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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nurses Eat Their Young

"Nurses Eat Their Young"

This is a fairly common and somewhat accepted term in the nursing world.  I remember being in nursing school and hearing this and not really knowing what to make of it.  Surely, I thought, this isn't the case anymore.  With such a focus on anti-bullying and toxic work environments, how can this still be going on?

*Warning: This post may only make sense to other nurses. :)

When I was a junior, I was doing my clinicals on a med/surg floor at the VA hospital.  Now, let me just start by saying that when you do your clinicals, you're taking care of a patient (giving their meds, completing orders, going with them to testing, etc.), but you're charting and assessments don't count.  That patient still has a staff nurse that is responsible for their care.  You are trying your best to stay out of the nurse's way, but you still need to work at a computer, ask them questions, and so on.  Most of the nurses kind of treated us like a burden.

But anyways...

One day, I was standing out in the hall, and I saw the call light flashing all sorts of different colors outside of a patient's room.  This guy wasn't my patient, but I thought I should be helpful and see what this guy needed.  Apparently, he had hit the "Staff Assist" button on the wall because no one was answering his normal call light.

In hospitals now, there is a "Code Blue" button and a "Staff Assist" along with the normal call light.  If you hit the "Staff Assist" button as a nurse, that means "I need help, right now!...Something very bad is happening with this patient."  It sends out a page to the residents, the charge nurse, respiratory therapy and what seemed like 1,000 other people.

Before I knew it, the room was quickly filled with doctors, nurses, and RTs who were asking me what was wrong.  I said that I had just walked in myself, and I didn't know what they were talking about.  Everyone left, looking super annoyed, but the charge nurse.  She then accused me of pushing the button and wasting everyone's time.  The patient did NOT own up to it and just stared at me.  With a LARGE eye roll and shaking her head, she left the room.  I heard her say a loud, "UGH!"

I didn't push this freaking button!
I thought to myself, "So THIS is what they are talking about."

So, fast forward to a few weeks ago.  I was working my butt off in the busy ER, and all of my patients were VERY sick.  At the time, I had four of them, which is too many for ICU level patients (but that's another rant).  That particular day, I had a nursing student of my very own.  She was a sweet, smart, and outgoing girl who had previous experience working as a tech in the ER.

I'm trying to explain everything to the best of my ability, but as I'm charting, running around getting meds, consents for sedation, pads for the patient who has pooped the bed for the 3rd time, more meds, hanging more fluids for the lady with a  blood pressure, etc.  I don't have time to really engage in any small talk or even ask her about her personal life.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I never really learned her name.  She was starting to get on my nerves, honestly... a little too confident whenever I told her something, stood REALLY close to me while I was charting, and was always in the way.

Anyways, we had a woman with cancer that had pretty much taken over her entire body.  She hadn't eaten in days.  I talked with her daughter about trying to get her to eat or drink something.  She told me good luck, and the woman wasn't any help.  She said that she would TRY to eat a little bit of a lime popsicle.

Well, I have a few secret weapons with patients who wont eat, so I thought I'd pull out the first one.
Orange sherbet and Sprite.  It's delicious and total baby shower punch, but you have to make do with your limited resources in the ER.  I also made a slushie out of a Pedialyte lime popsicle (as she requested), but those aren't as tasty.

The student and I walk into the room and give the patient her concoctions.  The student happened to be carrying and hand her the sherbet/Sprite mix, and the lady LOVED it.  Her daughter was ecstatic that her mom was finally eating something.

I was busy, charting her vitals, looking up her ordered medications, and reading her previous chart notes.  I gave her the cup of the slushie and told her that she could try that as well if her appetite came back.

When we came back to check on her again, the woman told the student that SHE obviously should be the nurse because that Pedialyte slushie was disgusting and the punch that she made was delicious.

Ok, this is stressed out, not logical Emily's thought process.

"WTF?!?! I made them both.  I took time to make you special drinks between keeping three other, very sick people alive, and you're going to complain about my slushie? I made you that freakin' punch, not her."

I SO had an internal glare going on towards my student who kind of took credit, and then I stopped myself.

"OMG, I'm eating my young," I thought.  I'm so stressed out, and this girl isn't really even doing anything terrible, and here I am giving her some major side eye.  I'm probably coming off like a total bitch because I'm so busy.

