Nurse’s week brings out the best in our profession- not to mention hilarious memes, ice cream floats served by supervisors, and pizza parties paid for by administration.
“Happy Nurse’s Week” on banners in every door way remind us to take pride in our career, and that nurses are made of caring and compassion- essentially “sugar and spice and everything nice”. While our hearts agree, those of us working in the trenches know this isn’t always accurate.
You may be shocked to hear this, but even I’m not always a perfect gem to work with; I too have had moments acting like an utter A$$. In 17 years total working in healthcare there are 3** scenarios that stand out in my memory, where my ego and poor judgment won over my good sense and training. Gossip, condescending to, or otherwise being negative toward colleagues remain embarrassing marks on my nursing record – especially considering I view myself an advocate and mentor for new residents and student nurses.
**Caveat: My personal life/substance abuse affecting my workplace is hands down my biggest regret and humiliation- conversely, it’s also evolved into some of my greatest achievements. For once I’m not writing about my addiction/recovery**
**Caveat #2: I know I’ve gossiped more than 3 times in 17 years. You may be someone who has witnessed that, and I offer sincere apologies. There is only much space…So I’ve limited this to the 3 most memorable & interesting situations.
#1 – Twenty years old, wide eyed and naive, I was employed in my first “grown up job” as a dialysis technician. Although already Mom to a 3 year old, I was still growing beyond the emotional maturity of a high schooler. When one coworker confided in me about how difficult it was working with another woman in our department, I viewed the gossip as a conduit to creating an intimate connection. My ego inflated as I was taken into confidence, and I easily agreed with the “poor qualities” and “difficulties” of a woman I hardly knew or worked with. My eager chatter did not go unnoticed, as the subject of our gossip was listening from a nearby hall. Later that day, sitting across from her, tears ran down her cheeks. Years ahead of me in life and work experience, I had managed to cause her significant pain with my selfish choice of words. She felt worthless, and asked me sincerely if I thought she should leave the job. Tripping over myself verbally, my own tears spilled over. There was nowhere to hide, no way to lie or avoid what I’d done. I simply had to face her and apologize. In reality, there was nothing I didn’t like about her. But my ego had eclipsed my good judgement and I’d traded in my integrity for the instant gratification of gossip. In hindsight, there was a positive outcome. She accepted my apology, the air was cleared between all 3 of us, and I received an education on trust and teamwork. Gossiping was cowardly, and she taught me courage by confronting me herself and asking for clarification. It took a lot of bravery to do that. Ultimately I’m glad she overheard, and I’m grateful she was generous enough to allow me the opportunity to apologize without involving management. The weight of my words and gravity of their consequences was clear. P.S. – gossiping in a hallway when the person is there at work is just dumb. But that’s not the point – at all.
#2 – “Kelly” called “I need Help!” from a patient’s room and I jumped from my chair. Arriving at the edge of the bed, it was clear the patient wasn’t breathing. More nurses rushed in. Terrified but wanting to be useful I said “I’ll page the doctor!” (this was before the days of Rapid Response or Code teams on the floors) “Kelly – what team is your patient under?” I needed to know which doctor- or team- was overseeing this patient’s care so I could call the right one. “I don’t know.” He replied calmly. I stopped in the hall –“YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TEAM YOUR PATIENT’S ON???!!!” By nature, I am not a yeller. In fact, my students have labeled me “the valium in the room” due to my calm demeanor, especially in a crisis. But on that day, in front of everyone, I lost it. Stress and fear caused me to lose my ability to communicate appropriately. How could he NOT KNOW something so VITAL!!!!??? I must be SOOOO much better than him, right???? Obviously, him not having 100% of the details equates to me being the superior nurse!!! In actuality, of course, this DID NOT matter. Kelly had years of nursing experience. He knew exactly where to find this info if and when he needed it – in the chart or on the computer. I, on the other hand, was a new nurse. I spent the first hour of every shift attempting to memorize each detail of my patient’s chart prior to giving care, due to my overwhelming fear of this exact circumstance – being caught by another team member without the right information at a crucial moment. It’s a legitimate fear. We scandalize other nurses ALL THE TIME for this “failure” It’s a behavior I wish I could eliminate from our occupation. Yelling in the workplace is never OK, but often this condescending verbiage is delivered quietly or comes disguised as “being helpful”. This doesn’t make it right. I’ve had to do some serious inquiry around my intentions when I’m showing someone information, or questioning why they don’t have all the facts. Lucky for me, Kelly was a good friend and got over my outburst fairly quickly, even though he was irritated and embarrassed. We’ve had a lot laughter over it. These days, there are more shifts than not where I couldn’t tell you the team or the doctor caring for my patient – but I know exactly where to find it. And I know I’d feel like total Sh!# if someone yelled at me demanding that – or any- information. A decade later, this memory still keeps me humble.
