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Fired Because of a Rude Hand Gesture

Nurse Beth   (368 Views 2 Comments)
by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Advice Column) Writer Innovator Expert

Nurse Beth has 30 years experience as a MSN and specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho.

14 Followers; 88 Articles; 227,621 Visitors; 1,813 Posts


Dear Nurse Beth,

I graduated in December 2017 with a BSN, began work in February 2018 and was fired in August 2018. The circumstances surrounding my termination were not patient-related. As a bedside nurse, I had glowing reviews from my patients and I always tried not to let external stressors affect my work. 

However, I had a lot going on that year. I discovered that the people who lived with me were involved in illicit activities that I immediately began to distance myself from. I shared this with a co-worker who I thought that I could trust, simply venting about my situation, and I believe that this co-worker spread misinformation to my charge nurse.

Shortly after, I began feeling pressure from the charge nurse. It seemed as if no matter what I did, she would go out of her way to single me out, or find ways to make my job that much harder. These roommates of mine were involved with drugs. After a couple of months of trying to evict them, I finally succeeded in doing so, but it took a toll on me personally.

They wrecked my house, and it caused a strain on my relationship with my mother, who owned the house. At that point in my life, I was feeling pretty low.  I was irritable and anxious, and I acted out when the charge nurse in question took one of my aides aside and asked her directly if she thought that I was involved with drugs.  

The night that I knew I would be fired had been a particularly stressful one. Our census was maxed out, and I, personally, had a couple of patients who were rather trying. Still, I did what I always did. I put on a brave face and did my job. I worked nights, and it was around 0100 that I had an opportunity to grab something to eat from the cafeteria.

As per policy, I left my pager with the charge nurse to look after my patients while I was away. I was standing in line, 10 minutes later, when I got a call on my personal phone that one of my patients was bradying down during bouts of nausea, which was what she had originally been admitted for. Nevertheless, I left the cafeteria and headed back to the unit to check on my patient. By the time I got there, her vitals were stable, and other than an acute fever, did not appear worse for the wear. I offered zofran for nausea.

What was frustrating was that this could have been done by the charge nurse. It was obvious she never set eyes on the patient, and the patient stated that no one had come in to see her. When I went to update the charge nurse on the patient's condition and to retrieve my phone from her, I was provided no explanation for pulling me away from my break. When I later told this to the manager during the exit interview, even she questioned why the charge would have accepted my phone and then subsequently called me when it would have been her responsibility to care for the patients by accepting the phone in the first place. I had no answer for her. 

At any rate, I was upset after this incident and, as I walked away from the station, I'll admit that I reacted childishly. I gave a rude hand gesture when the charge's back was turned and walked away to cool off. But someone saw me, and reported it to her. A day later, and I was sitting in HR, signing off on the termination. 

The thing is, that sort of reaction was a culmination of months of this type of behavior. I learned very quickly to trust no one on staff, and that fresh nurses new on the unit would be quick to brown nose. Ultimately, however, it was my own foolishness that led to my termination, not the charge nurse's. I let stress get to me, and I became burnt out from the job within a few short months. 

Now that I'm in a better place, mentally, and I've moved to a new area, I am ready to get back to work. Unfortunately, this one reaction may have sealed the deal on me ever being hired again. I only have six months experience, which places me firmly in the camp of no longer being a new grad, but also without the benefit of a full year's experience that would make me competitive for recruiters. 

What should I do? How should I proceed? How should I market myself, and if this comes up in an interview, how would I even begin to explain it without placing another stain on my name? I feel that I was unfairly judged for my roommates, and even though I would have been more than willing to take a drug test to prove my innocence, I feel as though not even that would have helped to quiet the rumors. 

Legally, how much can my manager say if she's called as a reference? My work ethic speaks for itself, and I never once received write-ups for anything involving patient care. This was the only issue that I ever had at my previous job, aside from taking more than 2 breaks a shift (I took 3, and after it was brought to my attention that this was against policy, I made sure to correct this behavior). I realize how insubordination looks, but it was absolutely an isolated incident that I have regretted ever since. 

I have been out of work for going on nine months simply because I lack experience.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Terminated,

I'm sorry you're going through this, and yes, with perseverance, you will most likely be able to land another job. It may not be your ideal job, but it is important to get back in the work force before more time goes by.

 I'm assuming that the rude hand gesture was code for flipping off your charge nurse? You say you were acting childishly, but that is minimizing the behavior. It's unprofessional, passive-aggressive, uncivil  and inappropriate. Think about if a doctor flipped someone off, or a coworker flipped you off. There are expected ways for professionals to deal with frustration in the work place that include expressing your feelings in an assertive but not aggressive manner. 

You feel that it was the one incident that got you fired. Could this be more a pattern of behavior than an isolated event? Before the hand gesture episode, you "acted out", and you've been dealing with a lot of stress.

So again, for your own good, it's imperative you find ways to mange stress and your emotions the workplace. 

When asked for a reference for an employee that's been terminated, most managers are trained to only divulge title and dates of employment. It's doubtful your manager is going to say much more, because any negative aspirations on you can make them liable if you don't find employment.

It will be up to you to plan your answer to the question "Explain your employment gap, and reason for termination". You can explain that it wasn't a good fit, and you look forward to resuming your nursing practice in a new setting. Never, ever say anything negative about a previous employer in an interview. 

You worked 6 months, and have not worked for 9 months. It's critical that you land a job to start building your work history. Consider long term care just to get started. Work 1-2 yrs in one spot and then you'll be marketable with many more options.

Best wishes, 

Nurse Beth

Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!


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katydidit1964 has 17 years experience as a MSN.

573 Visitors; 37 Posts

I happen to agree with Nurse Beth - find a job - any job- quickly as the longer you are out of the field the harder it will be to find employment. LTC facilities are usually always in need. And you might find that you love it!  Everybody has a niche and you haven't had the chance to discover yours yet...

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