Why Do Nurses Eat Their Young?

We have all heard the saying “Nurses eat their young.” The first time I ever heard this was when I was working as a new nurse on a med-surg unit that was crazy busy.  The charge nurse introduced herself to me, then the next words out of her mouth were "be prepared to be eaten alive because nurses eat their young."  I thought I was hearing things.  I was baffled as to why you would scare a new nurse by saying 


something so frightening to them. I couldn't believe my ears.My first year of nursing was freaking brutal, and I was savagely eaten for dinner on multiple occasions. "Don't do it this way, do it MY way. You're not in nursing school anymore!" Wow, how would I even survive this? They were just plain nasty, and it seems as if they wanted me to fail, so they could make themselves look better. I wasn't sure how to handle being treated like the red-headed stepchild. But I knew I had to push on because I had invested way too much time in nursing school, and I had a family that was counting on me to bring home the bacon. 

I was in the trenches and treated like a second-class citizen for most of that first year. But I learned a lot. Hell, I even survived to tell about it.  I'm now a well-respected nurse, and I am not on the dinner menu anymore.  But I will never forget how that felt, and I warn new nurses that this problem is very real and to be prepared. 

I think one of the reasons this cannibalism occurs is that nursing students feel a huge sense of accomplishment when they graduate and become nurses. And rightly so! Nursing school is extremely difficult. You feel such a great sense of achievement. You've conquered a great obstacle between you and the profession you so want to be a part of. When you land your first job, you are elated, and you want to make sure you do everything right. But what is right? The only way you know how to do things is by what you learned in nursing school. What you really don't realize is that you've learned "textbook nursing."  You haven't  actually learned how to be a nurse yet. 

It's not that there's anything wrong with textbook nursing. You have to start somewhere. But seasoned nurses know both ways. They know textbook, and they know what really works in the real world.  It's called experience. And while you may be watching the way they practice and thinking "they're not doing that right." They are watching you and thinking "Sooner or later she'll figure out that's not gonna work too well out here."

In turn, they don't care for your know-it-all attitude, and you don't think they know anything. "Maybe they've just been out of school too long, and they've forgotten everything they learned there," you think to yourself. In reality, they don't know it all. But they know a lot more than you, and they deserve respect for what they do know. Go to work with a better-than-thou attitude and be prepared to be their next meal. Treat them, and the way they practice nursing, with respect and you,'ll gain so much more.

 Now, I'm not saying that nurses who eat their young are correct in doing so. I'm saying that there isn't just one way of doing things, regardless of what they taught you in nursing school. And seasoned nurses have seen so many new nurses, just like you, walk through the door and act like they know everything.

Both seasoned nurses and new nurses need to learn how to share knowledge and experiences to create a more professional environment.
Regardless of how long you've been in the nursing profession we can all learn from each other.  A less competitive and more collaborative work environment would be much more conducive to the empowerment of talented, educated and skilled nurses. Not only would this help each individual become a better nurse, but it would provide a comfortable and safe work environment for all nurses.

So there, you have it. Stay humble when you're a new nurse. Don't let people walk on you, but don't act like you're better than older nurses because you'll quickly find yourself in the crock pot. 

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