36. EXPERT TIP #11: Nurse 😠BULLYING 😠 and what to do about it! With Nursing Professor Kimberly Probus, founder of Nurses Helping Nursing Students Facebook Group.

Welcome to Episode 36 of Navigating Nursing School with Your Nursing Tutor. Today, you’ll be hearing from Nursing Professor Kimberly Probus, who will tell you exactly what steps to take when dealing with a nurse bully, which is unfortunately something you’re probably going to face at some point in your nursing career, possibly even while you’re still in nursing school. She’ll also share what you need to be proactively doing now to PREPARE for a possible bullying situation in the future. 

But before Professor Kimberly shares her tip, I wanted to let you know that this is the eleventh in a series of expert tips for new nursing students. So subscribe to the podcast to get notified when each new tip becomes available, and be sure to go back and listen to the beginning of this series, starting at episode 26, so that you don’t miss any of the other expert tips for new nursing students.

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FIRST EXPERT TIP #1 – Start at the beginning

NEXT EXPERT TIP #12 – Tired of 👺disprespectful👺 nursing collegues making you 😡 angry?

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Links from Episode 36:

“Nurses Helping Nursing Students” Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1589517461110894

LIVE Tutoring Membership: www.YourNursingTutor.com/VIP

Transcript for Episode 36

I also wanted to mention that any links or resources that I share today, including how to connect with Professor Kimberly outside of the Navigating Nursing School podcast, can be found on the show notes page for this episode at www.YourNursingTutor.com/episode36

By the way, if you don’t already know me, my name is Nicole Whitworth, and I’m a Registered Nurse who failed my very first nursing school quiz in an Accelerated 2nd Degree Bachelors Program…then went on to discover a BETTER way to study so that it would NEVER happen again. And it didn’t…in fact, I did so well that my school hired me as their official nursing school tutor by the end of that very same semester. 

It’s been a loooong time since I graduated with my BSN, and I’ve worked in several different nursing roles in the meantime. But I always wanted to return to my first love, which is tutoring, mentoring, and supporting the next generation of nurses…YOU! 

Now I’ve been a professional nursing tutor for over 12+ years. I’m the founder of Your Nursing Tutor, which features the VIP Tutoring Membership, and I specialize in training nursing students to study in a way that teaches you to think like a nurse WHILE you’re still in nursing school, and to do it in a way that doesn’t require you to put your entire life on hold until graduation. 

Now it’s time to introduce you to my guest expert for today, Professor Kimberly Probus. Get ready for THIS impressive resume, because Kimberly is a part-time professor, advisory board member to THREE different schools of nursing, and is also a full-time student working on her second doctorate. As if that wasn’t enough, her “day job” is working as a healthcare executive, and she’s been a Nurse for 27 years, with an impressive list of credentials behind her name, as you can imagine.

Back in 2017, Kimberly started a small Facebook group with her nursing friends as a way to give back to the nursing community, by providing a safe environment for nurses and nursing students to get homework help, general support, study tips, and celebrate their successes. Since then, her “Nurses Helping Nursing Students” Facebook Group has exploded into a thriving community of over 47,000 members.

Here is Professor Kimberly’s tip for you today:

“Hey, it’s Professor Kimberly from “Nurses Helping Nursing Students”. 

I wanted to give you some tips on how to handle nurse bullies. And first and foremost, you absolutely must understand why it happens so that you can respond effectively. 

Secondly, you need to make sure that you examine yourself for anything that is causing this reaction towards you. Once you’ve done those things, here’s my recommendations on how to handle this. 

Speak softly to de-escalate the situation. Be confident and tell the person exactly what you feel. Explain in as few words as possible that you won’t tolerate it and why. 

For passive aggressive behavior, recognize it and call it out. Don’t ever confuse these people for your friends who just want the best for you. They’re competitive towards you, and they’re relying on your naivety. 

So for example, you might say, “I know you say you just want me to be a better nurse, but your criticism is a passive aggressive dialogue that’s not helpful. Could you be specific about what you think I should be doing, or what gave you the impression that I’m not going to be successful?” 

Or for passive aggressive behavior, you can say, “I always heard nurses eat their young, but I didn’t understand it until right now. Thank you for teaching me something new.” 

See? Both examples are kind enough that you won’t be considered wrong for your response. 

