Nurses: Oppression Can Stop With You
The intended purpose of this article is to explain that nursing is a largely oppressed occupation due to its social position and the occasional lack of professionalism displayed by some of its members.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines oppression as unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power. Due to its position on the social ladder combined with the sometimes unprofessional behaviors of its members, nursing is an oppressed occupation.
According to Whitehead (2010), the position of nursing within the socioeconomic framework is one of a relatively oppressed group - not as low in the social scale as some, but certainly not in the upper professional tier.
Oppressed people tend to lash out at each other as the result of a strong sense of displaced anger along with an overall lack of group empowerment. Many nurses are truly upset at their superiors and 'the system,' but end up displacing the anger onto their much less-threatening coworkers and subordinates.
In many healthcare facilities, administrative hierarchies promote and perpetuate oppressive conditions, such as inability to take uninterrupted breaks or meals, inadequate staffing ratios, limited supplies, and little recognition of nurses' ability to think critically (Townsend, 2012). In other words, many hospital units and nursing home wings are home to toxic working environments where oppressed nurses behave rudely toward one another, engage in gossip, start rumors, and act like immature schoolyard bullies while management looks the other way.
Let's examine the crab mentality for a moment.
Any person who has been in an area where fresh seafood is sold has likely noticed that crabs are left in open buckets. There is no need to place lids on the buckets because, when one crab climbs near the top of the container, the other crabs latch on and pull it back to the bottom. Hence, all of the crabs experience the same fate. If one single crab is in the bucket by itself, it will make it to the top, leverage its way out of the container, and escape to freedom because nothing holds it back. Although the lone crab almost always escapes, none ever get away if other crabs are at the bottom of the bucket. Crab mentality is also a powerful metaphor for human behavior, especially in oppressed groups such as nursing, where some of its members do everything in their power to latch on and keep others down.
However, oppression can stop with you. Power comes in numbers. Remember this saying: United we stand, divided we fall. It is time for nurses to stop lashing out at each other and start funneling the negative energies into more positive endeavors such as mentoring newer graduates, helping coworkers feel welcome, providing the best patient care possible with the constraints involved, and getting politically involved to help bring about beneficial changes.
The nursing profession in the United States has more than three million members, and is the largest healthcare occupation in the country. History shows us that oppressed groups can push for change if every individual in the group pulls together, supports one another, and organizes effectively. The Civil Rights movement of several generations ago is a prime example of oppressed people coming together. Oppression can stop with you, and empowerment can begin with you.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 9, '15
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Senior Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied workplace experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for four years prior to earning RN licensure.
TheCommuter has '11' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych'. From 'Fort Worth, Texas, USA'; 36 Years Old; Joined Feb '05; Posts: 37,891; Likes: 68,444.Aug 27, '12Unfortunetely, in most working environments, people bring with them their own baggage that when they allow it to, directly reflect onto co-workers without regard to anyone else's shared enviroment.
I believe that oppression is about forces that one has no control over that brings one down. It is also a subjective feeling that one has based on one's own personal history. As adults, we can not control however someone else behaves, only our reaction to it. One persons oppression is not necessarily anothers, but why feel oppressed when one has no control over someone else's character? Making one feel oppressed is a huge character flaw.
