I wish I could tell you that the myths that nurses eat their young are just myths. But sadly, I cannot tell you that. I wish I could tell you that your coworkers will be supportive of you and your patients and helpful and considerate. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that either. I wish I could tell you that my first years as a nurse were wonderful, happy times, and I learned a lot. Two out of those three are wrong as well. However, I did and do continue to learn a lot.
I did not know the terms for what I have experience in my nursing career until recently. Lateral Violence, Horizontal Violence, Workplace Hostility, Bullying, Nurses Eating Their Young. Whatever you want to call it, it is apparently still an unfortunate reality for many new (and sometimes old!) nurses.
When you first graduate nursing school you step into your first job bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You wanted every patient to think you were Florence Nightingale herself! You were eager to learn, excited to share you knowledge, and most likely terrified to call a doctor. I know. I’ve been there.
At the hospital I work I was assigned a preceptor. She was very sweet and knowledgeable, but try as I might, I could not do things fast enough for her. Everyday she would finish tasks of mine long before I had an opportunity to. Everyday she was on my heels to increase my speed and competency. I know now that I was doing the best I could. Speed and competency come with time and experience. You can’t be taught that in 6 weeks. On a busy medical-surgical floor we were like a revolving door. Come and started with 4 patients, send home 2, admit 3. That was pretty much the routine for much of my orientation. It was hard, fast, and full of many good learning experiences. Overall, I enjoyed it, but was very ready to move to weekends, where I assumed things would be more laid back, less stress, and extra money too!
I was wrong.
For some reason, for which I have never really been clear on, I was never accepted by the other nurses. It may have something to do with the fact that at 22 I graduated with an RN, and many of them were LPNs and needed to show me that they were a better nurse than I. It could have also been because I was pregnant and honestly probably a little (or a lot) crazy at the time. I was also new and eager and asked many questions.
Originally, I was just socially isolated. Everyone would go to lunch at the same time and leave just me at the desk to answer the phone and lights. Often when they did this I wasn’t even aware until they had all left the floor. If I did happen to get to have my meal break when others were in the break room, they would all sit as far away from me as possible and dare me to join in their conversations. I can think of more than one occasion were I attempted to contribute only to be told quite forcefully, and rudely “We weren’t talking to you”. And yes, these women are grown ranging in ages fro 28-45.
Whatever the reason, they never appreciated me, my questions, or my concerns. Everyday I would come to work and wonder what tragedy might befall me next. They would often withhold critical information from me in order to make me look incompetent. They would often not pass along messages in order to make me appear slow and unresponsive. On a few occasions they even went so far as calling the Doctor for my patients and telling them they were in distress when they had not even stepped into the room to assess the patient! I asked them many times for help, and when they had to they would. Often they would refuse me and tell me they didn’t have time to do their job and mine.
I know it was most likely their intent to make me suffer, but you know who really suffered? The Patients. Patients were often made to wait in pain, poop, shortness of breath, or other ailments because they were trying to prove a point. What point? I still don’t get that part of it. I have through long and hard but cannot find a point righteous enough to make the patients suffer.
Throughout the 2 years I worked with these hens, I went to my manager several times and politely and respectfully informed her of the bullying and mistreatment. Every time she made excuses for them. “That’s just how they are”. “You can’t expect everyone to like you”. “Weekends are hard to get used to”. Never once did she acknowledge my feelings, apologize, or make any real effort to stop the behaviors.
It finally came to a point where I was threatened with physical violence by a coworker and I called the house supervisor. The result? A write up, a meeting with HR, a discussion in which I was told I was being too sensitive, taking things too personally, and I was wasting man hours and time by being petty. I was also forced to change shifts (to night shift, no less) and lost my premium shift differential. And oh yeah, the public humiliation of it all.
I can only hope that they were not fully realizing the extent of their actions. They are nurses after all. How can you choose a profession that the very foundation of is caring and be so ruthless and heartless to another human being.
These events are very much in my recent past. I still have to hand off patients to these nurses on occasion and these moments are filled with lack of eye contact, shuffling feet, and a general disdain for my presence. If I am charting at the nurses station they think nothing of hovering over me and will often ask me point blank to move, “quit talking so you can get done”, or make back-handed remarks or jokes about me. On occasion I do respond, but I try to avoid it.
Most recently, when one of them was very loudly and publically telling me what was “my responsibility” and what I “had to do”, I informed her otherwise. The result? You guessed it, I got a chat with the manager and a request to “Be the bigger person”. What does that even mean? Does the bigger person let themselves be trampled and beaten about aimlessly and continuously? Does the bigger person let herself be made a public mockery in front of her professional acquaintances? Does the bigger person have to be made to feel devalued and insignificant to the point where you don’t feel able to even speak with your manager?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that for now I am watching and waiting. I am finishing up my BSN degree and enjoying the nights I work with very talented, helpful, and pleasant nurses. I really thought that night shift would be the downside of my career, but it has been such a pleasant surprise. It is nice to come to work and be able to talk, laugh, and share with the people you work with. It is nice to know that 20 of your professional acquaintances moseyed in the bosses office and told them how competent, professional, considerate, and that they enjoy working with you. It is reassuring to know that you aren’t a total ass, as you had been made to think you were for a couple of years.
What would be even nicer is if the manager actually acknowledged it, told me she appreciated me, or offered a hint of concern and care for me.
For now I know that the nurses who I work with daily (or nightly, if you want to get technical) respect me and my patients. I know that I don’t have a target plastered on my back. I know that I will have the help I need to take care of my patients. I know that I can do the right thing.
I know that I am a good nurse.