#3 – Turns out I didn’t learn my lesson after all from scenario #1. Just last year, standing at the nurse’s station I let some foul words escape from my mouth. There was a particular nurse that simply rubbed me the wrong way. Doesn’t mean she’s wrong, or bad, or incompetent – just means we didn’t mesh. But I started taking it personally. I formed the idea that MY time is more valuable than HER time, and became increasingly annoyed during shift report. So annoyed, in fact, that I said to the charge nurse in public “Seriously? 5 days in a row? Do I have to give report to her again? You’ve got to be kidding me.” AND…..You guessed it. She was standing right there. Not realizing it at the time, another nurse let me know that the she had walked away in tears over it. I wasn’t quite ready to be remorseful, “Well, I meant what I said. She’ll get over it.” Even I was surprised at the tone of my words. Not to excuse myself, but I was at my wit’s end with life. Hindsight has enabled me to see exactly what led me to act like such an ogre. Too many shifts in a row, right after the death of my father, had caused fatigue. Caring for a patient who was dying from the same disease as my father led to a total numbing of my emotions. There was simply not one compassionate cell left in my body. I stewed for a shift, not liking myself at all. Once I determined that I needed to atone for my actions, I did what any mature, leadership-inclined nurse versed in crucial conversations would do; I sent an apology via Facebook messenger. I really did. But I also asked if she would meet me in person. Here’s the thing; I did kind of mean what I said: I didn’t enjoy giving or getting report from her. It was longer and more detailed and scattered than I prefer. None of that gives me the right to act that way. Trust me, I learned. I ate serious crow, and still get a little sick thinking about it. While I stand by my opinion, that’s ALL it is. An opinion. I unconditionally concede that the delivery was straight up Mean Girl and the words had no business leaving my mouth.
Slipping into the bad habits of gossip and coworker shaming is easy to do. The high stress, ego-happy environment, variety of personalities working long hours together, and a whole slough of human factors have us searching for scapegoats to as an outlet for our elevated emotions. Gossip is especially seductive, because of it’s instant, cheap way of making us feel intimately connected, or in possession of some type of power.
“Stop the Lateral Violence” sounds like political propaganda. But friends, seriously. Let’s stop the lateral violence. If you’re impatient with newer staff, remember that you WERE the “young” once, and you didn’t want to be “eaten”. If your ego is ruling your behavior, recall a time when you’ve made a mistake, needed help, or didn’t immediately know an answer. It’s not just the new nurses that this happens to.
Compassion for others has boundless scientifically proven benefits. For every thought in our head that becomes a word from our mouths, there’s a moment to consider and decide – will my words be useful and will they be kind? Can I picture a time when I’ve been in this person’s shoes? Every opportunity to communicate is an opportunity to create a wound or create a connection.
If you experience bullying or lateral violence in the workplace, speak up to a safe resource. (Contact me if you need support doing this). And if you notice it happening around you, find a way to effectively intervene, and most importantly, be a positive role model.
For more information on cultivating Compassion, go to http://www.mindingthebedside.com, or read Jerome Stone’s book “Minding the Bedside; Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind”.
*Providence Everett* – An 8 week Compassion Cultivation course is offered FREE of charge a few times a year! Please email me for details firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about working together and my life/recovery coaching programs, email me to schedule a FREE discovery call!
Cheers and Gratitude,