual also attempted to put in a stress claim against me following an overdose because she was scared that her husband would find out and then tried to blame that on me also. There was no disciplinary action taken against the individuals that made the false complaints about me and they still are in their jobs. I left the organisation in disgust which is a Christian organisation.
    I then moved on to my dream job to experience bullying from 2 male managers. Thankfully I spoke up as did 6 other managers and one of the managers was fired from his job. If your employer does not support you when you make a complaint about workplace bullying you can go to Workcover yourself and lodge a complaint and they may investigate it. If we simply move on and do nothing then nothing will happen. It is a great shame that nurses and managers working in the so called “care industry” treat their staff in this way. I have met wonderful nurses that have experienced the same treatment if not worse and it is important that we maintain those relationships. Victims blame themselves and take it personally which is basic human nature however if we don’t report and act then we cannot expect anything to change.

  8. I have lived in Australia for 27 years and prior to this I was a qualified teacher in my country of birth (the Philippines). I only have worked in the aged care industry in Australia, starting from the very bottom in the laundry department, housekeeping, assistant in-nursing, as a short lived EEN (medication endorsed enrolled nurse). I also have been a target of bullying accusations of incompetence, which led to lack of confidence and so on instead of being supported by my colleagues. It was not easy but I have tried to remain strong and positive and find ways to develop my own self-esteem and confidence.

  9. I’ve been nursing in the UK and Australia for 28 years now and have seen zero tolerance policies come and go, legislation introduced, truing programs and so forth and you know what, aside from a tiny, tiny handful of cases (perhaps a half dozen across the world in 28 years) I have never seen nurses, nurse management, governments or unions deal effectively with bullying. I’ve never seen a bully disciplined, fired, charged with a crime or moved to another area. I’ve never seen a bully offer an apology to the victim and I’ve never seen bullying lessen. I thought it would go with the introduction of more youth into the profession, but I find that there are just as many nasty 23 year olds around as bitter 60 year olds. I now agree with the assessment contained in a government investigation into rampant bullying in the OD of the hospital I work in (not in NSW). I quote from the paper in front of me:

    “Bullying and psychologically predatory behaviour is trenchant amongst the nursing staff of the X Department. No amount of training, counselling or interventions seem to dissuade “victims” from being victims or nursing staff from engaging in bullying behaviour. What is especially interesting is that this state of affairs has continued unabated even though for the duration of this study, the nursing staff of the Department experienced a 100% turnover. Objective analysis of this phenomena makes for the compelling suggestion that bullying and being a victim of bullying is a behaviour that has become ingrained within the broader culture of the nursing profession.

    As such, this investigator cannot suggest any further preventative or reactive interventions for the nursing staff of the Department as bullying has become an expected and accepted element of the nursing profession, deeply ingrained within the profession’s broader and collective culture. The department itself is simply a microcosm of that culture and the nurses there enter employment with the bizarre expectation that they will be bullied, thus unconsciously inviting predatory behaviour and ensuring a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

  10. I’ve been in nursing for almost 20 years, I’ve moved from job to job due to the bullying nature of this industry. I absolutely love my job, caring for patients and treating the complexity of their care, I make a difference and I’m bloody good at it and my patients tell me this (so you bullies haven’t gotten rid of me and you won’t!) Bullying is and has been in every place I’ve ever worked, it’s absolutely rife in this industry, but now I’m doing postgraduate study in nursing education and working as a facilitator. I teach my students how to socialise into the workplace, how to recognise bullying and strategies to combat this. I think it’s crucial that we teach these inexperienced student nurses to recognise this early, so that they can make a conscious decision about how to deal with it. 100% of my students never even thought about socialisation practices and potential bullying, I give them the skills to deflect it from the word go. Our universities need to offer workshops on this topic before they even send the students to their first placement!

  11. I am a Nurse of 40 years experience it is very sad that we do still witness & receive this behaviour, especially from some colleagues & Managers. I have been criticized for being in Charge & making decisions when an In Charge was not allocated-( a Friday) the other 2 RNs on had work restrictions/health issues. I worked hard all day & troubleshooted, only to be criticized the following Tuesday for acting IC – I felt so depressed & not valued as I did my best for the patients/dept.
    I have no time or respect for these 2 senior Managers any longer & have changed my role/hrs to avoid this ongoing behavior.They also invite you to on the spot meetings with no agenda to again criticize & intimidate, there is no support or encouragement, it is a constant daily battle that I support our dept NUM as we are both victims but they disguise the bullying by saying your performance is not up to scratch or why reports not done or other things not being addressed.They also present themselves to our office & stand, never sit when we offer – the body language, the dismissive actions/eye raising, “when are you going to retire” comments all take their toll.
    It is a very nice place to work but I can no longer continue the battle.
    I believe these bullies feel insecure & there is definitely a degree of laziness & delegation to others.

  12. “the old eats the young”, I was told. Right the training till practice I have been to some states and territories, I have seen bullying myself, and I have been bullied. There was no discrimination for which hospital, unit, state.

    Nurses represent this nation, young and old alike, have really come this far, seriously?

    I think nursing is for those with the calling for this profession of care, looking after the sick in the most vulnerable state. It’s certainly not the weak heart, to see the suffering in pain that nurses can make a positive difference in humanity. But seriously, bullying all the way between 23 and 60, without being reprimanded?

    What is in the right mind of a 23 when he or she just becomes a fresh nurse to group together against another person? Or 60 with what influence at the workplace? It really says something about the mind, it’s sick and it needs healing, yet they go out there to keep their jobs, feeling insecure all the time, bullying someone till they are satisfied.

    I had this episode of being yelled by a nurse outside work: this nurse was someone I knew as a friend, if I was willing to call this person friend. The incident happened outside work, just half an hour before the shift. No one witnessed this incident, there was no CCTV, this nurse yelled and threatened me for maybe less than 10 minutes. I was just dumbfounded, shocked and listened to the rubbish till this nurse drove away.

    I told no one about this experience, because I knew a couple of things would happen, primarily nurses would deny wrongdoings, especially in incidents without witnesses and evidences. I told no one about this, kept to myself. Sooner and later this nurse couldn’t contain, this nurse went around telling the whole ward that the nurse yelled at me outside the hospital and taught me a good lesson, that’s when everyone knew about it. They came to confirm with me, and I said yes, it happened, “your job is on the line, your employment is on the line”.

    What happened from there, the nursing staff just talked and laughed about it, it became part of “discussion”. That nurse never apologised to me, carrying on working and to fulfil nursing role. This went on for quite awhile. Neither the manager never stepped in, nor any senior staff intervened. This nurse went on telling other staff that I was yelled from 10minutes to 20 minutes. It went on for months before I eventually left.

    This was just one incident at that workplace. Was there regulation? Were there senior staff to maintain the workplace safe? I believe we all know the answer. But why would this sort of bullying incident occur?

    It comes back to the context of calling, some just aren’t called to do nursing. Perhaps they have the skills and qualification but their moral, ethics, none of it shows the right attribute for caring others. Same with nurses who should be honest and they are found stealing. So when we nurses shouldn’t be bullying, some of them are found bullying others.

    We talk about them, we write about them in articles and columns then we move on.


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