Nurses eat their young

A young hand touches and holds an old wrinkled hand

Nurse: (from the Latin, Nutrix) 1. Someone who nourishes and cares.

Bullying: 1. The repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or groups) directed toward a person (or a group of people), intended to intimidate. 2. Behavior that intimidates, degrades, offends, or humiliates someone, often in front of others, making the person being bullied feel defenseless or useless.

After raising our four children as a mostly stay at home Mum and pastoring a church alongside my husband for 15 years, I decided to follow a life-long dream (calling) to become a nurse. At the age of 38 I started my nursing training. When I graduated at the end of 2011 I was faced with the myth that “old nurses eat their young.”

Thankfully I can report that almost every single nurse in my present job treats one another with respect and dignity and as a newly graduated nurse last year and now as a new ICU nurse I can honestly say that I can’t get through my shifts without the amazing support and encouragement I receive from the vast majority of my colleagues each and every shift.

Nursing is a hard job, partly because each shift is unpredictable – especially so in the ICU. Stable patients can become unstable and suffer respiratory or cardiac arrest in the blink of an eye. I’ve only been working in ICU for about 5 weeks (it feels like 5 minutes) and I have already seen this happen. More than once. The timing of tests, procedures and scans are never coordinated to fit in with other aspects of patient care and multiple times each day (every day) I get pulled in an impossible number of directions trying to complete an impossible number of tasks (in a caring, “nursey” kind of way.) My impossible task list is sometimes complicated by “impossible” patients and their family members and if I added difficult colleagues into the mix, well, the whole thing would become impossible.

I was told that the perpetrator of this “nurses eat their young” phenomenon would most likely to be the senior (probably hospital-trained) nurse. If there was blood in the water that senior (“old”) nurse would probably find it and either (a) blame me for putting it there; (b) blame me for not removing it; (c) blame me for not noticing it was there; (d) blame me for not documenting it; or (e) blame me for not telling someone! This nurse would be the one who, at handover, would loudly ask me why I haven’t done some particular task (given a drug, changed a dressing, done an ECG, emptied a catheter bag, started an infusion, checked the Potassium). And there would be an attitude that comes with their questioning.

Thankfully this has not been my experience but I assure you, if it does happen I will take a deep breath, pray for wisdom and hope to be bold enough to remind these “old” nurses that they were all young and new once!

As I said, I consider myself fortunate that I haven’t really experienced this phenomenon in my nursing practice but today I did experience someone attempting to “nibble” at me! Rather than allowing myself to feel bullied, or to feel defenseless, intimidated and useless for not completing my tasks on my shift, I used the experience to learn a number of important and valuable lessons. Lessons that I believe are applicable to my life not just my nursing career.

#1. I’m not the one with the problem.

#2. I just might need to grow a slightly stronger backbone, thicker skin and become slightly hard of hearing.

#3. At the end of my shift (or at the end of a hard day) I need to “vent” to someone in a safe environment, forget about it and move on.

#4. I need to learn to either work with people, work around them, or walk away and leave. (And the latter is not an option!)

And finally, #5. I need to remember that when my patient asks his wife to bring in a home-made cheesecake for me to take home with me at the conclusion of six longs shifts in a row, I know that my hard work has been noticed and appreciated by the people that matter the most – my patient and their family!

At the end of the day, everyone (and I’m not just talking about nurses) is on the same team – humanity – and we need to work together.

And maybe, just maybe, a little bit of Biblical wisdom wouldn’t go astray?

“Be tenderhearted, understanding, gentle, sensitive and compassionate to one another. Stop the back-biting and do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people. Instead become useful and helpful, caring and kind to each other. Love each other as you love yourself and forgive each other as quickly and thoroughly as God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 and Leviticus 19:18


5 thoughts on “Nurses eat their young

  1. Oh Nicki, I don’t think you nurses get enough gratitude for what you do. I am so thankful for people like you who follow their heart, no matter how old, and take on jobs like this. May God richly bless you, as you bless others with your nursing. 🙂

  2. What you’ve shared is true for all professions ~ attorneys, teachers, nurses & medical personnel, corporate types, everyone! I love the scripture you quoted here! It really zinged me, because I surely have mastered the art of bearing grudges. Think I need to print this out and put it on my mirror.

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