Do Nurses REALLY Eat Their Young?

Our instructor said, "Now, you may have heard that 'nurses eat their young.' I wish I could say that wasn't true.
Our instructor said, “Now, you may have heard that ‘nurses eat their young.’ I wish I could say that wasn’t true.

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” – Wayne Dyer

I come from a of family of nurses.  My mother is an LPN.  My aunt is an RN.  Growing up, I aspired to be like them – comforting the weary, helping the sick.  I felt like I could REALLY make a difference.

I believe that until we get into nursing school, we glamorize nursing.  We have a vision in our heads about what we think our careers are going to look like.  We don’t realize that there are many, many rewarding days – but there are also days where we will cry with our patients and over our patients.

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We REALLY don’t realize we’ll cry because of how our fellow nurses treat us.

I remember the day I realized that workplace bullying was “a thing.”  I was in LPN school.  We were getting ready for our first clinicals.  Our instructor said, “Now, you may have heard that ‘nurses eat their young.’ I wish I could say that wasn’t true.  Kids – you’ve made it this far.  You’re going into this profession; and I hate to say it, but you need a backbone.  As students and new nurses – and hell, even as a veteran nurse at times – someone is going to be mean to you.  It’s your choice how you react to it.”

“It’s your choice how you react to it.”

After almost 10 years in the nursing profession, that phrase has stuck with me.  I was lucky as a nursing student; I had excellent preceptors that went out of their way to teach me and were kind to me.  I didn’t experience any of this so-called bullying.  It wasn’t until my first job when I got my first taste of workplace bullying.

I got on her bad side one day when she was mean to a friend and co-worker. From that day forward I constantly worried
“I got on her bad side one day when she was mean to a friend and co-worker. From that day forward I constantly worried”

Have you ever worked with a nurse who is notorious for bullying?  He or she is the stuff of legends – everyone knows not to get on their bad side.  If you’re on their good side, you’re golden.  Get on their bad side, and you want to call in sick every day.

I got lucky.  As a new nurse, I hustled.  I was a hard worker and a fast learner.  I was on her good side right away; however, I got on her bad side one day when she was mean to a friend and co-worker.  From that day forward I constantly worried about being bullied. This brings me to the point.  Workplace bullying is ridiculous and something that we shouldn’t have to put up with.  There are a thousand reasons, but here are three why we need to stop “eating our young” and one reason to not take it personally.

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1.) We are adults.

We are not children.  We need to stop acting like children.  I have a 2.5 year old who treats other children better than we, as adults, treat each other.  He says “please” and “thank you” without being prompted, gives hugs and kisses and is nice to everyone he meets.  Perhaps we should take lessons from a toddler.

2.) We are professionals.

According to a Gallup survey, nurses are the most trusted profession.  Somehow, we are trusted more than doctors, clergyman, teachers and police officers.  We have all gone to college, anywhere from an associate’s degree to a doctorate, meaning that we are also highly educated.  We take care of neonates to geriatrics, from wellness to hospice care.  We have professional jobs – we conduct ourselves as professionals in front of our patients, in front of doctors, in front of our supervisors.  Yet we can’t treat each other with respect.

3.) There will come a day when we – or our families – will need nursing care.

"It's your choice how you react to it."
“It’s your choice how you react to it.”

Often the nurses who “eat their young” are the veteran nurses, being mean to students and new nurses.  There will be a time, however, when that nurse – or his or her family – will need medical care, whether it is for a simple procedure or a life-changing illness, such as a stroke or cancer.  I guarantee you that they will receive great nursing care, regardless of how they treated their fellow nurses – and it will be humbling.

And why shouldn’t you take it personally…

I believe that people who bully (and not just in nursing) are fighting a battle with themselves. I do not think it is actually a personal attack but a poor choice for an outlet for frustration or anger.

That being said, rather than focusing on the one or two nurses who are angry and choose to bully, focus your energy on the nurses that are great role models.  Focus your energy on remembering why you went into nursing in the first place – to help people in their time of need, promote wellness and make a difference.

If it helps, remember what my instructor said: “It’s your choice how you react to it.”

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Krystina Ostermeyer

Krystina Ostermeyer is an RN. She has worked in a variety of practice settings, from a telemetry and stepdown unit, to an allergy and immunotherapy clinic, to most recently, a diabetes education office. She recently earned her certified diabetes educator (CDE) credentials and works with people with diabetes through all stages of life, from pediatrics to geriatrics. When she isn't working, she enjoys freelance writing. She also enjoys traveling with her husband and 2 year old son, walking, reading, cooking, spending time with friends and family, and enjoys craft beers and dark chocolate.

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