Nursing Student Says Mistreatment Led Her to Withdraw From School

By | 2021-06-07T15:35:23-04:00 May 11th, 2021|9 Comments

A nursing student sent me an email in which she expressed concern about withdrawing from school. The student said she attended a private BSN program and that the withdrawal was not due to academic issues.

Rather, according to the nursing student, the withdrawal was prompted by the school and its faculty constantly “being hostile” toward her and saying she somehow “violated their code of ethics.”

She also said she felt bullied into withdrawing from school and wanted to know what she should do to complete her goal of obtaining a BSN.

The student did not specifically identify how the school and the nursing faculty were hostile to her. Nor did she share details about their purported bullying or their bias.

The student did indicate that her violation of the nursing program’s code of ethics was “charting based” during a clinical rotation.

Incivility in Nursing Education

Although it is unclear if this student’s interpretations of her experiences are accurate, research shows that bullying and other forms of incivility in nursing education programs does exist.

In academia, incivility can be seen as conduct that causes a disruption in the learning environment. Faculty themselves can display behaviors that result in a nursing student’s perception of incivility.

According to research, nursing students found belittling, taunting, intimidation, humiliation, and use of sarcasm or profanity by faculty to be displays of uncivil behavior.

Students who are on the receiving end of this kind of conduct reported psychological and physiological symptoms, including anger, depression, anxiety, and feeling dehumanized, which can be a major cause of nursing student attrition.

What Does Withdrawing From School Entail?

It is hoped that the nursing student followed the nursing program’s withdrawal requirements spelled out in the program’s handbook.

These mandates would include notifying the appropriate administrator (e.g., dean of the nursing program, dean of students), participating in an exit interview, discussing reinstatement procedures and, if applicable, seeking help from the Financial Aid office in order to obtain any refund due.

The next step would be to consult with an attorney to determine what legal options the student might have because of the incivility she experienced.

Because the nursing program is a private one, the student has only those rights listed in the student and college handbook. If the nursing program’s handling of the situation was arbitrary, capricious, or discriminatory a lawsuit might be possible.

The purpose of the lawsuit would be for the student to be reinstated into the program.

A lawsuit would need to be supported by actual facts and specific details of how the school and the nursing faculty’s conduct contributed to her “involuntary” withdrawal. Mere accusations will not be enough.

The student also will want to provide copies of the nursing program student handbook and the college’s handbook to the attorney in order to review what policies and procedures apply to withdrawing from school.

She also should review the consequences of violating the adopted code of ethics. How is a violation handled? Were the provisions applied to this student? If not, why?

Keep in mind that the student withdrew from her program; she was not dismissed. The attorney may be able to argue withdrawing from school was not voluntary — that she was treated so badly she had no choice but to withdraw.

One of the possible strong points of her withdrawal is that if the student’s “charting error” was a violation of the program’s code of ethics, were there options spelled out in the handbooks that could help address this error such as a remedial course in charting?

In her email, the nursing student asked if reinstatement into the nursing program is possible and wise. Other issues surround any reinstatement as well. Is there a time frame required before reinstatement can take place? Under what circumstances can reinstatement occur?

Perhaps a better option for this student is to apply to another nursing program. However, she may lose time and credits and experience other setbacks.

Had the student sought legal advice before withdrawing from school, the end result might have been more positive. For example, a negotiated solution with the school might have been possible.

Whatever the situation, a student should utilize all available resources for advice and direction — including a consultation with a nurse attorney or attorney who represents students in higher education — before taking action.

Find a nursing education program suited to your needs with our Higher Education Guide.



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About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.


  1. Avatar
    Matilda May 23, 2021 at 10:57 am - Reply

    For me I taught bullying in nursing school is part of the program and I personally have seen countless people withdraw from the program.It really exist.

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    Crystal Hempel May 23, 2021 at 11:18 am - Reply

    I was bullied by staff in nursing school 20 years ago. Put in a corner of an office and berated by 2 staff for over an hour. They threatened to have me dismissed from the program but had no evidence of my alleged misconduct.
    My grades were fantastic. I was a great student. But if I didn’t “get in line” they were going to make my life miserable.
    I decided I wasn’t going to let others push me into a decision to leave. I stayed away from those facility members put my head down and did my work.
    Nursing school was awful. It was disorganized, really hard and I hated it.
    But I absolutely love nursing. I love my career. And I’m glad I stuck it out.

