One weird tip for avoiding injury and nervous breakdowns on the job

Shutterstock | PathDoc
Shutterstock | PathDoc

My one weird tip for avoiding injury, inadequate staffing and a nervous breakdown?

Be a pain in somebody’s arse.


Nursing is primarily a woman’s job. Women are socialized to help other people, to be passive, to not put up a fuss. Nurses, especially, are trained and expected to sacrifice everything good about themselves for their patients or the places where they work.

My revolutionary idea is this: If just a few more people would commit to being pains in the arse, things would change.

What does this mean on the floor? Well, honestly, it means that some folks are going to be labeled as troublemakers. It means that some people will have to take uncomfortable stances, be asked difficult questions and be asked to justify their positions by the people in power.

Take what happened in Dallas earlier this year: Two nurses, who had not been trained properly or provided appropriate protective gear, were assigned to care for a patient with Ebola. The patient died. The nurses were both sick for quite a while. And the management of the hospital blamed the nurses for (what management later admitted was) poor planning and preparation on management’s part.

A whole bunch of nurses from that facility, and other facilities in the city, rose up and were pains in the arses of their management. As a result, there’s a plan in place in Dallas to deal with one or more people who present to hospital emergency departments with vague symptoms that could signal a dangerous disease. The plan is multidisciplinary, involves competing healthcare facilities, and takes in city and county emergency workers.

The folks who got angry, who protested, were labeled as disgruntled troublemakers. They were pilloried in the press until it became evident that they had legitimate questions and worries about their jobs. Then, suddenly, their managers started making changes.

I propose this: that one or two people on every floor become pains in management’s arse. They can ask the questions, call out the B.S. answers and lean on the people who lead from afar, in order to improve things for their colleagues.

Look, we’re nurses. We care for people in extremis. We’ve seen more people die than most people have. We are the most trusted profession. We have a reputation for being caring and smart, well-trained and progressive, compassionate and tough.

We need the reputation of being badasses as well. We’ve moved beyond the helpmeet stereotype; most people realize that we don’t just take orders and fawn over physicians anymore. If we could channel our disgruntlement and our frustration to foster change, we would be unstoppable.

More to the point, we could actually get lunch now and then, and maybe bathroom breaks.


Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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5 Responses to One weird tip for avoiding injury and nervous breakdowns on the job

  1. prculross

    The people who attempt to be ones to keep management honest are the ones who are quickly terminated. Once the target is placed on your back, it’s only a matter of time. I’ve repeatedly seen it first hand.

  2. Maryellen Race

    I have been in nursing for over 20 years and even then I am told that I did not live through the worst of times. I can tell you how difficult different places can be. One place had a statement; WE DO NOT TOLERATE EGOS. ??? The only folks that had egos were the nursing home owners. They could do what ever they wanted to you and did. You worked short, you were not paid for all your OT. THey did it all.
    Working in an inner city hospital sounds exciting and it can be. WOnderful things happen there and some very terrible things happen there. You are a number and you are replaceable.
    If nurses act like this article suggests, it usually puts you out of a job. You are labeled and you are considered unemployed until someone who is desperate will hire your *** and you are in for a ride. Its not its all cracked up to be due to people watching stupid shows on TV who make the young girls think they area all going to marry a doctor. THey don’t realize holidays, weekends, and only 2 weeks of paid vacation is what you are looking to get. There are plenty of nurses who will call off on a Friday/Sat night leaving the rest stranded and overworked.
    Nurses need to have each other’s backs and support each other. They need to agree to treat each other right and help each other. Having a bad apple thinking only about herself is a sure way to find herself getting the worst shifts, worst patients and the ire of administration.
    Been there, seen it.

  3. Run1953

    I attempted to be that person 3 different times. The first one was at a facility with a union. In spite of that, I couldn’t afford to stay. I wasn’t backed up by my fellow employees because they knew what the results would be. I wasn’t fired from any of the positions, although one job I was actually told that I resign or I would be followed until they could find reasons to fire me. I ended up retiring at age 62, in part because I was burned out, in part to care for my mom who had Alzheimer’s. The idea of going back to work as a nurse is horrifying

  4. Karen Meade

    I hate to have to agree that this is a good way to get a target on your back.Being the nurse that complains about short staffing, no lunch breaks, not enough ancillary help, etc, gets you noticed and not in a positive way. Unfortunately after 20 years in nursing I have learned to keep my mouth shut. I do think that when a male nurse complains about an issue it is addressed much more quickly and effectively. SMH.

  5. Joanna Rives

    And for Florence sake nurses should back those men and women who are bold enough to stand up for their patients and their colleagues.