I think that it is each person and their personal accountability for their behavior and actions could reflect change.Aug 27, '12Nurse-patient ratio is the first issue that SHOULD to be addressed.Last edit by fjellgren on Aug 27, '12Aug 27, '12Quote from eatmysoxRNThank you so much.Commuter, I absolutely love reading your articles. Just wanted to let you know that :-)Aug 27, '12Amen!! One day I was at work sitting next to a couple of nurses who ran down the names of every female worker, and if she did/didn't wear too much makeup, and if she was attractive according to their standards. -_- I wish that the cattiness would stop, but unfortunately it comes with women who take their inner screwedupness out on others.Aug 27, '12Imagine if we use this power in unity instead of tearing each other down. Do you have any idea how powerful we could be as nurses if we stand together and have solid platform. We could change the aspects of how we work. We could be the catalyst that has the resolution. Right now we are at stalemate. We are refusing to hire our own because they do not have enough experience. We are holding those who will not retire accountable for not us working. It is about time NURSES come together .As nurses' we can not allow other professions dictate what we can and can not do as a nurse. The time has arise for us to stop the division and unite as nurses of the same profession.Aug 27, '12Gee, isn't this timely. Remember that this is the time of year where new grads are starting work. Every nursing school is getting ready to admit its newest class. Evidence-based nursing being something I know they'll be teaching, it would be good to see some good studies get started up (remember: anecdote is not the singular of data). Now, what we need is a few graduate students in nursing management who need thesis topics.Aug 27, '12I for one am totally sick of the in-fighting. I am a male and have been a licensed RN for over a year now and although the working conditions (work load) was intolerable at my first job, my current is intolerable due to the nurses tearing each other apart or reporting others for menial mistakes to the college of nurses. I feel like I can't win and have chosen the wrong profession. I, like most nurses, feel powerless to turn any change. Most managers I see are definitely indifferent to this large scale problem.Aug 27, '12Wonderful article!
I am scheduled to begin nursing school next week, but have been a CMA for years. I had the distinct displeasure of having to work under an extremely abusive RN. By abusive I mean that she was verbally abusive toward me, emotionally abusive and even physically abusive (as in shoving me when she wanted to pass me in a hall, slapping my hand in "jest", etc.). Even made fun of the size of my breasts in from of co-workers and patients!
This was in a private office with a VERY sane patient load, regular breaks, hour long lunches each day, etc., so stressful working conditions were not to blame.
She continually berated me because I was ONLY a CMA, and that meant that I was "nothing".
The doctors and management were informed. Her behavior was documented. Other employees came forward and said that I wasn't the only one, that every time they brought an MA into the office this nurse behaved this way because she hated the whole concept of MAs. Management did nothing and eventually I had to quit to keep my own sanity.
I am anticipating that all nurses are not like this bad apple. At least I intend to never treat a subordinate in such a disrespectful fashion.Aug 27, '12I agree with you completely and for years I worked in hospitals where I wished that all of the nurses would unite and stand up together against administration and demand better conditions for our work and for our patients. However, most of the nurses I worked with were not at all interested in this. They would complain and agree that something should be done, but none were willing to do anything about it. They seemed to worry that if they said or did anything, they would lose their job. Finally, I got out of the hospital environment and into a better one. Now I am respected where I work, treated fairly, encouraged to be independent and think outside the box, supported, praised, paid well, given freedom in my schedule and the list goes on and on. I will never return to working in a hospital. Never. I would not have been offered this job without the experience of 13 years I toiled in hospitals and I am glad that I have that experience, but I have never been so happy in my career. It's a shame because I am a good nurse and loved taking care of patients and I am surrounded now every day by other good nurses who will also unlikely return to a hospital. It's sad that some nurses feel they have to leave and give up direct patient care to enter other areas in order to be treated decently. I have some friends and family members who have left the profession completely because of this.Aug 27, '12Quote from LilacHeartIn some areas (apparently not nursing, as far as I can tell from this site) people sue over hostile work environment, in some cases (as yours) aggravated by sexual harassment. The problem is that, once you file suit, you may never get another job in your field, which is a real problem if you don't prevail in court (sometimes the wrong party with the better lawyer wins).Management did nothing and eventually I had to quit to keep my own sanity.
But then, if no one does anything, nothing will change.Aug 27, '12It seems unlikely that nurses will ever join together. Read a few different posts on here....hospital nurses think nurses who work in long term care aren't real nurses. Bachelors prepared nurses look down on those with Associate degrees. Older nurses think new nurses are entitled brats and new nurses want the older ones to get out of the field so they will have a job.
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