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    Susan Smyth May 23, 2021 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Good article. I left teaching at a nursing school due to witnessing bullying and behind the scenes sarcasm and targeting students. The staff insinuated that high test failure was related to students stupidity where I found it related to poor teaching and tricky ambiguous test questions. I left first in 2010 for this reason snd retuned 2017 hoping for a better environment. Not only was their no change but bullying toward me in many ways. A change is needed.
    Thank you.

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    Amber C May 28, 2021 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    I went through the same bullying and harassment and racial discrimination in at least three school. I’m at the point we’re I’m pursing other careers. After 27 years of trying it makes no sense to keep paying into a system that supports bullying. There should be zero tolerance fit this behavior. If it’s taught in the schools what do you think is occurring in the workplace. The board of nursing suggests I get a psychological evaluation and anger management for reporting sexual harassment by another women nurse manager and a teacher at a RN program.The retaliation for making a complaint is real. Bullying is real in healthcare and sexual harassment women on women is really high. No one to turn too. 27 years I’ve dedicated myself to my career and no issues in 7 states. This state follows up foolishness and doesn’t hear the cry of nurses or nursing students. I was called nigger on a regular basis by residents in a mostly white area.

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    Jenny June 16, 2021 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this article; I graduated in 2020 from Nursing School and experienced a lot of the same things you wrote about. They say nurses eat their young; I found the instructors are far worse. They hold their authority of pass/fail over your head, any mistake and you are gone; it is a not an environment in which learning is fostered. It is an environment of perfectionism or you are out. I witnessed more than one student drop out because of the bullying. Since having a FT job as an RN; the hospital education staff and preceptors have been gentle, patient and kind. It is totally different environment to learn.

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    Debra Tiller July 11, 2021 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    Yes they do bully. Be very careful as a nurse because I witnessed other older staff doing wrong and wanting you to do the same. They will plants narcotics in the cart. They will sabotage machines that you need to perform you job in hopes of you doing the same as them. They will set you up by making you day a living hell with difficult patient to divert you attention, so they can sneak thing in on you especially at shift change. They will leave on emergency 1 minute before med pass and you end up doing the med pass because of staffing issues. Please what ever you do don’t report off campus because you will be hung out to dry and made appear to be crazy. They will make you and your family life a living hell. After reporting my 80 some year old mother almost got her social security check stopped. Their watchdog system attack reporters in ever aspect of their life.

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    Ahaba September 13, 2021 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    I am a 52 year old female who recently left a private BSN nursing program due to rampant incivility originating from faculty and admin.

    For context, for the past thirty years I have owned medical practices, am a partner in an ASC and am married to a physician. am the mother of five children and I withdrew with a 3.8 gpa.

    In my experiences, nursing instructors are vapid,, petty and poorly educated people who struggle with the materials they teach. This is especially true in relation to nursing math. I was appalled to witness and experience the rampant, lateral bullying and academic ineptness of those who have committed their lives to advocating for others. It’s a sick, sick culture.

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    Debbie January 16, 2022 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    This makes me sad but I’m not surprised. I have been an RN for over 30 years. I worked in surgery and was well regarded by my peers, physicians, and management. I never imagined this could have happened to me, but it did. I never saw it coming. I job shared a supervisor role with another RN. Apparently, she hated me. Over the course of 2 years, she launched a campaign against me and before I knew it, I was fighting for my job. Luckily I was able to escape to another position outside of that facility but the scars remained. I still continue to have nightmares, anxiety, and I can no longer speak in front of a group. It wasn’t until I researched nurse bullying, that I realized I wasn’t alone. I speak up now when I see any signs of it against nurse. I wish everyone would. They say to report this to your manager but the managers are involved too. It’s horrible. The only thing that can be done is to find another job as quickly as possible.

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    Inge Halliday April 13, 2022 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Hi- Thank you for writing your experience. I have had a similar experience in my last semester. I am now filing a lawsuit against my public university. Please email me if you want. I am trying to find people similar to me to try to make this absurdity end.

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