This “Rite Of Passage” Is The Same As Nurse Bullying And Here’s Why
By Mariam Yazdi
After two years of travel nursing, I bopped into my home hospital to say hi to the unit that “raised me” and gave me the experience I needed to go travel nursing. I visited the nurse residency program, where new graduates were meeting to discuss projects they were implementing on their units as part of the program. I spoke with the group for hours, and towards the end, one of the new graduates voiced her concern:
“I feel that on my unit, there’s this unspoken ‘rite-of-passage.’ I feel that the charge nurses give us new grad nurses most of the admissions, the busiest patient assignments that no one wants, and they get annoyed if we ask too many questions or if we ask for help too much. They are looking to see how we do and if they will consider us one of them.”
“Well, that’s nurse bullying,” I said.
A “rite of passage” is just a softer way of saying nurse bullying.
Being given admission after admission, with a patient load of 7 and 8, while the charge nurse and his or her friends have 4 or 5 patients is how nurses eat their young. It’s how units create a toxic culture by discriminating against those who lack seniority, for the sake of yielding power or creating a convenient environment for some and not others.
Other nurses chimed in, sharing that on their units, this culture was rampant as well. In fact, assignments were so lopsided towards these new nurses who had just gotten off orientation, that for their nurse residency project they decided to institute an acuity scale for patient assignments. This way charge nurses would have to follow this policy to create even loads for each nurse.
But of course, it’s never that easy.
“Silence preserves this culture”
“Have you spoken to your managers about this?” I asked.
The answers from everyone was a general, “No, not really.” Or “Yes, they know, but nothing changes.” This work culture was obviously toxic yet no one was really saying anything. They were putting up with it, silently suffering and building resentment towards the unit and even possibly, the profession.
“Silence preserves this culture,” I said. “If you don’t say anything, nothing can ever change!”
Of course, they knew this. We all do. But again, it’s not always that easy. One nurse said she felt silence was better than the possible retaliation that could come from escalating this to upper management.
How is this different from cycles of abuse that have become exposed in almost every industry lately? Hollywood in particular? How is this different from the entire #metoo movement? Women (and men) enter careers and find themselves in positions where those in power corner them into situations that are not only uncomfortable but are illegal. Sexual harassment, abuse, and discrimination exist in cases like those of Harvey Weinstein and Leslie Moonves. How were these people allowed to get away with this abuse for so long?
Because of silence. Silence always enables the perpetrator.
Insecurities around being “new”
New graduate nurses can find themselves in a similar situation, albeit on a different scale. As a new nurse, you want to set a good impression, you want to communicate to the team that you are competent and safe and able to handle patient care as expected. Yet it feels that you are at the mercy of those around you.
You depend on someone else’s experience and willingness to share that experience in order to get through the day. You may make mistakes that set back the flow of the unit or alter care for patients. You don’t know the answers to common questions yet, and you may be belittled for this by the preceptors, charge nurses, or other experienced staff who are now creating a hostile working environment for you.
And others may see it, yet they say nothing.
And you know this is wrong, yet you say nothing. Because you don’t want to rock the boat. Because you don’t want to be seen as a complainer. Because you don’t want to face that retaliation at work or become a target. Because the new graduate market is tough and you don’t want to lose your job.
All these points probably ran through the minds of those who suffered through the incidences of the #metoo movement. It’s what made silence seem better. It’s what allowed this culture to persist. Yet when silence is broken, cultures change.
Use your voice…confidently
Nursing as a profession asks many things of us. But one of the most powerful things nursing asks of us is to find our voice – and use it. Use it for the sake of sick people who can’t communicate. Use it to bring medical attention to patients that may not know any better. Use it to advocate for your patient, their family, and most importantly – yourself.
Learning to use your voice – even to just fulfill your job description – can be a very uncomfortable process. It takes patience, practice, and a whole lot of self-love. When you decide to speak up, you realize the power your voice has. It has the power to save your patients, your job, and it has the ability to better the situation, not only for yourself but for those coming in after you.
If your workplace culture does not make you feel empowered to speak up when there is unfair treatment, you must empower yourself. Create an internal dialogue of self-love when you speak up. Be proud of yourself and encourage yourself to keep advocating for what’s right despite how those around you react.
Although it’s difficult and deeply uncomfortable, this is an opportunity for you to expand your comfort zone, and grow into the professional you are capable of being. Lastly, using your voice holds more power than you think: your actions are creating the culture for future generations. Before you know it there will be new nurses following you, entering the same loop you did.
You can change the narrative. You have the ability to stop the cycle of bullying. Don’t allow your pain to be passed on to another generation of nurses. Empower yourself to use your voice. Your patients, your career, and your wellbeing ask it of you.