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Making an Impact Through Conflict Resolution in Nursing

  • Unresolved conflict among healthcare team members doesn’t just affect them, it also affects their patients.
  • There are many proven, succesful conflict resolution strategies out there that can help to alleviate the tension among employees.
  • Check out Nursing CE Central to learn more about the impacts of conflict resolution in nursing!
Morgan Curry, RN/BSN

Morgan Curry, BSN / RN

Intensive Care, Outpatient Surgery, Aesthetics, Education, and Nursing Leadership

July 16, 2021
Simmons University


Are you a nurse that has dealt with conflict in your workplace? Of course you have.  

Conflict is everywhere in life; however, conflict in nursing can be multifaceted. 

It may come from co-workers, management, physicians, or maybe even patients.  

When considering that nursing is a one of many professional occupations in healthcare, you might assume that conflict would be absent.  

Well, think again.  

Conflict resolution in nursing should be at the center of leadership and management, as it is imperative for positive patient outcomes to have a healthy interdisciplinary team dynamic.  

Ineffective, unaddressed, or improperly managed conflict resolution in nursing affects everyone 

How Bad is Nursing Conflict?

There are various types of conflict and potential disagreements that can arise in your workplace.  

The most common types of nursing conflict are 

1. Nurse bullying  

An NIH survey evaluating the prevalence of conflict in the nursing profession determined that roughly 60% of respondents experience workplace bullying; 26% claimed the bullying was ‘severe.’ 

Have you heard of the term “nurses eat their young?”  

I was one of those nurses. 

Did it make me stronger? Yes, but in the moment, it felt like it was doing the complete opposite. 

This type of behavior is toxic and belittling and can contribute to decreased self-esteem and burnout that is so prevalent in the profession.  

2. Nurse-to-Physician

Whether the nurse and physician disagree on a specific treatment plan for a patient, or there is an issue with how they communicate to each other, this is one of the most prevalent forms of conflict in nursing that often goes unresolved.  

As a nurse, have you ever had conflict with a physician? 

Evidently, the need for effective conflict resolution is urgent, as it is a major contributor the global nursing shortage. 

3. Nurse-to-Nurse Manager

Most of the conflict experienced between the staff nurse and manager is associated with a lack of organizational support from leadership as well as poor communication.  

Conflict resolution in nursing between the staff and management is a must in order to provide quality patient care, maintain healthy team dynamics, and decrease burnout.  

Who Does It Impact?

If you want the short answer, ineffective, unaddressed, or improperly managed conflict resolution in nursing affects everyone 

The journal of excellence in nursing leadership, Nursing Management, highlights various patient outcomes that can occur from poor conflict resolution in nursing. These include,  

  • Medication errors 
  • I.V. errors 
  • Patient falls 
  • Reduced quality and efficacy of care

Following, without conflict resolution in the workplace, healthcare facilities can experience, 

  • Nursing burnout 
  • High turnover, leading to staffing crises 
  • Poor quality of care delivered


What Can We Do About It?

No matter your role, everyone can begin working toward effective conflict resolution in nursing.  

Champlain College outlines five key components anyone can utilize for purposeful, sustainable, and impactful conflict resolution in nursing, check them out: 

  1. Don’t ignore the conflict. 
  2. Clarify what the issue is. 
  3. Bring involved parties together to talk. 
  4. Identify a solution. 
  5. Continue to monitor and follow up on conflict. 

Effective conflict resolution and management requires clear communication techniques and an ability to understand the other party/parties involved.  

On top of this, it’s important to remember that your attitude is everything. 

Before entering a conflict resolution-centered conversation, you should try to understand each party’s side of the story prior to developing your own judgements or potential solutions; remaining calm and positive-minded is also recommended.  

Of course, just because you notice conflict occurring does not imply that you must become the moderator; some issues are simply out of your control and above your pay scale. 

In these cases, you should report the conflict to someone of authority.  

At the end of the day, we are all human beings, and we will make mistakes, say things at the wrong place or time, and disagree with each other; it is part of our nature. 

As healthcare professionals, we should try our best to address, continuously work to improve, and hold each other accountable for optimal success of conflict resolution in nursing.

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