Why do nurses "eat their young?" (serious post)

Nurses General Nursing


I'm relatively new to this forum and I'm also a new Family Nurse Practitioner that graduated from a non-RN to NP program...one of those programs that RNs consistently bash every time the subject is brought up.

Obviously, the type of program I went to is subject to debate and I'm sure we will all never come to some agreement on the issue, but that is beside the point of this post.

While in my NP program, I consistently heard the phrase "Nurses eat their young." I heard this and did not pay much attention to it. But after seeing it in rotations and after graduation, it makes me wonder. Why do they?

Why is it that nurses always seem to be at war with each other? Seriously. MDs, PAs, Lawyers, Marines, etc. all seem to stick together and cover each other's back while nurses do not.

I have worked so many jobs and have never seen the kind of bickering that goes on as it does with nurses. When I was an EMT and somebody made a mistake, we all tried our best to help the person out. However, nurses are quick to say "He/She did it, it wasn't me." This example is just one of many that I can think of.

Why? What is the problem here? When I became an NP, a lot of RNs disliked the idea that I did not practice for years as a floor nurse. There was no congratulations or welcome to the field attitude. It did not matter that I was a nurse. The only thing that mattered was that I was not a "traditional" nurse...whatever.

Its just so ridiculous. Get over it and get along already. The world is big enough for all types of nurses and we should all accept each other for what each of us brings to the profession. Personally, I may not be the ideal "traditional" nurse, but who cares!!! I enjoy my profession and do a good job. I bring things to the field that others don't as well as lack things that others have. It evens out and on the whole, this is probably a good thing.

This is just my Sunday night curiousity.



296 Posts

I think it has to do with the idea that in general, nurses feel oppressed. As a result, they inappropriately displace their frustration onto the only 'object' incapable of retaliation [nursing students, and new nurses to be specific]. When I had students in clinical at the hospitals, I used to just shake my head when I would hear the way some of the staff nurses would talk to them.

I must admit... I did have those prejudices about non-RN to MSN/NP programs too [had being the operative word here]. I probably blame my NP program for it [it was quite the adventure], if you weren't a *NAME OF SCHOOL* NP, you weren't a 'Real NP.' It is only in retrospect that I can see what a poor set of ideals they gave us.

Even the students I have had [non-RN to MSN/Clin. Spec.], I guess they were just 'different' than the RN/BSN to MSN students. In some ways, kinder... I have been doing a lot of re-thinking since our last discussion in another thread, can you tell?

What is the answer? I don't know. Will nurses continue to act like this, probably. The only thing I can recommend is that you show, by example, how to act. I try to. Maybe people dismiss me as an idiot, but they can never say I was unkind to them.

Oh well....c'est la vie!

By the way.... welcome to the profession!


349 Posts

Whew!! Yet another can of worms opened. I don't know why we do it. It has been suggested that it's because nsg is a female-dominated profession. Although I've vehemently fought with another poster on this bb about this exact same point (yes, SUBQ, I'm talking about you), it seems more and more that this may be a very valid point. Women are CATTY. I was in a sorority and bowed out after 2 years, sick of all the b.s. and constant crap. Nursing, if you really think about it, is just a huge sorority. It does depend on where you work, however. I notice there's less back-biting and more of a team effort in critical care areas. I guess that when people are more focused on keeping someone from DYING minute to minute, they don't get all caught up in the frivilous crap. THEN AGAIN...we had a situation on my unit recently where there was a bad outcome....rather than trying to support the nurse who'd been with the patient, several staff members seemed to take great pleasure in pointing out each and every possible mistake supposedly made by this nurse. It turns out, she didn't MAKE A MISTAKE. What happened was simply a crappy turn in the universe, and had nothing to do with this nurse giving poor or imprudent care. However, you'd never know it by how some of the staff treated her.

You're missing one thing, though. It really irritates me to hear that MD's, PA's, the military, etc. do not have this problem. BULLS***!!! Keep your ears open sometime...I PROMISE you you'll hear plenty of back-stabbing going on, just more subtle and underhanded. Sit around sometime and listen to a group of docs who've let their guard down...they're just as bad as the nurses, if not worse. And the MILITARY??!!?? ARE YOU NUTS??!!?? No way...they're friggin' PSYCHOTIC sometimes with the hazing. I have family members that are marines, dated an army officer, and have a very good (female) friend who is an officer in the air force. The stories they tell could make your hair stand on end.

I don't know why nurses eat their young...they just do. It's sad and it's horrible and it's especially tragic now that we're in the midst of a crisis with staffing. I find that what gets me through the cat claws and knife-throwing contests is that there are some awesome men and women I work with, and the good outweigh the bad on most days. Just ignore 'em. Do your job, do it well, and let the cats and chickens keep yowling, clawing, and sqwaking. You'll be amazed at how quickly you learn to tune it out!! biggrin.gif


123 Posts

I agree with Tim that nurses are an oppressed group and turning on each other is a symptom. Also, nurses in hospitals have had to deal with fear of making errors and different forms of intimidation. I have noticed nurses are becoming more supportive of each other. Maybe the crisis in nursing is having this effect. At any rate, I would be happy to never hear the nurses eat their young phrase again. It has divisive connotations and we need to present a united front. I think we will.


56 Posts

Thanks for the replies everyone. Tim, wow, your opinion has changed since our last discussion. That's great. I find your posts, Tim, to be very honest and open-minded.

I guess I was a bit wrong in saying that no other field back-stabs each other, but nurses do tend to do it often and more open for others to pick up on.

