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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

I Know Another Attack is Coming

Published June 8, 2015 12:00 PM by Guest Blogger

By Corina Wilkin, BSN, RN 

The American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) and Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) recently held a ‘Day of Dialogue' to discuss how incidents of violence are currently addressed in hospitals. AONE includes lateral violence, or bullying, between colleagues (e.g. nurse/nurse, doctor/nurse) in their definition of workplace violence. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) workplace bullying is partially defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that:

  • is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • sabotages or interferes with work impacting productivity of the victim
  • includes verbal abuse
  • is non-physical violence and is sub-lethal (unless the victim commits suicide)
  • is driven by perpetrators' need to control the targeted individual(s)
  • is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods
  • includes acts of commission (doing things to others) or omission (withholding resources from others)
  • requires consequences for the targeted individual
  • escalates to involve others who side with the bully (through peer pressure or coercion)
  • undermines legitimate business interests when bullies' personal agendas take precedence over work itself
  • is akin to domestic violence

"Being bullied at work most closely resembles the experience of being a battered spouse. The abuser inflicts pain when and where she or he chooses; keeping the target (victim) off balance knowing that [lateral] violence can happen on a whim, but dangling the hope that safety is possible during a period of peace of unknown duration. The target is kept close to the abuser by the nature of the relationship between them -- husband to wife or boss to subordinate or co-worker to co-worker," (WBI website).

The WBI states that the "most easily exploited targets are people with a desire to help, heal, teach, develop, and nurture others. Targets generally do not respond to aggression with aggression. But the price paid for apparent submissiveness is that the bully can act with impunity (as long as the employer also does nothing)." According to the 2007 WBI - Zogby Survey, 45% of targeted individuals suffer stress-related health problems. WBI reports that victims suffer negative consequences to end the abuse as follows:

  • 28% quit voluntarily
  • 25% were forced out (constructive discharge)
  • 25% were terminated
  • 11% transferred to other jobs in the same organization

As a victim of workplace bullying, I can relate to other WBI. When I have talked to my direct supervisor about these issues, she has spent time counseling me to improve my response to my bullies. This leads me to question my own behavior when it is not my behavior that is the problem. The most recent bullying incidence involved a coworker popping a latex balloon in my presence and announcing to our entire office that people with latex allergies should not be in the office. Yes, I have a latex allergy. When I complained to my boss she asked what I could have done differently. The ‘dream job' has turned into a living nightmare.

I have a history of childhood bullying. The cumulative effects of a childhood history pockmarked with bullying along with the past 20 months of being victimized in the workplace has led me to withdraw a little more every day. I suffer because of my bullies' behavior. According to the WBI that is generally the case. They wrote that only 11% of perpetrators experience negative consequences (5% terminated, 6% punished) resulting in a ‘no consequence rate' of 89% for bullies."

I have myriad questions. Questions a battered spouse likely asks him- or herself.

  • Why me?
  • Is it my fault?
  • Do I need to change?
  • If so, how?
  • Am I crazy?
  • Am I awful?
  • Do I deserve it?
  • Am I ‘that' person no one wants around?
  • Why don't ‘they' like me?
  • Is it true when my boss tells me these are issues I'd have at any other hospital?
  • Would another hospital even want me?
  • Am I the problem?

Every day it is a little harder for me to come to work. As my family's primary wage earner, I don't have the luxury of removing myself from the situation without making provisions. And the longer I stay the more the harmful effects accumulate and whittle away my professional sense of self as well as my sense of safety in the workplace.

Hell, what am I talking about? I have no sense of safety in the workplace. I know another attack is coming. But I am not ready for it. I will never be ready for it.


American Organization of Nurse Executives, Mitigating Violence in the Workplace, 2014

Workplace Bullying Institute,, 2014


The hyperlink for Mitigating Violence PDF published by the AONE and ENA has changed.  The document can be found at file:///C:/Users/Corina%20DeVries/Desktop/Mitigating_Violence_GP_final.pdf

Corina Wilkin October 3, 2015 11:48 AM

I want to thank everyone who took the time to respond to my post.  Workplace bullying is a topic in a graduate class I am currently taking.  It astounds me that so many of my cohorts have had similar experiences.  I am sorry if you have been a victim.  I am also sorry if you have been a perpetrator.  What stories like mine are doing for the nursing community is encouraging.  Let us continue to shine a light on this issue by sharing our stories.

