Nursing school is stressful when things go as planned. Throw a bully or total jerk into the mix and the stress-o-meter can go into overdrive. I remember the first time I encountered a nurse bully and I have spent an immeasurable amount of time thinking of what I could have said (notice I don’t say what I “should” have said). I am just so thankful that this particular nurse was not working on the unit I was assigned for clinical, so after our brief encounter I didn’t have occasion to ever see her again (though I sometimes wish I would, just to make use of all the things I “could” have said…haha).

I was a 2nd semester student, bright-eyed and full of excitement for my first day of Advanced Med Surg clinical rotation. There was something so expectant and hopeful about second semester clinicals. No longer a complete newbie, I was looking forward to “putting it all together” and really working on my time management and critical thinking. Plus I had the SWEETEST clinical professor who was such a calming and nurturing presence, it was exactly what I needed to keep me from going into a nerve-induced wackadoo psycho spinout of pandemonium. Anyway, the point is, I was really excited about this rotation. I was walking with my nurse buddy, Collie, up the steps of the main entrance when a nearby nurse said in a snide voice, ‘“Here come the students.” I was stung with the amount of venom in her voice and surprised. Wasn’t she once a student herself? Instead of making a snappy comeback about how amazing it was the she had emerged from her mother’s vagina with her RN license in hand, I instead just said something along the lines of, “Yep…first day of clinical” and smiled and went on my way. But inside I was seething, and thus spent the whole day thinking of snappy comebacks I knew I’d never have the nerve to say.

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Even today, I still cannot fathom the source of this woman’s disdain. I love working with students. They’re so eager and ask such great questions. They usually jump at the chance to do whatever they can to help and are so appreciative…what’s not to like? But this nurse isn’t the only one who was a total jerk. There was a charge nurse on a medical floor who was notorious for not liking to work with students. The rumor was she took those days off so that she wouldn’t have to be there during our clinical days. She was, however, there on the day before clinical…the day we would arrive to the hospital to choose our patients. I knew I would have to deal with this woman so I approached it as I would any workplace jerk. Here are a few tips on dealing with bullies, jerks, and all-around unpleasant people:

  1. Understand that there’s likely a reason for this person’s disdain. Perhaps they have had bad experiences with students in the past. Accept it and move on. It’s not you, it’s just an unfortunate situation and you shouldn’t take it personally.
  2. Be direct and professional in your dealings with them. Don’t waste their time with chit-chat or rambling questions. Your goal is not to get them to like you. Get to the point. If nothing else, they’ll appreciate that you mean business.
  3. Be courteous in your communication and demeanor. Maybe they roll their eyes when you approach, or groan inwardly when they see you are about to ask a question. Nevermind that. Say, “Excuse me. Do you have a moment to _________.” Then say “Thank you” and move on.
  4. Bite your tongue. Yes, you may have all kinds of snappy comebacks percolating in your head, but this is not the time to use them. Take the high road, though it would be really interesting to ask, “How did you deal with bullies and jerks when you were a student?” It’s a legitimate question and just might make someone stop and think…use sparingly though!
  5. Lead by example. Get in there and do some work…be helpful, do things before they’re asked, work your tail off and focus on your patients.

You may also encounter bullies among your colleagues as well. Maybe it’s a professor or another student. When it’s a professor, things get MUCH tricker as you are essentially dealing with an individual who holds power over you. Though every situation is different, here are a few things that apply across the board:

  1. Try to determine where the behavior is stemming from…is it prejudicial, is it because they heard a rumor they believed to be true, do you remind them of their daughter-in-law who they can’t stand, was there a miscommunication between the two of you somewhere along the way? Maybe they’re just a jerk, and sometimes that’s just all it is…unfortunately you can’t fix jerks.
  2. Keep your communication and interaction with the individual in question completely professional. Do not add fuel to the fire.
  3. Document. Document. Document. Document everything…when you turned in assignments, every email sent/received, document anything and everything. Plan to spend a little time summarizing conversations in a journal (especially if they are related to expectations such as an assignment or project). Keep a log of offending behavior including the date, time, location, any witnesses and precipitating factors.
  4. If the situation gets out of control…either it’s causing you stress or affecting your grades, you need to take further action. One step to consider is requesting a meeting with the professor and an uninterested third party to act as mediator. Describe your perception of the bully’s behavior and give him/her a chance to explain, achieve understanding or even apologize. If you feel this would make the situation MORE volatile, then you have no choice but to go to a trusted advisor and meet with them privately about your situation. If it’s another faculty member, s/he may have insight you do not possess and can be an invaluable resource for you. If the you-know-what really hits the fan, then your next course of action would be to approach your bully’s superior (preferably with your advisor present) to discuss the issues.

If your bully is another student, my best advise would be to ignore them, take the high road and avoid engaging them at all costs. With any luck they’ll lose interest when they realize you’re not an interesting target. If the behavior continues and affects your emotional wellbeing or your performance, then do all the things you would do if dealing with a bully professor.

Have you encountered bullies and jerks on your path to become a nurse? How did you deal with it? Share your experience our facebook group, Thriving Nursing Students!

Be safe out there!


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