Nurses 'Eat their Young?'


I'm preparing to graduate nursing school and move into the workforce as a professional nurse. I'm so excited but the closer it gets the more nervous I become. I've heard the phrase 'Nurses eat their young.' A lot lately. The phrase implying that the more experienced nurses aren't helping and like watching the new nurses struggle. I've also heard the first year of nursing is very difficult. Help!

Any advice or tips/tricks on surviving the first year as an RN would be super helpful?

13 Answers

Tweety, BSN, RN

32,951 Posts

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 31 years experience.

It's a vile phrase that has been out there for decades and is largely a myth.

There is a movement spearheaded by Nurse Blake that perpetuates this myth but also is calling on experienced nurses to be more supportive. So this might be why you are hearing it more these days.

Sign The Pledge: Nurses Support Their Young |

Nursing is a tough and demanding profession and that first year is indeed tough, especially in hospitals. When orientation is over, it's over, and it's time to put on your big person clothes and bite the bullet and get out there and work. Nurses are deep in their own heavy patient loads and often don't have the time to be helpful and supportive. Don't take this to mean that they enjoy watching you sink.

Yes, there are some bad nurses out there and sensitive new grads come across one bad moment and then say "nurses eat their young!" which brands every single nurse, and the profession, and that's not fair.

Work hard, ask for help when you need it as busy floor nurses can't read your mind and know when you are drowning and need help, but they aren't going to do your work for you or hold your hand.

Good luck!!

Editorial Team / Admin

dianah, ASN

9 Articles; 3,824 Posts

Specializes in RETIRED Cath Lab/Cardiology/Radiology. Has 48 years experience.

As Tweety states, this phrase has been around a long time.

We have many threads referring to it here at

I did a search and found at least three.

You may be able to pick up some tips from them on making the transition from new grad to more-seasoned nurse:

Why do nurses eat their young?

Define: Nurses Eating Their Young

Nurses that eat their young

A lot has to do with your attitude and also with the climate/culture in which you are working.

Wishing you all the best in this learning curve (it's different than book learning!).


1,487 Posts

Not at all a myth, very true in my experience.

If you get in with bullies, my suggestion is to not be at all intimidated and leave as soon as you can.

One tip I do have. Never accept any vague criticism. If someone has something negative to say about you, be calm and keep asking questions about the specific behavior that they observed. Do not settle for statements like "You don't know your nursing process" or " you didn't handle Mr Jones correctly". That won't help you at all.

You may find the person criticising has some genuinely useful information, and if that is the case, thank them.

Or maybe they don't, at which point your questions will make them squirm.

Emergent, RN

2 Articles; 4,111 Posts

Specializes in ER. Has 30 years experience.

I think that the perpetuation of this stereotype is harmful. It causes people to see bullying under every rock. Every sigh or slightly critical remark by an older nurse is interpreted as eating young.

Bullying can go in both directions in nursing. I've also seen young nurses form cliques that are very disrespectful of older nurses.

So much depends on the culture of the unit. There are definitely some toxic ones.

Good luck with your career!

Julius Seizure

1 Article; 2,282 Posts

Specializes in Pediatric Critical Care.

In general, nurses are like the rest of humankind. Some are friendly, some are not. No different than any other field that you might enter.

There are many helpful and supportive "veteran" nurses out there. Set yourself up for success by showing that you value their experience and want to learn from them.

Also, YES the first year is hard! But you can make it through (If I can, anybody can!) Persevere. And try your best to bloom where you are planted (AKA stay at least a year), even if it isn't your dream job.


380 Posts

I personally like my young lightly roasted and sprinkled with salt before eating them personally

kbrn2002, ADN, RN

3,762 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis. Has 21 years experience.

Entry level nursing is a beast, that first year or so often has a brutal learning curve. I've noticed recently that more new nurses are entering the workforce woefully unprepared for the realities of real world nursing than used to be the case. Just the simple fact that a new nurse needs a lot more on the job training than in the past can cause strain on the senior staff that need to help the newer nurse thrive. Not all those senior nurses are able to cheerfully accomplish that task. I don't think that the intention at all is to "eat their young" but it might seem that way when a new nurse is getting pushed harder and faster than they are prepared for.


39 Posts

"Stay out of drama" is the best advice I was ever given by a seasoned nurse!

"nursy", RN

289 Posts

Specializes in ICU, ER, Home Health, Corrections, School Nurse. Has 40 years experience.

Nursing is one of the few jobs that you will ever have that has a 24 hour cycle. When you work in an office, no one comes in after you leave and looks over everything you've done for the day. But in nursing that is exactly what happens every day. You come in and analyze what went on before you and your actions will be analyzed when you leave. And everyone gets judgy, why did they do this, why didn't they do that, so and so missed an order, etc etc. There is no escaping this. It feels like nurses eating their young, but most nurses aren't that selective, everyone gets eaten. It's human nature. But it's why we feel so horrible when we make a mistake, not only do we have to live with ourselves, but everyone around us is also aware of our mistakes. And these days (because of patient satisfaction surveys) the families are even judgier than the staff. To survive, you must become very good, very confident and have a tough skin. Otherwise you burn out. The other option is to find a position where you are not on a 24 hour cycle, or more autonomous. Home health, school nursing, doctors office etc. The pay may not be that good, but a big paycheck will not compensate for the loss of your mental wellbeing.


29 Posts

I am a preceptor quite frequently and also still remember what it felt like to be new. It is hard. When I first started precepting I did my best to make it so my orientees did not feel the discomfort I did because I was hoping to make the process easier. What I started to discover was I did them a disservice by trying to smooth the path too much. It is far better to to watch them struggle a bit when I am there to catch any big misses than to suddenly find themselves on their own and just realize how much of their slack I was picking up. It is not something I enjoy watching, believe me but I think sometimes it is necessary. If you get a preceptor that has a different style that what you need have honest conversations with your manager.

That all being said there are some difficult people in any field and I'm sure there are in nursing too. Just do your best to avoid them or win them over. I had one co-worker that I had a hard time with. She was a scrub tech and super intimidating and gruff. I always felt like she was coming down on me. One day when we worked together I just went up to her and said that I'm new, not much experience in the OR and please let me know if I need to be doing anything differently I would really appreciate it. There was a whole new dynamic in the room after that. She really tried to educate rather than just yell out orders. I thanked her as we were leaving the OR. I have used that with anyone new I work with now. If it is something new to me I let them know. I think is softens the environment most of the time. Good Luck!

KelRN215, BSN, RN

1 Article; 7,349 Posts

Specializes in Pedi. Has 16 years experience.
I think that the perpetuation of this stereotype is harmful. It causes people to see bullying under every rock. Every sigh or slightly critical remark by an older nurse is interpreted as eating young.

Yes, this. Any kind of criticism is not "bullying."

Julius Seizure

1 Article; 2,282 Posts

Specializes in Pediatric Critical Care.
Triddin said:
I personally like my young lightly roasted and sprinkled with salt before eating them personally

If you decide to eat your old, too, I suggest marinating them overnight first to help tenderize the crusty parts.