Maybe the years of stress and repeated abuse for themselves is the reason, but maybe they’re just wired to be competitive, or maybe they’re just asshats. Either way, whatever their contributing factors, don’t allow them to make you less so that they can feel bigger. 

If all else fails, go to administration and get a copy of the violence policy. Make an informed complaint. The Joint Commission, CMS and all the other regulatory authorities demand that we have these policies and there’s a national movement on health care workforce violence. 

Stand up for yourselves, and the ones who come behind you.”

Thank you, Professor Kimberly, for your guidance on how to handle nurse bullies. It’s sad that we need that kind of guidance, but good to have it since it is the unfortunate reality of nursing. 

Now I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own about Professor Kimberly’s tip that she shared today. 

First off, what does nurse bullying look like? You need to know what it is, even as a student, in order to be equipped to recognize it and address it. Sometimes it can be subtle, or even passive aggressive as Professor Kimberly correctly stated. And often they will try to normalize their behavior to make YOU feel like the “crazy” one for thinking that there is a problem with the situation. 

Nurse bullying can happen anywhere that there are nurses. But as an online professional nursing tutor, I have been in the unique position of hearing from many nursing students AND educators from all over the world. And so I have heard many surprising bullying stories related to nursing school from both sides of the fence.

Which is why I think it’s really important to pay attention to Professor Kimberly’s advice so that you can understand why bullying happens. Because understanding the root causes that create a bullying situation can allow you to be BOTH more compassionate with the bully, as well as making it easier to deal effectively with the situation. 

I know that for me, personally, being able to intimately examine someone’s background and history has definitely helped me to understand the complex problem of nurse bullying by identifying it for what it really is…and that is complicated

For example, it’s easy for nursing students to complain that their professor is not helping them enough, or not teaching the way they think they should be teaching. In fact, sometimes this even leads to nursing students feeling justified to bully their professors! This can happen through rude comments, such as, “I pay your salary!”, or even the simple expectation that your professor should be available to answer all of your questions 24/7.

But the bullying can commonly go the other way, as well, with professors treating their students quite disrespectfully. Recently, I saw a post in a Facebook Group about a student who’s professor was making belittling comments to the entire class about whether any of them were “smart enough” for nursing school…among other rude, confidence-shaking remarks.

And there were hundreds of comment responses with nursing students sharing all the disparaging and discouraging comments that their own nursing professors routinely made towards themselves and their classmates. 

It was really sad. And it encourages that downward spiral where the students will be rude right back.

I’m not insinuated that this negative cycle always starts on one side or the other…like I said, it’s complicated! But stil very inappropriate, and I’m so glad that we have nurses like Professor Kimberly out there actively raising awareness and helping to break the cycle. 

But change takes time, and IN the meantime, it’s an unfortunate truth that for many nursing programs, some level of bullying is still the norm. When you’re a student stuck in a negative cycle situation like this, it can be hard to know what to do…but I can promise you that Professor Kimberly’s advice holds true.

So if you find yourself in a situation as a new nursing student where your professor seems to be engaging in some bullying behaviors, the first thing to always do is consider WHY your professor might be acting that way and fulfilling the stereotype of “nurses who eat their young”. 

While it’s tempting to just throw up your hands and assume that they’re “asshats”, I’m pretty sure that’s not what Professor Kimberly intended to be used as the primary explanation in most cases of bullying. And I can confidently say that it’s generally not true of professors, either…usually there’s a more involved explanation for their bullying behavior. Namely, that they have endured years of stress and repeated abuse for themselves, both from nursing peers AND sometimes students as well. 

It really has been interesting in my role as a tutor, because I am truly a bridge between the 2 worlds of students and professors, which gives me a unique perspective on the frustrations and challenges present for both sides. 

On the one hand, Professors often have to deal with being expected to work too many hours for not enough pay. In fact, they almost always take a significant pay CUT to leave the bedside and work at a college. It’s stressful, and sadly they may be dealing with nurse bullying from within the nursing department, too. 

In fact, one new professor I talked with shared how her Dean of Nursing tasked her with organizing a community project for her new nursing class. When the new professor had trouble planning the project in a timely manner, the Dean of Nursing took over the project, insinuating that the new professor was incompetent…but this professor later discovered that her Dean had intentionally withheld an important document that had been used to plan the previous year’s project. 

