In honor of NURSE’S WEEK, here’s a virtual hug and a reverent salute to the men and women I share a profession with.
“May you find rest in the care of others
In the knowledge of your worth
In the value of your service”
(from Voices from the Journey by Juliana Casey)
Becoming a nurse wasn’t my first career choice, but once I was on the trajectory towards those two letters –RN – I knew I was born to be one. Occasionally my patients will say “Oh honey, you work too hard.” They’ll be embarrassed or stoic; “I don’t want to be a bother.” My reply – “I spent over 6 years in school just to get to this particular day, this particular shift, to care for you. It’s my pleasure.” And it usually is. If you’re a nurse, you know damn well I don’t feel that every minute of every shift….but often, I’m thrilled with the work that I do.
Nurses are described as caring, trustworthy, dependable, and overwhelmingly compassionate. And WE ARE! We care tirelessly for others…. But sometimes we leave out the most important people; ourselves and our coworkers. This week, as we celebrate nursing as a craft and occupation, I’ve taken some time to think about my colleagues, my habits, and and how I can better show I care.
For most of my career, I’ve been known as the calm in a storm (“a dose of Valium in the classroom” according one of my students). Also described as kind, approachable, intelligent, a mentor, a cheerleader …(please insert ego-boosting adjectives here!) My favorite assignment at work is precepting new employees and/or teaching. I strive to bring optimism and encouragement to situations, and it makes my heart happy to see others succeed.
And other times, I’m an a#$hole. Sometimes, my “teaching” comes across patronizing.
Guilty as charged, I screw up royally sometimes. An event occurred in the last couple months that was fairly public, so there’s no use denying that I’m not perfect. To my utter mortification, I became the “Bully Nurse” that they warn you about in school. I allowed my personal feelings and frustration to build up and spill over in the form of nasty words that were overheard by the person I was talking trash about. Turns out I’m not immune to being a rude, careless human. In fact on that day I contributed to some really awful statistics. Research shows 53% of new nurses report being bullied by a nurse peer and 44% of experienced nurses report this as well.
Fortunately, the gracious woman who overheard my offensive comment practices forgiveness. I was the recipient of her mercy – and a lesson well learned. But initially, when called out on the situation, my first reaction was “RUN”. I got online and started looking for a new job. No way in Hell was I going to come back to work, look her in the eye, apologize, or suffer the humiliation of working next to all who heard me.
After failing to find a suitable new position, and realizing it might be unrealistic to move halfway across the world or seclude myself under my bed until everyone eventually forgot, I decided not to relinquish my nursing license but just attempt reconciliation. My week between shifts was spent in reflection; recalling being bullied as a new nurse myself, going home from work in tears….picturing getting reprimanded and “written up” for bad behavior, and the worst…imagining the nurse I hurt in tears herself, questioning her skills, and possibly considering leaving the department because of what I did. Because of this unbearable thought, I was brave enough to try and make amends. Reaching out by text first, yet asking for a face to face meeting, I was able to admit my wrong doing and (I think) have a constructive conversation.
It weighs on me…my own personal failure of character, my many recurring flaws, and the way we easily fall in to habits that are so very critical of each other. The second week in May every year is Nurse’s Week; we spend it giving out star cards for recognition, eating pizza purchased as a thank you by administration, nominating each other for Daisy Awards and Nurse of the Year…the rest of the year we spend a lot of time talking crap about each other. Judging, berating, condescending; cutting down instead of building up.
We (and I include myself wholeheartedly) criticize each other for:
- Not knowing everything (because of course WE the criticizer know it all)
- Not completing all tasks in a single shift (HOW did you NOT have time???)
- Not working enough shifts (because I’m capable of 37 twelve hour shifts in a row)
- Working too much (workaholics aren’t cool either)
- Working on a “lesser” floor, or lesser acuity unit
- Being lazy
- Never sitting down
- Inadequate charting (Don’t you know how to do your job?)
- Over-charting everything (Do you think you’re better than the rest of us?)
- Saying the wrong thing
- Doing the wrong thing
- Wearing the wrong thing
- Not enough credentials; certificates, BSN, MSN (Oh, you’re JUST an ADN?)
- Having the degree but going to a “lesser” school (my BS is better than your BS)
- Asking too many questions (How stupid ARE you?)
- Not asking enough questions (What, you think you know it all?)
- Talking too much (you’re annoying)
- Not socializing enough (quiet equals snobby)
- Showing up early
- Showing up late
You get it. We find the most trivial things to criticize, no matter the subject. Shift report/hand-off is ripe with demeaning statements, teenage- worthy eye rolls and accusatory body language.
So maybe just for Nurses’ week, we spend a few minutes, or even a whole shift, putting ourselves in the shoes of those we tend to critique harshly. Our colleagues; men and women who likely have families they are caring for at home, who may be lacking sleep or support. Who’ve spent hours trying to care for a group of ill (and sometimes bat sh@# crazy!!) patients, yet somehow missed the daily weight, or forgot to call the doctor for an order. What if we spent a few minutes remembering that we’ve BEEN THERE – and if we haven’t yet, we COULD BE. Every one of us started somewhere….brand new, inexperienced. Even with truck loads of knowledge, we all have bad days, bad moments. Every one of us is capable of forgetting, overlooking, getting overwhelmed, or simply not having the energy to do one. more. thing.
Funny memory… many years ago….my co worker’s patient coded (heart stopped, not breathing). A new nurse, ready to take action, I was excited and afraid. Grabbing the chart, I asked the primary nurse – “What team is this patient on? I’ll page the Dr.”
“I don’t know” he replied.
“YOU DON’T KNOW???!!! HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW THE TEAM!!!” I screamed in front of about 5 people helping in the room. I was appalled that he wouldn’t know this important bit of information. I was also overwhelmed, fearful, with adrenaline shooting through my veins. So was he….therefore he didn’t have the answer in the exact second I wanted it.
We laughed about this later, because it’s so ridiculous and not at all in my nature to yell. All I had to do was turn one page in the chart and look at the Doc’s name myself. Panic overtook my thinking and I couldn’t respond rationally. Humiliation is an expert teacher, and I haven’t yet yelled like that again.
My challenge – to myself and to the nurse reading – Take a moment before you speak. Consider the judgments and thoughts that are swirling around in your head before you decide to act upon them or share them with the person next to you. More than likely, whatever action you are thinking of condemning, you are completely capable of committing…and possibly already have at some point in your career.
When bullying is identified in doctor-nurse relationships, we don’t hesitate to denounce it. We are unrelenting advocates for our team mates when the need arises. This type of zero tolerance is desperately needed in peer situations as well. What can you do to reduce abusive behavior and improve the morale of your workplace? How can your words relay acceptance and encouragement?
This May, use your Nurse SuperPower to educate and empower another nurse – one word or smile, one shift report at a time.
Cheers and Gratitude,
Tiffany, humbled RN
If you’ve been bullied, witnessed bullying, or want to learn more, go to http://www.stopbullyingnurses.com