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Why Nurses Shouldn't Eat Their Own...or Anyone Else's

As a former faculty member, I often heard students who were nurses comment about the "nurses eat their own" philosophy.  They found it to be disheartening and upsetting, and some stated this treatment caused them to depart from floor nursing.  As a non-nurse, I wondered about this phenomena. How and why do nurses eat their own?

At the very foundation of this behavior is the idea that new nurses must be somehow "schooled" or "trained" by those with experience.  Nurses don't simply restrict this behavior to nurses, but also extend their "training" to those outside of the nursing profession who work in health care.  The training may include the usual routines of nursing, charting, patient care, passing medications, and the ins and outs of the health care system.  Beyond that, new nurses may be given instruction on the not so obvious aspects of health care.  They may intentionally be given difficult shifts, patients who require more care or be repeatedly criticized for even the smallest error.  Of course, these behaviors can also be passed off as care and concern for patient care and ensuring the highest level of quality.

At a deeper layer still is convincing a new employee of what they should do, act and be every time they are at work.  This may include hairstyles to make-up to dress code to uniform wear.  Again, these issues may be attributed to adhering to organizational policies, providing clean and friendly care, and again patient quality and satisfaction on the surface. At a deeper level, these behaviors may mimic junior high bullying.
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Finally, the next layer reaches workplace bullying.  At this level, a person may feel personally attacked.  The attack may be on his/her personality, looks,  friends, or individual idiosyncrasies. Workplace bullying is repeated and continuous behavior that makes employees feel diminished, anxious, depressed and demotivated.  These symptoms combined can create a poor work environment for an individual. The person may be looking over their shoulder for who is coming. The nurse may be worrying about if he/she makes a mistake what will happen. This compounds negativity in an already stressful environment, and staff may be unwilling to step forward in fear of retaliation. During these times, errors may increase, productivity may decrease, and costs for the organization may increase.

The costs of workplace bullying are important to examine. At the very core, all employees of a health care organization can be viewed as human capital.  Each person has their own value attributed to their position, their particular skill set, and their contributions to the organization.  In essence, workplace bullying diminishes an individual's ability to perform at his/her highest value, which, in turn, causes financial loss and quality loss to an organization.  If people are truly thought of as an investment by an organization, then the return on investment (ROI) of each individual employee is decreased by workplace bullying.


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