Why Do Nurses Eat Their Young?

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    More and more Nurses are getting involved and looking for solutions that will end the scourge that has persisted for so many years and tarnished the good work and dedication of all Nurses everywhere.

    Why Do Nurses Eat Their Young?

    Have you heard that phrase before? I graduated my Nursing Program way, way, back in 1955 and it was around even then. The perpetrator is usually a senior nurse with longevity but could be a new graduate bursting with new knowledge and techniques and anxious to give them a workout or it could be a Supervisor or someone with a higher or lower rank than the victim. Regardless who is creating the problem it is interesting that old cliche is still around in this the 21st Century.

    I first encountered it when as an eighteen-year-old nursing student who had never been in a hospital had no idea what a hospital ward looked like. I was born at home, and my tonsils were removed on my Grandmother's kitchen table when I was five. That was way, way, way, back, in 1935. So imagine my surprise to learn the "Ward" my Mother talked about when she had my brothers and sister, was not a long hallway with beds on either side, as I had envisioned, but a long hallway with rooms on both sides and it even had a kitchen. Yes, I remember it well.

    We spent the first three months of our training in the classroom learning the basics of bedside nursing-bed making, vital signs, bed baths, enemas, along with medical terminology, anatomy, and other basic preparations for our initiation to "The Ward". We never got further than the lobby of the Hospital and the Cafeteria until the end of those first three months. Finally, the day came with the notification our schedules were changed. Starting immediately, we would spend four hours in the classroom every morning and four hours on the Ward in the afternoon. After class, we reported to our assigned Ward, and introduced ourselves to our R.N., Supervisor.

    Miss G. was about four feet, ten inches, tall and weighed about ninety-eight pounds. She looked impressive in her starched, white uniform, white stockings, white, polished, shoes with clean, white, shoelaces, and perched on top of her head a starched, white, crinoline cap with a ruffled edge, with a black band around it. She wore her accessories with authority. Her school pin perfectly placed on her right chest, her nurses' watch with its black, leather band and her black, winged, glasses, which she wore at the end of her nose so she could look directly into your eyes when she spoke. She was a retired Army, Staff Sergeant, probably in her middle thirties, and Single. Yes, I remember her well.

    It was the first day of my first four- hour shift. Everyone gathered in the kitchen while the R.N. Supervisor dished out the diets on to a tray, from a warming cart, which we took to the bedside. I was assigned to feed a very ill young man, hooked up to an I.V. and too ill to feed himself. My patient had a bowl of Pea Soup, a glass of water, a cup of hot tea, a packet of sugar, and a glass straw. This was my first patient and the first time I would feed someone. I was scared to death.

    I rolled his bed up, placed a napkin on his chest, told him my name, what I was about to do and asked him if he was comfortable. He nodded his head. I placed the glass straw into the bowl of pea soup and brought it to his lips. He was too weak to draw the soup up through the straw so I told him I would get a spoon and I would be right back.

    Once in the hallway I forgot which way to the kitchen. I started back toward the Nurse's Station and ran into Miss G. "Where do you think you're going?" she said. "I'm looking for the kitchen." I said. "You mean to tell me you've been here an hour and a half and you don't know where the kitchen is?" I looked at her with total surprise. "Yes.", I replied. She gave me directions and I was on my way.

    There were lots of cupboards and drawers in the kitchen and I had no idea where they hid the tableware. I started opening drawers when I heard a sound behind me. Miss G. was standing in the doorway watching me. "Can you tell me where they keep the spoons?" I asked. "Don't they teach you anything in that classroom? You were just in this kitchen. You don't remember where the spoons are. What kind of nurse do you think you will be if you can't remember from fifteen minutes ago?" That was my intro to Miss G. and it was just the beginning. I finally got back to my patient but by that time, the soup was cold. I went back to the kitchen to get some warm soup. I'll give you three guesses who was there and what happened next. The first two don't count.

    That was fifty-four years ago. Do nurses still eat their young? Yes, they do and there is plenty of evidence to support its existence right here on the internet. Just go to any Nurse Blog or Forum and you will find page after page of comments from nurses, young and old, male and female, R.N.'s, L.P.N.'s, C.N.A;s, all venting their frustrations about the treatment they endure from NURSES WHO EAT THEIR YOUNG. Why do they do it? They do it because they can.

    Fortunately, there is hope for the future. Due to Nursing Forums like this one, more and more Nurses are getting involved and looking for solutions that will end the scourge that has persisted for so many years and tarnished the good work and dedication of Nurses everywhere. Now if only someone would start teaching "How to build a team" or "Teamwork is the answer" that would be a place to start.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 16, '18
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    About timetoshine

    I am a LVN and worked Med/Surge in Acute Care Hospitals, Charge Nurse in Nursing Homes, Director of Staff Development in Nursing Homes and a facility for the Developmentally Disabled. I have used these experiences to eradicate harassment of students and nurses by building teams that focused on patient care and team pride.

