Nurse Expert Advice: How To Deal With Doctors Who Bully
By Lee Nelson
Nick Angelis, C.R.N.A., and M.S.N., is the author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School (and RN, PA or Med School) and co-owner of the Florida-based BEHAVE Wellness, which trains individuals and corporations about bully prevention.
Angelis has run into his fair share of bullies at work - both, doctors and nurses. Over the years, he's learned to quickly de-escalate awkward situations with his eccentric and outgoing personality.
He frequently attends an improvisation group to help him with effective communication techniques, “I work with an improvisation group, and I do a lot of writing and acting. People bully those who they think will cower. I use my eccentric personality as a tool to prevent bullying” he says.
What is considered inappropriate behavior?
As a nurse, Angelis has seen his fair share of doctors act out – bully, throw things, and even get in people’s faces. Overall, they make the workplace miserable for others.
Getting a clear understanding of what exactly is considered inappropriate behavior is the first step to taking action towards a difficult doctor.
According to Jacksonville, Fla., University, disruptive behavior from a physician can encompass abusive, demeaning or profane language; rage or violent behavior such as throwing objects and physical abuse; insulting or disrespectful comments to or about staff, patients or families; inappropriate sexual comments or touching; repeated failure to respond to calls; and failure to take recommended corrective action.
What should you do if you feel unsafe? If you do feel unsafe with a doctor, Angelis says that most hospitals have policies in place for such situations.
“If you go to your boss or the human resource department and say, ‘I don’t feel safe right now,’ or ‘this is a toxic environment,’ usually management will pounce on it right away,” he says.
When should you report inappropriate behavior?
“Nurses are masters at hiding their true feelings,” Angelis says. It’s important to trust your instincts, “when something doesn’t feel right, perhaps, you feel like you are ‘walking on eggshells’ around a certain doctor - it’s time to say something.”
As far as action steps, Angeles says that attempting to handle the situation on your own, directly with the doctor, should be your first step. “Stand up for yourself and explain what that person did to you. If things don’t change, then go talk to a superior.”
Here are some tips to help your situation with a bad behaving doctor:
Try to get along
The end goal is to have a better workplace, Angelis says.
You won’t get along with everyone at work, and that’s OK –“if you can, it’s important to try to put your differences aside. We can’t always be ‘right’ 100% of the time. But, we can definitely control how we react to certain situations.”
However, we collectively should have a zero tolerance for bullying and confront it when it occurs. Oftentimes, people just hope that the bullying stops or simply ‘goes away’ - it usually gets worse. Together, we can change that.
Find another job
If you’ve exhausted all efforts to stop the inappropriate behavior and it still continues - “frankly, it’s time to find a new job,” says Angelis. You’ll likely have an ‘exit interview’ and this is your final chance to address the inappropriate behavior, let Administration know that the bully is the reason why you are leaving. This can be hard to do but, in the long run, you’ll help other nurses.
Take control of the conversation
In Angelis’ professional conversations he often uses flippancy, apathy or goofiness. It has worked for him. It could work for you, too!
An example of this approach was when he encountered a “ranting and raving doctor.” Angelis directly confronted the doctors and stated, “this isn’t as a big of a deal as you think it is.” He felt that the doctor was overreacting, so he said it. The doctor realized that he was worrying unnecessarily.
Network with other nurses
Get the inside scoop on prospective employers from nurses who work there. Find out if bullying is a problem at the facility. Compare the rumors and opinions of several people to get closer to the truth.
Know and use your strengths
Angeles has a strong sense of humor, he uses this to his advantage. “I have a great sense of humor and an absent sense of drama,” he explains. “I find fun in situations that others would find dreary or stressful, and I don’t get offended easily.”
This combination allows him to work long hours in difficult situations even after his peers are burned out or discouraged.
However, if you know you’re not as ‘carefree’ as Angelis it’s important to mentally prepare for a constantly shifting work environment. Sometimes, in stressful situations, it’s easy to misinterpret the behavior of our coworkers.
Say something unorthodox
Angelis likes to “think outside the box” when people start acting “weird.” In a tense situation (that is not so serious) he may say something totally random like, “cheetahs can only charge at 65 mph for about a quarter mile, but the key is in the flexibility of their spine.”
Changing the topic has worked in Angelis’s favor. He has a keen ability to shift total conversations from negative to positive simply by using a little humor. Most people just leave him alone.
Realize even nice people get unhinged
Doctors have bad days, too, and sometimes, those stresses make them say and do things they might not mean – just like everyone else. It’s important to realize when someone acted out irrationally and to identify if they’re behavior was a one-time occurrence. Monitor them. Keep your guard up. But, don’t hold grudges.
On the contrary, you can’t force good behavior - if someone doesn’t want to change.
Bottom line, know your value. You are valuable. You matter. No one can make you feel inferior without your permission and you have the power to change your circumstances. There is no place for bullying within the healthcare industry.
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