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toxic culture, materialism, and unionism


Specializes in Operating room.

this is a story that I have been wanting to tell for some time. the idea of typing these words gives me an energy that trembles me to my core. I have practiced nursing for no longer than 2 years but I have so much to say. I have an extensive leadership background and once immersed into the lunacy of this field I realize there is a deficiency.

I started at a trauma one education hospital in the operating room. during orientation I was the only one to not sign a union contract. my reasoning you ask? I didn't believe in unions after the weekend was established back when unions were needed. I believed that unions in the current day served the purpose of robing people of their money but now I believe they serve a new purpose. during my orientation they made a public announcement that there was ONE person that had not signed up and that this was a fleeting opportunity, this was my last chance. I did not sign up.

the training resembled less of an education and more of a hazing gaslight model. I started off as a promising candidate and was publicly announced as one in front of my cohort. things were looking great prospectively. as the weeks went on in my 6 month orientation to the operating room I looked less and less as a promising candidate. by month 3 I was called into the supervisors office for questioning as to why I was not at the appropriate developmental stage as my other peers in the operating room. I was at the same stage as others. we did rotations every month from one service line to the next. I rotated through head and neck, robotics, kidney transplant, gyn, endocrinology. I scrubbed and I circulated. my preceptors were less than kind. I was sabotaged, I was harassed, I was humiliated. it got to the point that I went home and no longer recognized myself for the person that I new myself to be, I went on antidepressants. my educator, the woman that was there to protect and progress me was using my words against me. the educator was there for meetings that would implicate me. and in the free time of surgery I was called aside by her into empty operating rooms with my preceptor of the day and they would ask me what was wrong with me and how I can improve.

the examples of imprecation were this:

"you seemed to have prepped the patients skin too wide from the incision site, it seemed like you didn't even know what surgery you were doing"

"did you know by using two chloroprep sticks to prep the field that you are using a skin irritant and are causing undue stress to the patient"

they called me into a room the size of of a closet to practice my interviewing skills. they said I touched my ear lobe too much during talking to the patients and I appeared nervous. I was to perform my interview in front of my nursing supervisor, my preceptor, and my educator. I attempted my interview using them as mock patients. start over they said, my interview was not good. start over again they said, I still needed to work on the interview. why not try saying this instead, they said, which was just a minor variation of what I was saying before.

fast forward a day later, it is 7 am and my supervisor calls me out of the hallway to speak with me. she says, "what was that yesterday?" I say that I do not know and that I have lost my confidence severely because of such claims by my superiors. I am under investigation, it is my 3rd month in the operating room, she says that she will be my preceptor personally for one shift to get to the bottom of these claims. I agree but I never get to the appointment that she has set.

one week later I am doing a general shift. my preceptor says that she trusts me and that I know how to drop off a specimen, I find that to be an odd statement because every preceptor prior would follow me to the specimen room to observe the drop off. It is an easy task and I walk to the room, I place the sticker, I log the specimen. as I walk down the hallway my preceptor of the day calls out to me. she says, "I cannot find the specimen nor the log of the patient name in the book" I flip for minutes till it is 30 minutes. I flipped into my lunch break and I could not find the material that I had vividly registered.

they had found a way to get rid of me. you see, to lose a specimen in the OR is the equivalent of turning in your resignation. they had turned my resignation in for me.

I left the facility after that. I felt as though I was crazy. this was my first nursing job but by no means not my first job ever. by knowing my previous work experience I knew what toxic looked like. I work in an operating room at a different facility, I worked my way from the ground up and had not heard one complaint. I am a rockstar here.

my point? I want to make so many. my point is that some nurses are toxic people, especially those at sparkling facilities. it does not make them any better than those that have worked community hospitals. travelers are the most kind nurses you will run into. they are the most kind souls and they want to help unlike those that are corrupted. unions serve a vital purpose but often to the point that they are communistic and that one must conform. I love the operating room. some have tried to take it away from me but they have failed. Some days are difficult some, some nights I wake up in turmoil over things that no longer matter and are just "there"

to take advantage of a person willing to learn your field of interest and to squander that opportunity is the equivalent of devouring innocence and fosters survivalist mentality that is toxic to the following generation. please break the cycle.

