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Nurses don’t taste THAT good!

lion-licking-lipsHonestly, I have heard about “nurses eating their young” since day one of my new nursing career. What gives? Does this “phenomenon” even exist?

The only true experience I have had with being “eaten” occurred at report time–when I think most nurse-to-nurse interactions have a tendency to go south. Basically, I was verbally berated by another nurse, and this happened on more than one occasion. She quite rudely explained to me that I was a “bad nurse,” then proceeded to gossip about me, which I later heard about–all of which devastated me. I felt like she truly had it out for me! Prior to this situation, my experiences with other nurses had been very positive–being “eaten” really threw me for the proverbial loop!

I was so upset I started looking for some answers by researching the problem. What I found was that “nurses-eating” has a more appropriate term: lateral violence. “Lateral violence” gives recognition to this type of abuse as an actual problem in nursing and not just some urban legend that will just “go away.”

Lateral violence was a new concept to me and I found out that there are actually ten common types of lateral violence in nursing. According to a national expert on lateral violence quoted in Michigan Nurse, these types include:

1.) Nonverbal innuendo
2.) Verbal affront
3.) Undermining actions; unavailability
4.) Withholding information
5.) Sabotage; “setting up to fail”
6.) Infighting
7.) Scapegoating
8.) Backstabbing
9.) Failure to respect privacy and
10.) Broken confidences (Sincox, 2008)

Finally I had words to fit what I was experiencing, and since then I have seen instances of all of the above having occurred–either to myself or someone else!

Why do nurses even allow this type of thing to happen? Why do nurses participate in lateral violence? In another article about lateral violence I found my reason: “Nurses who experience higher levels of occupational burnout are more likely to vent their frustration by abusing other nurses (Rowe, 2005).

Honestly, I think lateral violence occurs as an issue of power. Many nurses feel threatened by new nurses coming on the scene, or they feel insecure about their own abilities in the profession and they project these negative feelings in an abusive manner.

So how does a new nurse deal with being abused by other nurses? All the literature out there states that this kind of behavior should be dealt with in a “zero-tolerance” manner. But in my own experience, when I did address this situation with my manager and the involved nurse, the whole thing was blown off. This nurse went on to abuse other new nurses (she left me alone) and the cycle continues to this day. The unfortunate truth was that the manager had no control over this situation, didn’t want to lose a warm body on the floor, and instead swept this bad behavior under the carpet.

As nurses, we must continue to not only fight lateral violence–heck, we need MORE education about lateral violence!–we must make sure we are not eating our own. That means checking our feelings at the door, treating others professionally, using the chain of command when stuff goes wrong, and monitoring ourselves for burn out, which is another huge contributing factor. Really, we should not ever tolerate “nurse eating.” It only destroys and eats away at our profession.

Rowe, M. , & Sherlock, H. (2005). Stress and verbal abuse in nursing: do burned out nurses eat their young?. Journal of Nursing Management. 13, 242-248.

Sincox, A. K., & Fitzpatrick, M. (2008). Lateral violence: calling out the elephant in the room.. Michigan Nurse. 81, 8-9.

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Amy Bozeman

Amy is many things: a blogger, a nurse, a wife, a mom, a childbirth educator. She started her journey towards a career in nursing when she got pregnant with her first child. After nursing school and studying "like she has never studied before" she entered the nursing profession eager to get her feet wet. The first years provided her with much exposure to sadness, joy and other complex human emotions. She feels that blogging is a wonderful outlet and a way for nurse bloggers to further build their community. Traditionally, midwives have handed down their skill set from midwife to apprentice midwife. She believes nurses have this same opportunity: to pass from nurse to new nurse the rich traditions of this profession.
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One Response to Nurses don’t taste THAT good!

  1. Miriam Bookey

    Nurses eating their young seems like such a myth, until I read stories like yours! Great advice Prisca.

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