    Joined: Apr '11; Posts: 74; Likes: 121
    Director of Staff Development, Quality Assurance and Infection Control Nurse and Charge Nurse; from US
    Specialty: 54 year(s) of experience in Acute Care Hosp, Nursing Home, Clinics

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  3. by   zephyr9
    Great article. I am glad I already have lots of practice at leaving mean people be where they are!
    Respect is so important!
    Would love to hear more about the kitchen tonsillectomy!
    Last edit by zephyr9 on Apr 27, '11 : Reason: add comment
  4. by   timetoshine
    Fortunately I have no memory but my Grandma said I was a "perfect angel" Thank you for your response. I am a strong advocate of Teamwork in the workplace. Particulary in Nursing. As Director of Staff Development I made it the core of my teaching and as a Charge Nurse on the floor I practiced what I preached. The result was outstanding. The blueprint for building a team was centered around two concepts. The first one was "Who is the most important person in the hospital?" And the second was "Raising the Bar". It didn't happen overnight and there was resistance from Charge Nurses and Supervisors but fortunatly for me I had a D.O.N. and Administrator give me a green light. Building a team and team pride goes a long way improving patient care, relieving stress and creating a positive work environment. It can start with just one simple idea. Instead of just saying "Thank you" or "You did a good job". Catch someone doing something good and acknowledge their effort. Let them know they are making a difference. That is the seed that must be nurtured and allowed to grow. In that environment there is no room for being mean or condesending to a co-worker. Those weeds soon die for lack of oxygen and water. Once again Thank you for your comment.
  5. by   NurseJacqui
    Because it is a profession comprised primarily of women and women can be vicious, catty, jealous beotches. Not only that, but you are taking women of all ages and throwing them together. I have always found it was the older, fatter unattractive, bitter battleaxes that " eat their young" . It's as though they are trying to get back at all the girls who were mean to them in high school.
  6. by   timetoshine
    NurseJacqui -You have a point. There are people out there women and men who get a kick out of harrassing a newbie or oldie just for the fun of getting a reaction. It's my opinion, with more than 50 years in the trenches, a good part of it is because women, for the most part, have not learned how to be a team leader or a member of a team. It has only been within the last decade or so that women have had an opportunity to learn the value of being a part of a team, in sports, business and politics for example. The team concept is dymanic. It brings people together. It puts everyone on the same page working for the same goals and those who can't take the heat get out of the kitchen. Knowing everyone has your back insteading of stabbing it sets the tone for cooperation and mutual respect.
  7. by   NurseJacqui
    I have been a nurse 10 years and I remember being new and being in tears trying to give report to ICU. This nurse KNEW I was new and was hell bent on tearing me down. I made a vow to never treat another nurse the way I was treated. It is cruel and completely unnecessary
  8. by   timetoshine
    Trust me I can relate and you're right. I'm spent a more than few tears in the linen closet on more than one occasion. In my day, waaay back then, when women were given a title such as Charge Nurse or Supervisor they acted Warlords. My program was only the second Practical Nurse Program in the State of Massachusetts. We were a new concept and untried and not accepted as legitiment members of the Nursing Team. The RN's hated us and even to this day some still do. That is one reason I advocate so strongly for training RN's, LVN/LPN's and CNA;s the team concept. That is where roles and expectations are clearly defined, goals are established and mutally agreed too. Everyone is in the same boat and everyone is expected to pull in the same direction. The "I Gotcha" mentality melts away and the quality of care goes up. Sounds like a "pie in the sky concept" but it works. It ruffles some feathers until it comes together but once that happens you wake up every day ready to really make a difference and knowing when you leave you accomplished that goal. I have a plaque on my wall that says "Nursing Is The Gentle Art Of Caring". The operative word here for me is "Gentle" then "Art of Caring". I like it. It fits.
  9. by   hjgirl
    Thanks for the interesting article. This is something that I've had to deal with, as a nurse leader, when supporting new staff. While team building is essential and I think we do a pretty good job of it most of the time, there seems to be a stubborn few whose negative outlook on life overshadows their professional responsibilities. Sometimes, nurse leaders/managers just need to call these nurses on their behaviour. Another thing I try to be mindful of is not lumping everyone together and recognizing that each nurse comes with their own past experiences, beliefs and values. While it is no excuse for bad behaviour, it certainly helps me to look at these people with a different lens and hopefully lets me approach them with a more helpful, sympathetic (and yes, more respectful) manner. (This is not to say that I don't feel like tearing my hair out on the inside sometimes too!)
  10. by   timetoshine
    Glad to learn you are involved in team building. You have peaked my interest. Who are these stubborn people and what do
    .they do? How do they interact with the other team players and how do the other team players interact with them?

