A long time ago, when I was a baby nurse, there was never any real preparation for life on a nursing unit. Sure, we knew what the textbooks said about how to care for a patient. I knew about vital signs and lab results. But, I really never knew about the interpersonal dynamics that can be downright cutthroat. It’s a pressure cooker of a situation with life changing moments occurring constantly.
Being new, plus a new grad, I tried to learn as much as I could without letting on how overwhelmed I was because didn’t want a soul to know. Sheepishly, I would try to answer all the questions I was asked and complete all the tasks I was assigned because the last thing I wanted to do was appear incompetent. Even then, I would watch as certain nurses would change the tone of a moment with a few words. How there were always those that found themselves in the middle of a gossip storm. There were those nurses that you prayed didn’t follow you because try as you might not to, if you missed something they would talk so badly about you that it was almost like they tagged you with a scarlet A.
One day, over lunch, a coworker must have sensed my frustration. “It’s like this everywhere. Sure, this might be a bit of the more extreme but, nurses like that are the cancers that are omnipresent.” She went on to tell me about her experiences and how for her, she would go home crying after her shifts. “Don’t let them see you upset. Make sure you are on your game. Eventually, they will let up.”
Nurses eating their young. That’s the undercurrent in nursing. It’s ok to be tough on the newbies because you need to make them strong nurses. We have to be so compassionate and empathetic to others that we almost have none left for each other.
As my career went on, those types of nurses made their appearances everywhere. Even if you aren’t a new nurse , there are those predator nurses who enjoy nothing more than finding your mistakes and exploiting them. They think in some ways that they are making more capable nurses. There is nothing further from the truth because they cause such anxiety that they take capable nurses and render them almost incapable.
Nursing is a 24 hour a day job. Try as you might to update white boards, finish treatments and update medication lists, the truth of the matter is that sometimes you don’t get a chance to. If having “that” nurse follow you or see your patients causes you so much anxiety that you cannot rest when you aren’t at work, who is the real source of the problems in nursing?
I make mistakes. There you have it. I totally admit it. But, if I do something wrong, I have an open door policy – tell me in a way that isn’t condescending. “Hey, you missed an indication for this med, but, I fixed it for you,” always works. Or better yet, just fix it. Unless it’s something that would be so profoundly educational, just do it and say nothing.
I don’t believe in running to managers for mundane problems. I don’t believe in throwing a fellow nurse under the bus – unless I see you doing something horrific, I will either fix it or tell you in a non judgmental way. What does it benefit anyone by robbing the confidence of a fellow nurse struggling to do their best?
One could just say that this is the way nursing has always been and there shouldn’t be changes. The strong ones have survived, right? Imagine how many more phenomenal nurse there would be had they not been shamed and scorned into quitting due to emotional distress?
I have gone home crying. I have thought about quitting. I have been anxious all during a vacation because I was worried about who might see my patients and if I had forgotten something. I have been the one to feel my insides sinking if one of those nurses said they needed to talk. No one should ever be made to feel that way. Ever.
Polls every year say nursing is the most compassionate of professions. Imagine if they knew how angst producing we can be to each other? There should be zero tolerance for this, in any area of nursing. Remember that we all really try our hardest. Bullying isn’t just pushing someone down and stealing their lunch money. It’s punching someone verbally just because you think you can.
Compliment each other. Instead of only telling what was wrong, highlight what is right. A nurse with a little more confidence is a ton more competent. We are taught to treat patients and families with patience, kindness and with their best interests in mind. Perhaps it’s time we nurses practice what we preach.
Do no harm applies to each other, most of all.