5 types of difficult coworkers!

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Honestly, I don’t know for sure why nurses eat their young. I have some theories, which I’d be happy to expound upon, but as far as a solid answer goes, you’re out of luck. Below, though, are some of my working hypotheses.

1. They’re crazy.
No, really. I’ve worked with three nurses in 10 years who ate not only their own young, but the young of every other species (radiology, sonography, surgery, general internal medicine) they could reach. I still work with two of them. Both of these nurses—one male and relatively young, one female and nearing retirement—are crazy. They come close to a 10 on the Nurse Jo Scale of Relative Woo-ness. All joking aside, they have serious problems with self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, and take those problems out on younger or less experienced people in the hospital.

2. They have Issues with Power.
Issues with Power = Bully. These are the people who are constantly looking for ways to make themselves look good, mostly at the expense of others. If you’re new at a job and slow, or if you make mistakes—and we all do—they’ll hop on that like a cheap suit on a used-car salesman. Not content to point out your mistake to you, they’ll lecture you (or try to intimidate you) about your mistake, your slowness or your demeanor.

3. They’re miserable in their jobs and hate to see anybody happy.
For a lot of new nurses, the feeling of finally getting to do something is overwhelmingly wonderful. I know I felt like a fish finally in water when I got onto the floor. This feeling is anathema to nurses who hate their jobs. Whether it’s burnout or being in the wrong profession in the first place, the sight of anybody else enjoying themselves drives these people crazy. You can tell them by their words: Any bit of good news is countered with a woe-is-me tale, and any problem you have, they’ve had worse.

4. They have a problem with new nurses in general.
Why this is, I do not know. All I know is that there are some people who really hate newbies. Those people are scattered throughout every profession; I’ve run into ’em doing everything from waiting tables to recording voiceovers for advertising. Maybe it’s that they feel stupid next to somebody whose book-learning is fresh, or maybe they’re mourning for their lost youth. Either way, they’re unpleasant to be around.

5. They’re afraid somebody will show them up as being just as dumb as they know they are.
Look, you lose your edge after a while being a nurse. There are things I haven’t done in years that I don’t remember how to do, and things I’ve done for years that I probably skip steps in doing or cut corners with. If a new nurse asks me a question I don’t know the answer to, I look it up; there’s no shame in not knowing something, or in being corrected if you’re doing something wrong. A lot of other nurses, though, don’t have that philosophy. It’s their way or the highway…never mind that they’re not washing their hands or using gloves. And don’t dare ask them a question; you’ll either be shot down or they’ll make something up.

For what it’s worth, newbies, there is hope: I’ve noticed a distinct drop in the number of nasty nurses in the world over the last decade. If you can hold out for the first year or two, even switching specialties shouldn’t be a big deal.

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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