If she had had access to that document from the beginning, she would have had all the information she needed to successfully plan the project in a timely manner. But she didn’t, and then was basically humiliated on purpose as a result. I mean, that’s a horrible thing to do! But she quickly discovered that it was pretty normal and accepted behavior at that particular school. It’s a perfect example of how bullies will try to make you feel like less, so that they can feel bigger, as Professor Kimberly pointed out. 

Although that particular professor was not sure how to deal with the bullying when it occurred, she DID respect herself way too much to continue teaching there for much longer once she realized that was normal behavior for her school. Soon after, she moved on to bigger and better things.

But in addition to dealing with their own bullying situations, professors often have the additional frustration of not knowing how to help YOU as a nursing student. Because nursing classes are often set up to emphasize all the FACTS you need to know…but then you end up being tested on how to think about those facts, because that’s what NCLEX ultimately tests you on, too! And this creates a HUGE disconnect between the way you study, and the way you are evaluated, which is the number 1 reason why you can study for hours and hours on end, without seeing any improvement in your exam grades. 

And when you already feel insecure about having borderline grades, it can be extra challenging to respectfully confront a nursing professor about her bullying behaviors because you may be concerned about potential backlash if the conversation doesn’t go well.

And this actually reminds me of a time when I experienced something that could have progressed into nurse bullying, but luckily we were able to use some of Professor Kimberly’s tips, and ended up with a positive outcome because of it.

Back when I was still in nursing school, and had been hired as the official nursing tutor for my program, I obviously felt very secure with my grades by that point. That really gave me a lot of confidence to respectfully speak up when I saw things going on in the program that didn’t seem right. My classmates would see the same things, but be too hesitant to say anything to the faculty because their grades weren’t as strong, and they were afraid of potential backlash. Which is a really sad state of affairs, but there we were, and I’m not saying that any of the faculty actually would have “gotten revenge” for a student speaking up, but you can probably get an idea of the climate of my program just by the fact that some of the students were afraid it could happen. 

In any case, I became the de facto spokesperson for my co-hort because I wasn’t afraid to speak up respectfully, and address concerns head on when I saw them. And I actually DID think it through at the time, and decided that if there WAS going to be any backlash, my grades were strong enough to take it and I would still be able to pass. And if the backlash DID occur, and happened to be bad enough that it actually caused me to fail…well, let’s just say that my grades gave me a strong enough track record that I also felt confident I could make a convincing argument to “correct” any grading backlash if that unlikely situation were to happen. It never did, I can honestly say I never experienced any grading backlash, but it was definitely something I had proactively thought about, just in case, and weighed the risks before speaking up about things. But I found that generally, whenever I approached issues calmly and head-on, just like Professor Kimberly advised, I was almost always well-received and able to reach some sort of compromise. So I had already built up a reputation for myself as an advocate in my nursing program, in addition to being the official tutor. 

And I want to add in here real quick…if you are in a position where you WISH that you could be more of an advocate, maybe you see some things going on at your school that are not right or not fair, but you’re afraid to speak up because your grades are borderline and you can’t risk any grading backlash, then I’d really encourage you to join my VIP Tutoring Membership. Not only can I show you the exact study strategy I used to put myself in a strong position with my nursing school grades, but I’ve also gone on to train countless other nursing students to successfully use it, as well. And I can also serve as a mentor to you, to help you evaluate if what you’re experiencing really IS bullying, and what you can do about it as a nursing student. Or even if it’s not bullying per se, but just a situation where you want to do a better job of advocating both for yourself AND your classmates.

So whether you’re in that situation right now, or even if you just think it would be nice not to have to worry about borderline grades anymore, then please sign-up for the free trial of my VIP Tutoring Membership at www.YourNursingTutor.com/VIP. At the time of this recording, you can even upgrade and get an optional 30-minute, 1:1 Tutoring Evaluation with me via Zoom, which is perfect if you need a little extra, personal help on figuring out how you can quickly improve, OR getting focused guidance about your specific nursing school situation. 

In any case, I already had a reputation as an advocate in my nursing program, in addition to being the official tutor. So some of my tutoring students back then were in the ADN program, because my school had both a BSN and an ADN track. Well, they came to me to tell me some things that were going on in their class that didn’t seem fair. Things like exams not being graded properly, but they weren’t being allowed to review their answers to verify they were scored correctly, either. Then there was generally just some poor communication going on, too. And these students were not yet very secure in their grades, so they were too afraid to speak up for themselves to address the problems, and didn’t know what to do. Which is why they came to me to ask for help. 

