Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Would you like fries with that new nurse?

Guess it's time I addressed the "nurses eat their young" thing, as I got three--count 'em--emails on the subject yesterday. (Shout out to Yolanda, holdin' it down in her commhealth clinicals!)

Yes, there are some really nasty, disgruntled, embittered nurses out there. There are also some really nasty, disgruntled, embittered bookstore employees, gas station attendants, soldiers, airline pilots, fashion models, and so on. Nurses are not the only folks who eat their young. Reparatory theater actors, for instance, are *much* worse.

But the public has this outmoded idea that nurses are angels of mercy who are always sweet, patient, kind, and dressed in white. They don't realize that we're highly trained, exhaustively educated people who are taking care of sick people and don't have time for B.S.

If you are a student and attempt to bullshit us, we will cut you off at the knees. Not only is bullshitting a waste of my time, and unprofessional, but it's irritating. If you don't know the normal values of potassium and sodium or what Lopressor is for, and you're a last-term student, you *bet* we'll bite your head off. Your job is to have some idea of what's going on. If you don't, you're not safe and you won't work with me.

If you're preternaturally stupid, we'll deal with you with patience and tact until management can get you transferred somewhere less challenging or to another hospital. And yes, that has happened with a new nurse I worked with--she didn't check vitals once during a twelve-hour shift and recorded *every* patient as having the same neuro exam.

However. If you're a new student who's showing some enthusiasm for what's happening, even if you're clumsy and ignorant, we will make sure you get the best possible clinical opportunities we can muster. Same with a new nurse: if you're a decent human being and willing to work hard, we don't care what you know or what you don't.

Same with residents. Same with new techs. We're a pretty forgiving group, provided you don't either ask us out during the shift (as an eighteen-year-old nursing student did with me once) or act like a jerk.

Of course, I work in a really good environment. If you're unlucky enough to be stuck in a hospital where people are ground down and unhappy, *everybody*, from the unit secretaries to the attendings, will be taking bites out of one another. That's called "a bad work environment", not "nurses eat their young."

Funny point: the people most willing to promulgate NETY as a truth are nursing instructors. Who usually haven't worked on a floor in years. Who have limited contact with clinical nurses. I had twelve instructors over the course of my schooling. Ten of them, when I asked 'em, said they'd gone into teaching because they hated floor nursing. Two of 'em said they loved teaching--and those two still worked weekends and off-days in the NICU or PICU or on the floor.

The ten who hated floor nursing were the ones who told us that nurses eat their young. The two who loved nursing and teaching, both, were not coincidentally the best instructors I've had in *any* course I've taken.

It's not hard to do the math, here. Point being, don't be afraid of nurses. You might be soft on the outside, crunchy on the inside, and taste good with ketchup, but that's not an automatic guarantee that Dragon Lady will eat you alive on your first day as an RN. Fall back on what you've learned in school and in your previous jobs and keep your eyes open. Be willing to learn from everybody. And, just to be on the safe side, do not bring large bottles of seasoned salt with you to work. It's just too much of a temptation.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing that piece.

I am a nursing student, and just completed my first round of clinicals. I found there were all kinds of nurses on the floor. Some were eager to teach us, others were wary of us because we are so obviously new at this and some just plain didn't want to be bothered.

The majority of the nurses in that last group were new nurses themselves. They were just barely out of school, had to juggle 8 patients and now were being forced to babysit students, as well. I can understand their lack of enthusiasm.

I have seen less of NETY than NSTTBPACTAT (nurses stretched to their breaking point and can't take another thing).

W. :)

Anonymous said...

Leadership is critical in prevention of NETY. We have a few nurses with NETY tendencies, but they're mostly kept under wraps by the folks in charge. If that didn't happen, I'd be looking for a less hostile work environment, because snappy folks don't just pick on the new nurses.

Anonymous said...

The ones that I have seen that get to me the most are the nurses who obviously are burned out, and hate what they do. I have had a nurs I was NOT precepting with (but was on the same unit) spend the whole 8 hours I was there asking me WHY I would choose nursing, and try to convince me to get out while I still can... I got in to nursing because I realized life was too short to hate what you do. I just wish people who were as miserable as I was would decide the same thing, and change professions, instead of trying to make everyone hate it as much as they do...