    "While team building is essential and I think we do a pretty good job of it most of the time, there seems to be a stubborn few whose negative outlook on life overshadows their professional responsibilities."

    There are always going to be negative people but their outlook on life should not overshadow their professional responsibilities, in my opinion. Who is the most important person in your facility? The Patient is the most important person in any facility. If they are in the nursing profession showing up for work should be the highlight of their day. It is a time for them to shine. It is a time for them to really make a difference. My attitude is when they walk through that door it's not about them. It's about their professional responsibilities and the level of care they are going to give someone who is in worst shape than them. That may seem harsh and I don't know the circumstance but you are right when you say they should be called on their behavior. Why should we tear our hair out when all we want is for them to give their best performance to everyone in their care and who they work with. I don't advocate treating them harshly or with resentment or anger . There are ways to deal with negative behavior and raising the bar of expectations is one of them.
  11. by   lesliel
    As a new nurse and a nursing student a short 4 months ago, this is something that I can most definitely relate to. It's inspiring to come on to these forums and see that there are plenty of people who feel the same way and have gone through the same experiences! It really is unfortunate that people don't value team work more! I firmly believe in karma and that what you put out there will in some way shape or form come back to you, good OR bad! Whenever I come across a senior nurse that gives me "problems", I just try my best not to take it personally, keep in mind that it isn't my fault that they have an attitude problem and it probably isn't the most fun having people on staff despise them! The best thing to do is "kill them with kindness" and maintain professionalism. I'm all about equality! At the risk of sounding super cheesy, equality IS in the best interest of the patient Thanks for writing this article, really sheds light on an issue that needs to be addressed!
  12. by   heron
    Quote from NurseJacqui
    Because it is a profession comprised primarily of women and women can be vicious, catty, jealous beotches. Not only that, but you are taking women of all ages and throwing them together. I have always found it was the older, fatter unattractive, bitter battleaxes that " eat their young" . It's as though they are trying to get back at all the girls who were mean to them in high school.
    Perhaps for the same reason they eat their elders, as well. The old battle-axes are jealous of youth and beauty, the youngsters are jealous of experience and skill.
  13. by   timetoshine
    Lesliel - That is the problem. You shouldn't have to go through this. I don't agree you should "kill them with kindness" and let Karma take care of the rest. When someone gives you a hard time you can in a very soft voice, which is barely audible say something like "Thank you very much. I didn't realize you were that interested in helping me." and then walk away or go do something else. But your voice needs to be just about a whisper. I know it sounds cooky but it does two things. One. you get their attention and two they don't know what you said. If they ask you what you said. Just smile and say I thanked you for wanting to help me. People get confused when you confront them with a positive. In other words get their attention and go on the offensive. Once they figure out they are not going to get to you they will quit trying. I hope it works for you. It has for me more than once.
  14. by   SilentfadesRPA
    My Miss G was a nun. A huge woman who was head nurse and instructor when students were on her ward. She had a dual mission -bound and determined to make me a nurse and a Roman Catholic. Her first question to me over those glasses was a - are you a Roman Catholic man? I remember my stomach as I could not find the voice to answer her but finally did with 'NO MAME' with my eyes downcast.

    Her response, I will never forget was loud and commanding like the voice of G*d Himself "THAT IS SISTER MARY REDEMPTA TO YOU" Well the good sister got half of her mission accomplished.

    Yes they were pretty tough and rough in those days but the care was outstanding. I became critically ill in clinical rotation - guess who was at my bedside at 2am doing special private duty when I woke up from a morphine fog and drenched with sweat?

    I thought it was an angel at first till I heard "that voice" booming as ever asking if I wanted a drink or was in pain ?I was very ill with a renal cyst infection and fevers. I then recall her wiping my forehead, ever so gently like a mother with a child,with a cold cloths and praying the beads as I drifted back to sleep. Yet she still taught clinical the next day after being by my bedside all night.

    Sadly less than what is reflective in the attitudes and results that I have come across in this advanced generation. Gee I am sounding old here - lol. What I do miss is the respect that was back then but then again do not miss the cost that sometimes went with it.

    Great article thank you much.

    PS -- thank you Sister Mary Redempta and yes I know where you are and perhaps I should be saying Saint Sister Mary Redempta.
    Last edit by SilentfadesRPA on Apr 27, '11