I would never say that its because its a female dominated profession, but another woman did say that so maybe I'll agree with that poster a bit. Men just don't tend to back-stab. If we have a problem, we confront the guy at once and settle it verbally or physically...in either case, we have a beer afterwards and the issue is resolved. Is that a better method? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, men know where they stand with each other and there is a testosterone respect factor that keeps us from doing anything "catty." Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule with both men and women, I'm speaking from my personal experiences.

Keep the posts coming!!!


[This message has been edited by Chris-FNP (edited March 18, 2001).]

[This message has been edited by Chris-FNP (edited March 18, 2001).]

Navy Nurse

70 Posts

It is interesting that this happens. I can give you one opinion as to way it happens in the Navy. When you join the Navy as a Nurse you are instantly in competetion with other nurses. We get annual fitness reports that play a hug part in promotions. Granted your first few years in the Navy are not that big of a deal but after 4 years it becomes very stiff competetion for rank and recognition. Of course with more rank comes more power and more money. It is not good enough that you are an excellent clinician, you also have to go above and beyond the call of duty, thus leads to back stabbing and other undesirable means of being in the top 1% of the nurses at your command. This is what leads to that kind of behavior among the Jr. Nurses, among the Sr Nurses it is a threat to their power, whether it is actual or a perceved threat. They treat the young nurses bad, because "that is the way we were treated." I personally don't agree with any of this type of behavior, just offering a little insight.

Navy Nurse

70 Posts

Following my previous post, I do not understand why this happens in civilian nursing. Most civilian nurses are in areas that they plan on staying in. There is no real competetion to move up unless you desire to. Most pay raise are length of time raises and doesn't have anything to do with performance.

It does appear that most nurses forget that at one time they were students also.


6 Posts

Speaking for myself only, I am sorry you had such a bad experience in regards to your treatment after getting your NP. A nurse IS a nurse. I don't care what school my co-workers went to. What I care about is the exceptional care that they give. All of us in the field should remember how difficult training was. Not just the clinicals, the entire thing! It is as much mental as physical, and anyone coming into this field should be congratulated!!

I have been in the Nursing field since 1995, but have wanted to be a nurse for just about my entire life. I love Nursing. As a profession, we should stand beside each other. We have enough people trying to break us down on a daily basis. I go to work each day with the mind set that I am going to impact at least one life. It can mean simply holding someone's hand, taking the time to wash a face, calling to update a family, or telling my co-worker that they did a good job. I don't do this job for anyone but myself. I feel good at night when I fall into bed from exhaustion, because I know I did all I could that day. I think we should remember the saying "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". I think it applies to just about every situation in life.

Now, I do not go around with my eyes closed, nor am I naive. I hurt my back on the job in 1998, and not a one of my fellow co-workers will stand and say they know that I hurt it on the job, even though many were told when it happened. Remember, even if you feel the smallest twinge, report it immediately!! It was a small nursing home with only me and a CNA on the floor. I am now fighting for my rights with my trial scheduled in June.

We have to watch our backs...and it would be much easier if we all kept an eye out on each others. No one else will stand up for us, we have to stand up for each other. We work long shifts, low pay, low on the totem pole, and generally are not appreciated. We are all human beings trying to make it in this world.

When I am training a new nurse, I remember being in their shoes. I treat them with patience and understanding. If we resort to the "well that's the way I learned" then we become part of the problem. I love the fact that someone else cared enough about others to sacrifice themselves to the field of nursing. Thank you for bringing up this topic, and maybe we can become the solution, not just part of the problem from now on.


Don't forget, everything you do has an impact on someone or something...Even doing nothing.


219 Posts

I think the question is wrong. It should be written "Why do some nurses eat their young."

I have had the privelege of working with many

very good nurses who did not belittle or attach others. Yes, I have known some who tried to make themselves look better by making others look worse. But, not so many. These people just stand out cleared in memory.

Nurses have been oppressed. Some nurses are passive/aggressive. Many of us have issues. And once in a while I even lose my patience with a co-worker. But all nurses are not "catty, backstabbing, biker bitches from hell." I've been in both the Army and the Air

Force. And those services have the same sort of problems. I've heard doc's gossip and I think construction workers are worse than any

for gossiping. I just think that we as nurses

expect more from ourselves than we do of others. And we each seem to be less tolerant of our own imperfections.

So, we need to forgive ourselves and learn to take life a little easier.

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

97 Articles; 21,237 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

Chris - I personally think you like the controversy that surrounds your non-RN to FNP route provokes. You seem to like to stir the water and then stand back and see if it boils. Have fun.


7 Posts


Thanks for clearing up many of the questions that I have concerning these types of programs. As an individual who is about to begin one of these programs, I have a couple of other questions that you might be able to help me with. First, was it difficult to find a position as an NP after graduating since you did not have extensive RN experience? Also, since I noticed that you are in Massachusetts, I was wondering if you went to a local program? If so, would you mind letting me know your opinion of it since I am up in the air about which school to choose.


2 Posts

I will complete my traditional ADN program this May, with plans to continue through MSN.

Working in a busy Trauma Center ER, I would like to say that this victimizing does occur. Yet, I have found it to be only related to some individuals. It seems rather to be aligned with the severe shortages of nurses than time-honored tradition of abusing the next generation.

In our department, nurses that have been training, teaching, and passing on pearls of wisdom are finding themselves exausted with the added workload and stress.

Frankly the hospital does not see fit to reward or even provide extra teaching time to these indivduals.

As an incoming nurse, I am rather terrified of the climate towards teaching and helping those of us who want to excellent clinicians.

I am glad to hear that some of you have changed your thinking and want to improve relations in this field.


Nursing Student

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