A charge nurse is verbally abusive and lazy. Is there anything I can or should do?

By | 2022-02-08T14:46:55-05:00 January 7th, 2009|0 Comments


Dear Nancy,

I currently work as an agency nurse at a few different hospitals. During a shift on a medical/surgical unit this last summer, I worked with a charge nurse whom I would characterize as a bully. Generally, he would hide in a corner behind a partition, avoiding patient care, chatting people up on the phone, or surfing the Internet. In order to avoid a patient load, he would typically give the other nurses eight to 10 patients each. A couple of times he gave me 11 patients. Though I had an LPN to pass my medication, I still felt this was an unsafe patient load (less than an hour to assess, provide care, and document each patient). One day he came to me two hours before the end of my shift and demanded I admit one more patient. I already had 10 and was drowning in the workload. I firmly refused. He threw the paperwork across the nurse’s station and then turned on another nurse and yelled at her for being disorganized.

The following day, while I was in a room just off the nurses station, he called the nursing supervisor stating he looked everywhere for me and accused me of patient abandonment. The hospital notified the police and initiated a search for me. Even when he saw me, he did not correct his accusation. Fortunately, I had witnesses to validate I never left the nursing unit. I did a formal write up and cited witnesses. He refused to write up his point of view and encouraged me to let it go and not bother writing anything up. I turned my write up in the next day, giving copies to the unit nurse manager and the hospital nurse supervisor. Then I notified the hospital that I would not be willing to work with that RN again and why (the nurse manager and the staff scheduler). The hospital supervisor told me that his complaint is invalid because he refused to write it up and even if he did, my write up and witnesses checked out.

I continue to feel like there was more I should have done, but I can’t think of anything. That RN is still there working as charge nurse, and I have heard that he continues to be verbally abusive and lazy. Is there anything else I can or should do?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Davida,

The experienced described in your question is an unfortunate one and one that probably happens to many nurses during their careers. You were right to challenge this situation and to ask that you not work with this person again. The fact that he is still conducting himself in the manner he does at the same facility does not speak well for the employer. Additionally, the nurses who still have to work with him are not faring well.

It would be important for you to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can advise you about how to handle your complaint against this individual. For example, the state nurse practice act and/or rules may support a reporting to the state board of nursing for unprofessional conduct or another disciplinary ground. The board may require him to take an anger management course or, if an underlying emotional or physical disorder is at the root of this behavior, the board may require appropriate treatment.

It will be important for you to be honest with the attorney and share any documents you filed with the employer surrounding this incident. If other nurses are willing to submit statements to the board, this would be helpful. It is quite probable that the only way a change in his behavior will occur is if the employer intervenes in some way (does not seem likely, based on your question) or the board takes appropriate action based on the nurse practice and/or rules.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.


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