Nurse bullying and so-called "horizontal violence" are rampant in our profession. Nurses bully and harass one another, using intimidation and other tactics as they jockey for power in a healthcare system that does not proactively attempt to prevent such disruptive behavior.

Yes, we hear tales of physicians intimidating and bullying nurses, but we also hear numerous examples of nurses treating one another with utter disrespect and a true lack of kindness. Sadly, new nurses enter the profession already understanding that nurses "eat their young," thus the expectation that we will likely be bullied or harassed on the job is instilled in us from the beginning. And that is a sad state of affairs, indeed.

Is horizontal violence really so effective? Does bullying do anything for our collective self-esteem and professional standing? Are nurses so oppressed that we see no other recourse but to take our frustrations out on one another?

Radical paradigm shift

Under the umbrella of the nursing profession, wouldn't it be radical if the culture of "horizontal violence" was replaced by a culture of "horizontal kindness"? What if a professional paradigm shift occurred wherein nurses realized that being kind to one another was actually the most effective way to move the industry forward in the 21st century?

What if new nurses entered the profession, fully embraced by more experienced colleagues who recognized that nurturing our newest brothers and sisters was actually in our collective best interests? What would happen if nurses applied their individual and collective compassion towards one another, and not just towards their patients?

How would these types of changes impact the internal culture of our healthcare institutions? What would such a shift mean vis-à-vis statistics about nurse burnout and compassion fatigue?

Radical compassion

Many religious and faith leaders call for their congregations and communities to engage in acts of compassion as part of a spiritually empowered lifestyle. Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and loving those who are without love are acts that can themselves transform society — or at least provide us with an opportunity for self-transformation.

Even for nurses who are not themselves religious or spiritually inclined, aren't we also imbued with the notion that nursing is really about compassion? And if we can cultivate such deep and abiding compassion for our patients, wouldn't it be radical to actually cultivate it for ourselves, and for the other nurses and healthcare professionals with whom we work?

Nurses certainly engage in plenty of compassionate actions, from volunteering for numerous causes to comforting the sick and dying while at work. We give enormously to our patients, whether through hands-on nursing care, bedside counseling or the many other actions involved in the delivery of holistic, patient-centered nursing care.

Take into consideration what we do for others as a natural aspect of being nurturing, caring professionals. Are nurses capable of turning that compassion on one another, translating nursing care from the act of caring for patients to the act of caring for each other with equal fervor and dedication?

Turning the tables

Whether it be internalized oppression or some other societally-induced belief system that pits nurses against one another, perhaps the time has come for nurses to realize that how we treat one another is actually a true and accurate measure of our worth.

Nurses indeed must take the bull by the horns, educate themselves and assume positions of leadership by setting the example for others. If a wave of self-compassion — along with compassion for other nurses — was to sweep the profession and take it by storm, there is no telling what level of transformation could be fomented by such a powerful and positive movement.

So, nurses, it all begins with you, from the newest nurse to the most seasoned nurse leader.

Consider the notion of radical compassion for both your patients and your colleagues. Then consider how transforming "horizontal violence" into "horizontal kindness" could utterly transform your career, your profession and the healthcare system at large.