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AORN Blog - The Periop Life

Bullying in the OR: 3 Signs to Look For


Nurse Bullying

January 26, 2020 

Patterns of incivility are too often accepted in perioperative care.

Left unchecked, incivility among perioperative colleagues can lead to bullying, causing physical and psychological damage that can force a nurse to change jobs or leave the profession, according to Brenda Burk, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CSSM, CNOR, director of perioperative services at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville, NC.

Patient care can also be impacted because bullying often leads to a revolving door of staff, resulting in staffing shortages. Bullying in the OR can shake a nurse’s confidence, Burk shares. “When you are being picked on or berated, you may become so scared to make a mistake and get yelled at that you make a mistake and the patient is impacted.”

As a victim of this bullying in her nursing career, she decided to study the patterns and effects of incivility in the perioperative practice setting through her master’s degree research. This knowledge has inspired her to empower nurses with the skills to stop bullying and its detrimental effects. 

Know the Signs of Bullying

Because a pattern of incivility can lead to bullying in the OR, the first step in preventing bullying is to acknowledge acts of incivility in your practice setting, Burk says.

She suggests three signs that you are the victim of incivility:

  1. Unfair assignments—Does the charge nurse assign you a much tougher workload, such as orthopedic surgery, on a regular basis?
  2. Sabotage—Did your preceptor purposely omit a key step in a procedure you were training for and then scold you for missing the step in front of the surgeon during a case?
  3. Gossip—Are you the subject of gossip among your perioperative colleagues with unfounded claims, such as not doing your job or as being favored by a surgeon?

“When these common scenarios of incivility become repetitive and deliberate, you are being bullied,” Burk says. If you are the victim of these unkind acts or are even engaging in these harmful behaviors, she recommends educating yourself with strategies to promote more civil professional interactions.

Learn how to stop bullying in your practice setting by attending Burk’s presentation “Hardly Harmless: Incivility is a Precursor to Bullying,” on March 29 at 9:30am at AORN Global Surgical Conference and Expo in Anaheim, CA.

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