I ended up making an appointment to speak with the ADN program director on their behalf so that I could express the concerns they had shared with me. During that meeting, I specifically requested that she keep my identity confidential, which she promised me she would do. 

However…a few days later, I was shocked when the nursing professor in question caught me in the hallway and asked to speak to me. She expressed that she knew what happened, and asked why I hadn’t come to talk to her about it first! I was shocked, and didn’t know what to say, since she was not supposed to ever know it was me. But at the same time, I was also grateful for her professional demeanor and respectful way of approaching the conversation. We talked it through, worked it out, and continued to have an excellent professor-student relationship throughout the rest of my time in nursing school.

Now that I’m looking back, it’s possible that she could have approached me thinking that I was bullying her by going “over her head” to make the report…that could definitely have been perceived as passive aggressive, even though it wasn’t my intent. So that’s another good example of why you should always seek to understand the reason behind people’s behaviors, because you would want somebody to be understanding of YOUR reasons, too!

And in this particular situation, I was still a student, so there was definitely a power differential at play here, which is why I chose to report it anonymously instead of talking to the professor directly. I knew first-hand from other experiences that this professor had a habit of doing ALL the things she was being accused of by her ADN students, but I also knew she wasn’t intentionally being mean…she was simply overloaded with work, and frustrated with technology. Because, you know, I’m so old, that nursing exams on the computer were still kind of a new thing back then. So I genuinely didn’t want to get her in trouble, but at the same time, I recognized that these habits were causing unnecessary anxiety for her students, and possibly interfering with their grades, too. 

But I have always wondered if I may have unknowingly been the victim of a bullying act by the director of the ADN program, or if her revealing my identity was an honest mistake…because as it turned out, the professor in question had been told that a complaint about her had been made by an “anonymous tutor”…and I was the ONLY tutor!! So that kind of narrowed it down for her, and that’s how she knew it was me. 

In any case, I want to thank Professor Kimberly for sharing her expertise about how to handle nurse bullies. She is a wealth of information on this topic, and actually found it quite difficult to shorten all of her expertise into a short tip for this episode! So if you’d like to connect with her and find more resources for how to deal with nurse bullies, then I highly encourage you to join her Facebook Group, “Nurses Helping Nursing Students”.

Now as I mentioned earlier, Professor Kimberly’s tip is the eleventh in a series of tips for new nursing students from over 2 dozen different experts. On our next episode, Nurse Keith Rischer will share how to effectively deal with disrespectful nursing colleagues so that you don’t end up feeling constantly angry. And remember, you are still a nursing colleague even when you are a student, so this will be a super useful tip you can use to deal with difficult people you encounter in nursing school!

You can hear his tip, along with other essential advice from experienced nurses and nursing students who have been in your shoes (and lived to tell the tale), by subscribing to this podcast to be notified when the next episode in this series goes live. 

And another thing…I work hard to provide valuable, free resources that will help you through nursing school, so could you do a quick favor in return? Would you please take a moment to go to Apple Podcast, and leave a rating and review for the “Navigating Nursing School with Your Nursing Tutor” podcast? It won’t take you long, and would mean so much to me…in fact, you might even get a “shout out” on a future podcast episode if you do!

And remember…if you would like me to personally assess your current nursing school situation so that you can confidently know what to do next to be more successful in nursing school, then hurry up and book a private, 1:1 tutoring assessment with me! 

I used to charge $75 to do these tutoring assessments with students…but at the time of this recording, I am offering them for only $30 when you join the free trial of the VIP Tutoring Membership. 

During our live, 1 on 1 Tutoring Assessment, we can troubleshoot your biggest problem in nursing school, clear away the overwhelm, and identify exactly what you need to do to achieve success. At the end of our meeting, you’ll have a clear, step-by-step plan of action for what to do next, as well as the accountability and ongoing support provided from the VIP Tutoring Membership to make sure that you have the resources you need to follow through. 

Take the mystery out of nursing school, and stop wondering if you’re doing the right things you need to do for success, or if you’re only spinning your wheels and wasting your time. Join the VIP Tutoring Membership today at www.YourNursingTutor.com/vip, and you’ll be confidently thinking like a nurse before you know it. 

Until next time, good luck on your nursing journey!

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