Edited by servantleader2020

I don’t think the union has much to do with your complaint. And you may not be pro union until you have a complaint and need their help. They possibly could have helped you in this situation as a hostile work environment claim. But I’m not an expert in that but it’s a possibility. I do agree with you that as a profession, we should not need a union but apparently we’re not there yet.
I am sorry for the god awful experience and some work places are just plain toxic. And don’t beat yourself up over it, it just is. Set of luck to you and I’m sorry for your horrible experience.

TriciaJ, RN

Specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory. Has 40 years experience.

I imagine the union couldn't be much help to you when you were still on probation. Some unions are better than others, but they are needed by nurses. Trust me on that.

Either you were terrible at this job, or it was just a horribly toxic place. Find another gig. Life is too short to live with that kind of stress.

catsmeow1972, BSN, RN

Specializes in OR. Has 15 years experience.

From your story, it sounds to me that the union had little to do with the issues here. The union likely was not specific to the OR. Rather this OR sounds toxic as hell. I’ve been in such situations (Some in ORs and in other settings) and it is truly a horrible thing.

I’ve long said that there are some people who are so unconfident of their own skills, that the only way they know how to make themselves feel/look better Is to tear down others. I also don’t understand the point of torturing the new nurses/techs into leaving. They are the ones that will help keep me from having to work every friggin holiday for the next 10 years.

As far as stuff like “prepping too wide from the incision site” Uhhh...that’s horse manure. IMO, you can’t prep too wide. Unless there’s issues like an ostomy, skin tears, lesions, etc. I prep table to table, of course being aware to not leave puddles of prep solution.
This sounds like it was a horribly toxic place with horribly unhappy people. I doubt the union and your choice to not join had anything to do with it. You are much better off out of there. I would leave it behind and enjoy your current experience. Maybe Briefly feel a little sorry for those unhappy souls but know that you will not be party to continuing that horrible behavior and for that, you are already helping to break the cycle.

lifelearningrn, BSN, RN

Specializes in School Nursing. Has 7 years experience.

Perhaps you learned more than you realized in those three months, and that has allowed you to shine in your new position.

I don't think unions had anything to do with your experience. You weren't a good fit.

DannyBoy8, RN

Has 4 years experience.

Seduce the supervisors significant other; that'll show 'em. And next time join the union or find a non-union gig.

It sounds like a terrible experience, but it doesn't sound like the union had anything to do with it. Honestly, management would prefer you not be in a union, so your supervisor wasn't targeting you for your union refusal.

Now, toxic culture is toxic culture, and it sounds like your OR was. It's not about being union or non-union, though. At my hospital we have a mix of union and non-union nurses. You don't have to join the union, and it's not generally known if you have or haven't, unless you talk about it. PRN nurses can't join. Overall, the culture is pretty supportive. One of my classmates started at a non-union hospital, and later got a job at my hospital. One of the first things she said to me is, "everyone's so nice here!" When I asked about the other hospital, she said, "*** that place." I'm not saying my hospital is perfect by any stretch, but the overall culture is of nurses being kind to each other.

It sounds like you had a bad experience at a union hospital. That doesn't make unions bad. It means that particular OR is toxic. If the union disappeared tomorrow, that OR would still be toxic. There are plenty of supportive union facilities out there and plenty of toxic non-union facilities. You can even find supportive units and toxic units within the same facility.

I'm glad you found a job that makes you happy and where you are appreciated. But if you need to change jobs some day, I urge you not to discount unions and automatically choose non-union facilities. The culture of the department is so much more than that.

Your experience is exactly why my goal is to shoot straight to pmhnp or fnp ASAP and get some autonomy.