Why do nurses eat their young?

Why do nurses eat their young?

It is the industry’s dirty little secret: Nurses aren’t always nice to each other. In an environment where teamwork and trust are key for patient safety, this unfriendliness should never be tolerated. But it happens. I have always struggled with the cultural issue in our profession of the way some nurses treat each other. I have witnessed it throughout my career.  I have even been on the receiving end of it. I don’t understand why it exists at all. We need to remember that we all can learn from each other and that no one is perfect. Does it come from entitlement? Jealousy? Self esteem issues? It seems to occur due to perceptions of seniority, skills, talent, and even specialty. But why? It really is a form of bullying and should be stopped.

Early in my career, I was a PACU nurse, and had been tasked with some leadership duties within the center. I was called into a meeting with my leadership team to learn that my nurse manager was planning on retiring, and they were interested in training me for the role. Part of that training included learning how to circulate. I crossed the red line the next week, and began my training, with the staff unaware of the “why”. It was tough. One nurse in particular made the situation quite difficult. She actually was verbalizing her dislike of my presence in the OR to her peers and the current nurse manager. I was forced to grow a backbone quickly and work that much harder despite the animosity I was feeling. I’m sure not everyone would have thought that it was worth it. The good news is that I came out of that situation with good circulating skills and was promoted to nurse manager within the year. That difficult nurse moved on, and I have never forgotten the life lessons I learned from that experience, nor how it felt.

I wish I knew how to fix the problem. I can only say that I think it’s important that we understand the culture in our facilities, and that we not turn a blind eye when it happens, even though the “path of least” is an easier road. In my experience, I have found that staff meetings where the culture can be discussed can sometimes prove helpful. Other times, dealing with the people causing the problems head-on in a constructive objective way is the only answer. Bullies work hard to build unofficial hierarchies, and are typically surprised when challenged. Calling them out on their behavior can make a difference.

I think the best way we can make a difference is to focus on mentoring. We are taught the importance of being patient advocates from the beginning of our training, but often had to be competitive to even earn our spot in nursing school. I know I did. Maybe if there is a more deliberate focus on advocating for those who are new or learning, the culture may shift to a more welcoming one. It is certainly my hope for our profession.



2 thoughts on “Why do nurses eat their young?”

  • I have found (after 20+ years) that the new “bully” is the newer nurses coming into the field. I have always been more than willing to help with precepting of new staff. I love teaching! I want to share my wealth of knowledge of ER skills! It’s too bad we can’t all just get along!

    • Hi Lorie! I hate that the new nurses are continuing the negative work culture. I wish I knew how we support each other better. Thanks for your input, and I love that you are mentoring!

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