I was able to escape the abusive environment I called work three months ago.  I feel like my old self again—carefree, open, loving, and inclusive.  I am working for a large health care system that has anti-bullying policies in place.  While it seem unjust that I had to leave to end the abuse, that action was the best option I had.  I no longer dread work.  As more of us take a stand against bullying—whether that stand means walking away or staying—the less power bullies will have.  

Corina Wilkin, BSN, RN October 3, 2015 11:42 AM
OFallon IL

Thank you, Corina for being courageous enough to write about this and ADVANCE for publishing it. This is far too common in the nursing industry and it must be stopped. I've recently experienced bullying, hostile work environment, sexual harassment, list goes on and on. I tried everything from getting the Director of Operations and even went as far as getting the new VP of Operations involved (which I thought would be on my side to correct and make things better because that's what I was told he was hired to do - to take the company in another direction and remedy/correct the wrongdoings/actions of others). I exhausted all of my resources and once I found out that my request for transfer was denied; I then chose to voluntarily resign my position immediately. I suffered panic attacks at 3am when I awoke for work and was on the schedule that day. I'm still deciding whether or not I want to file suit. I don't understand how this is tolerated. It almost seems as if there are more like minded bully nurses, allied healthcare workers, management direct managers and upper management. I don't understand - first how this is okay and second how they remain in their positions and are not reprimanded for bad behavior. It is psychological abuse on those that are truly inspired to help, heal, educate others - we make them look bad so they have to try to make us out to be the bad guy due to their insecurities/short comings/lack of knowledge/intimidated that we are more knowledgeable or have better skills than they do or just plain shear laziness.

If we unite to stop this behavior and it must be stopped we will prevail, but we need to stand up and voice what is wrong and make it right.

I welcome any input that will be helpful in making our work-life a thriving productive happy environment. For goodness sake being a nurse is difficult enough!! Trying to provide quality care to the sick and needy under a business driven umbrella who is constantly taking our perks away from the people on the front line to pad their own pockets. RNs need to unite and stand together - Hmmm RN Unions nationwide, RNs protesting and picketing in front of hospitals, bringing our story to the media in order to make changes in the work place???? All good starts, something to think about.  

Deborah Powley, LTC/MPCU/Dialysis - RN July 7, 2015 8:28 AM
Indianapolis IN

Popping a latex balloon in your presence when the bully knows you are allergic isn't just bullying. It is assault. You could have had the bully arrested. If your employer doesn't do anything about it, they have allowed the bully to create a hostile workplace environment. I hope your current position is safer for you and less tolerant of bullying.

Judy June 28, 2015 10:51 PM

*Author response*

Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment on my article.  My solution to the bullying I've endured is to leave my current position.  Catherine, thank you for the offer to get involved but I am not able to commit at this time.  Changing jobs is no small task!

Corina Wilkin June 23, 2015 11:08 AM

The biggest problem in healthcare is that there are managers & supervisors who actually enable the bully. For many nurses who are primary income earners in the family/ household, leaving the job is not an option. It creates a lot of anxiety and apprehension, which will ultimately impact the quality of life and work.

S N, Acute Care - RN June 18, 2015 1:08 AM
Denton TX

This article is giving me palpitations because I have been dealing with this kind of behavior from a Doctor where I work and I see myself completely in this article. After 17 years , I am finally starting to stand up for myself.

Kim, ICU/CCU - RN June 17, 2015 9:34 PM
Ventura CA

honestly this is unacceptable. I would document every incident between you and the bully and your boss. You then need to take a copy to HR and speak to a lawyer. This is harassment in the workplace

n johnson June 15, 2015 9:05 PM

My name is Mary Catherine Gennaro, DO.  I am actively working- along with several others in the US to get latex out of the work force.  We are protected under the ADA and this is a work comp issue as well.  You are right this is a true issue of bullying.  I would love to help.  If you are at all interested in sharing your story with legislators please contact me at

Mary Catherine Gennaro June 9, 2015 7:06 AM

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