Workplace Hostility

Bullying on Travel Assignments

More than half of professional nurses run into issues with workplace bullies during their career. The same is true of travel nurses while on assignment. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to fit in with the locals, other nurses may become resentful and turn hostile. Don’t let that get in the way of your otherwise professional demeanor; but just know that it’s never acceptable.

 What is it?
This type of workplace hostility is called lateral violence and comes in many forms including threatening body language and non-verbal aggression. It doesn’t always come from other nurses either, it can emanate from subordinates and supervisors alike. Per the American Nurses Association, acts of workplace violence affect a large proportion of working healthcare professionals including nurses, pharmacists and a multitude of other personnel:

  • 43 percent have experienced threatening body language
  • 48 percent have reported strong verbal abuse

Because of this bullying, some nurses have even ignored things like improper medication being administered due to intimidation from co-workers. Case in point: one of our nurses on assignment in Arizona called our office to inform the Clinical Director that a doctor told her to “mind your own business, this is nothing to do with you!” when she tried to prevent a medication error that the ER doctor was about to make. This type of aggression in the workplace prevents effective team collaboration and causes unseen issues among the entire staff – travelers included – like low staff morale, and nurses quitting the profession altogether.

In some cases, nursing professionals have been unable to do their jobs effectively due to the negative environment in which they work. So, what can you do as a travel nurse to help prevent and deal with bullying while on assignment?

How to deal with it

First, you should know that bullying is never acceptable and once our office is made aware we will act on the information and attempt to turn the situation around for our nurses. But there are a few things you can do to try and tamp down potential bullying the first of which is evaluating the situation. We as nurses are dab hands at assessment so pull in some of those well-honed skills and apply them to your immediate environment. Look at it from an objective point of view and try to point out some of the positives on the unit, steering away from anything negative. Remember, you’re there to just help them out and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fix the problems the hospital or unit has during your assignment. When the bully acts out:

  • Report it – follow the chain of command; so, start with the charge nurse (unless the charge is the problem) and move on up the ladder.
  • Document, document, document. We all know as nurses that if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen. Make sure your agency gets copies of everything so they have the information they need if they need to intervene. Whoever has the longest paper trail will always win.
  • Check if the facility has a “zero tolerance” policy or if they have created any guidelines for dealing with it
  • Also, check if there are protections in place for you after it’s reported

It’s worth bearing in mind that bullying affects patient care and outcomes so the sooner the issue can be resolved, the safer your patients will be. For their sake, don’t ignore it.

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