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Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Advice Column) Writer Innovator Expert Nurse Verified

Three Patients in ICU and Bullied on First Job

Nurse Beth   (2,256 Views 6 Comments)
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Dear Nurse Beth,


I'm trying to move on in my career journey but I'm just a little nervous and scared. I've been unemployed for 2 weeks now and now I'm enjoying my short break but eventually, I have to find a job.


So, I recently resigned from an ICU after being there for a year. I resigned the proper way: 3 weeks notice. I had been wanting to leave way earlier but I decided to make it a year just because a year looks better than less than a year. It was rough, I was burnt out, stressed out and depressed. Somehow, I managed to make it.


About the unit: level 3 adult trauma. 3:1 ratio. The patients are 70-80% of the time obese. Its a 35 bed but we only have 1 or 2cna, so there was usually barely any help. 3 pts per nurse is normal but getting a 4th and 5th is not surprising. Also, in addition to total care, we were also doing things that we as nurses shouldn't like a lot of the doctors job... on top of that, management puts lots of pressure on staff to do more things that are not realistically possible... not to mention, there was bullying and it seemed throwing people under the bus was the favorite sport, which sucks cause were all already struggling but being mean and not supporting each other just makes it so much worse... I could go on... but, basically, the workload is just too much, the working environment was very toxic, there are too many responsibilities for 1 nurse and its unsafe for both pts and my RN license was always at risk.

When I resigned, the director & manager basically said that they would not give a good reference if any employers would call their office, because I only lasted a year. It doesn't sound fair at all. And this is one of the reasons I'm scared to apply to other jobs because I'm afraid the places I apply might call the unit regardless with or without my knowing, and then I get thrown off the bus... also I have a feeling they hate me and that they won't give a good reference is because I was always one of the people at the receiving end of the grunt of the dramas as I was one of the people who would get bullied often. One nurse told me that the charge nurses and other nurses liked bullying me for reasons like I was new, I was too kind, I was even told that my resting face is "trying to look cute or naive" like they couldn't stand my appearance for no apparent reason, I get picked on so they can see me cry or something. Which, I never cried. Ever. I can't help the looks I was born with...


I would like for my next job to be a place that I would love and that I would gladly stay in for more than 1 year. I don't want to be tagged with having commitment issues in my resume... working at that ICU dept had traumatized me so now I'm open to other specialties but I just can't decide and I'm fearful of critical floors.

I know 2 years would have been the most ideal, but I don't regret it at all. I made it a year and for me, that was enough. I'm actually happy I'm out of that place now. So much happier.

Currently, I'm talking with a travel agency because it's short-term contracts and I wouldn't have to commit a year or so especially if I didn't like working at a place. But I just realized, I only have 1+ year of working experience. I don't know if any windows for travel nursing may open for me yet. A lot of facilities require 2-3 years. Plus, I hear things like the regular staff can be unwelcoming to travel nurses and they tend to be mean to them...


I'm open to applying for another full-time position but I would like it to be a place that is opposite of my previous workplace. It's hard to know all that beforehand.


I want to feel as if I am starting over in a place that I would love and enjoy working at for years. I just want longevity, supportiveness and not to be burnt out again. I would even consider relocating just for that promise.


So far, I haven't applied to any permanent positions yet because of this fear. I don't want to make the wrong decisions. Please, I need some advice.


Dear Scared,

First of all, kudos for staying 1 year- a wise decision, even though it was difficult.

Your first position in nursing was in a toxic environment, but know that all nursing units are not like the one you left. Try not to operate from fear- you have to get back in the game before your gap in employment becomes an issue.

Your manager's threat to give you a bad evaluation is likely just a threat. Most organizations just give dates of employment and job title because of liability. So much so that prospective employers often do not even call previous managers. Please don't worry over something that probably won't happen and over which you have no control.

As far as working as a travel nurse, you would do better to first gain more experience. You just left a non-supportive workplace and travel assignments are not known for being nurturing and warm. They are for highly independent nurses who can jump in with minimal direction.

With 1 year ICU experience, you are definitely marketable. Check with your classmates to find someone who landed in a better work environment. During an interview, you can ask about teamwork and turnover. High turnover is a red flag.

I wish you the best and keep us posted.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

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



Edited by tnbutterfly

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I hate to say it but I routinely had 3 patients in the ICU (and all of them were sick, and many required 2 people to lift). Having said that.... some ICU nurses are like Gandalf. They stand in the river and say "You Shall Not Pass." You made it a year - yay you!

You will never give that manager's phone number out for a reference. I would make sure you're eligible for rehire, and that's an ask to human resources. If you find you're not, clear that up. Otherwise the only contact from a new employer will be validating dates at HR.

Also - while it's lovely and wonderful to have best buddies at work - it's not necessary. A competent team where everyone works in harmony and all the stuff gets done is what you should be striving for. If you still want to be bedside, have you considered ER or telemetry or another subspecialty?

Best of luck.

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Go ahead and apply for jobs now. The shorter the time between periods of employment, the better. Take an hour or two a day to tweak your resume/cover letter, look for openings, and fill out applications. Then enjoy your break. Even if you get called for an interview tomorrow, you'll still have a few weeks (at minimum) until you're actually working again. While there's the possibility your toxic manager could sabotage your prospects with a potential employer (not likely but theoretically possible), if you don't even apply, you're guaranteed to have no job.

Nurse Beth's advice about networking is spot on. Are you in contact with any of your nursing school classmates? I bet some of them will be at workplaces they can recommend.

I really want to reassure you that not all floors are like the toxic one you describe. I've had some feelings of being burnt out this past year, but that was due to understaffing, and always working short. Now we have a bunch of new hires orienting, and some are already working independently, so I'm not getting multiple texts a day begging for people to pick up hours.

But even when we were all stressed and short-staffed, my colleagues were always fantastic and supportive. One of my classmates started at a different hospital, left after about a year, and came to work at my hospital. The first thing she said about the place was, "everyone's so nice here!" And it's true. It's a culture of nurses supporting other nurses. I should also mention I'm in the float pool, so it would be really easy to "dump" the difficult patients or heavy assignments on me, but that doesn't happen. Sure, I sometimes get bad assignments, but that's usually when the floor is especially heavy, and everyone has it tough.

So, please don't be discouraged. A year in ICU looks really good on your resume. If you're willing to relocate, you can always "blame" the job search on moving to a new area. Or you can apply to a different type of floor, and state you are looking for a change in environment.

ICU isn't for everyone. I personally like the fast pace of med-surg. I like the patient teaching and family interaction. I like spotting patients who are deteriorating and being their advocate for a higher level of care. I like being able to ease patients' final days after the ICU can do no more for them and they become comfort care. I don't want to be in the ICU and do total care patients without an aide. I don't want sedated patients on vents and drips. I would find the more frequent codes and deaths very emotionally draining.

Critical care might be your niche, but you won't find out until you experience it at a healthier hospital. Or you might find a happier fit in a different department. Either way, go ahead and apply. You won't know unless you try.

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Perhaps I'm naive, but threatening to give you an ugly reference simply for resigning after one year, with a 3 week notice is still bullying. It's a hostile work environment AND an HR liability. Whomever said this to you, especially if they follow through with the threat, is setting themselves and the facility up to be sued. Is there anyone you can speak with in HR to make them aware of this behavior? You will not be the last person they do this to.

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One thought I would add to this excellent advice is when you interview ask to see the department. Usually they will introduce you to several nurses, you can get the "vibe of the floor," are people smiling, offering help to others, being kind to visitors and patients. Can you "see" yourself working there?

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