Dealing With Mean Nurses

To confront or to avoid? Making the case for going along to get along

Illustration of a nurse with an angry look on her face

Regardless of the career you choose, you are likely to face mean people in the workplace. However, in healthcare, the stakes are much higher. In some occupations, if you have a disagreement with someone, you can walk away and take 10. As a nurse, you don’t usually have this option because a patient’s life or well-being may be on the line.

Mean nurses typically have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and want to be in control of all aspects of the work environment, including other nurses: how they take care of patients, their satisfaction at work and what others think of them.

It can be tempting to hold your ground, point out the issue/unfairness or even run to HR. However, in my experience, the best way to deal with a mean nurse is to acknowledge that life isn’t fair, keep your cool and face their nonsense with as much grace and dignity as you can possibly muster.

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Workplace Strategies

Here are three things I suggest when dealing with a mean nurse:

Don’t Go to War

Nurses working in the same department must be able to work as a team and depend on each other. If you need help and the only nurse available is one you’ve repeatedly clashed with, you’re not likely to get the support you need.

Can a mean nurse make excuses or refuse to help even if you don’t go to war with them? Absolutely, but it’s less likely. From my experience, when you remain kind and professional towards a mean nurse and sincerely ask for help, it’s hard for them to say no. If you make them your enemy, you may find that it’s a different story.

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Be Positive

Keep smiling, remain engaged with others and support your fellow nurses. If there’s a situation between you and a mean nurse that’s constantly affecting patient care and could yield negative patient outcomes, then you have an ethical obligation to address it.

However, if you become withdrawn and downtrodden or insist on telling everyone your side, you may just make it worse. People are far more intuitive than we give them credit for. Eventually, they’ll figure out the truth on their own.

It Gets Easier

I’ve seen nurses of all ages and experience levels deal with conflicts at work. The main difference is that older nurses are often better-equipped to handle these situations because they have usually endured such trials before. With time, you can learn to do the same.

NANCY CONGLETON, RN, is a registered nurse and author of Autopsy of the NP: Dissecting the Nursing Profession Piece by Piece, released in August 2018. Learn more at www.nursenancyrn.com.

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