It just made me think back to that day with the "Staff Assist."  Was that nurse just having a bad day?  Did she have an extra assignment?  Was she worried about getting everything done on time, and then got a page that one of her patients is in trouble?

I know that these stories probably aren't the best example, but I feel like it's pretty thought provoking for other nurses.

I think nurses do eat their young, but they're not really aware that they're doing it.  We're more like the pigs that accidentally lay down and smother their piglets.  I had no idea that I was probably coming off short and annoyed, when I was really just stressed.  Maybe that's where the saying comes from?

What do you think?


  1. My best friend is a nurse so I've heard horror stories of the nurses who can be mean to the newer ones; however in you case, that girl should've said, "hey, this slushie was all her [referring to you]," so I don't blame you for giving her the stare down, lol. You're really sweet though for thinking back to your moment in clinicals cos other people would hardly ever think about the time when they once struggled as a student.

  2. Even though I'm not a nurse, I love hearing stories like these!

  3. Ok so I'm not a nurse but I could totally relate. When I taught at the Y I had a simular instance. Obviously no one was dying but the little turd I was training took credit for an approach I used when kids had separation anxiety and the parents were just raving about her. Ummmm no I did that.

  4. I agree with you that nurses may eat their young, but they aren't really aware that they are doing it. It has to be hard to work with a nursing student when you are so set in your own ways of doing things and running around like crazy dealing with all of your patients.

  5. It has to be so hard juggling all those patients and I am sure it happened in the heat of the moment, but I totally understand. Sometimes I get a little 'tude when I am stressed or really busy and people want to chat or ask insane amounts of questions.

  6. I really enjoyed this. Work situations can be soooo tough!

    ~Ashley @ A Cute Angle

  7. So, obviously I'm not a nurse and don't know anything about nursing, BUT I will tell you that based on these stories, I am sure I would totally be mean and give snide eye to the girl claiming she made the slushi drink. When I'm hurrying around, I don't have time (or don't want to take time) to explain something, and I want people to get OUT of my way. So I get it. But I appreciate your honesty and your attempt to be nice about it, even though you were annoyed.

    In other news, can I just say that I don't think I really appreciate you guys and the work you do. I'm sure it's so difficult (and sounds really stressful!). So thanks for serving us sick people ;)

  8. Kinda. When you are busy, running around and you have no time to pee, let alone teach someone, it can get frustrating. If I had the time, sure.

  9. In teaching it's somewhat similar in the sense that we start off as student teachers and then many of us take on student teachers later on to show the ropes. I definitely believe that there's a happy medium to teaching someone and throwing them into the fire alone. Newbies need guidance, but they also need tough love.

  10. I'm not a nurse and I've never heard of the saying "nurses eat their young".. but I think that the feeling you had goes for any line of work. I work in a financial institution and I feel that way quite often. Especially when your working with helping someone in a timely manner! If I were you, I would have had a hard time keeping my mouth shut when that girl got all the credit for YOUR awesome cocktail! But, kudos to you for being the bigger person and focusing on your work. That girl was just as capable of acknowledging you and passing on the credit!

  11. I love these stories. I know it happens in my profession for sure. And I'm sending this to my beautiful nurse friend April and my brother and sister in law who are both nurses :)

    1. Thanks Aubrey Leigh!! Yes I can totally relate with this! And actually had a student with me today. And I had to remember how I felt when I was a student and I tried not to be short with her! It's just hard when you are busy and use to doing things your way!

  12. When I was in nursing school I really didn't care that the nurses weren't too nice to us. We just kind of laughed about it and knew our day was over at 3pm. Since becoming a nurse I can't tell you how much the "nurses eating their young" has affected me. When I first became a nurse it was so hard for me to grasp why senior nurses will tell you in a heartbeat what you did wrong but NEVER give you a pat on the back when you did something right. I remember talking to an older nurse about it one day and she said "you know, we don't ever tell another nurse what a good job they did. we need to start." When you're a new grad in the ICU like I was, I needed that affirmation that I was doing a good job every once in awhile. I'm 2 years in now and still never get complimented but I always make sure to compliment my coworkers. After a long 12 hour shift and patients driving you up the wall it's nice to hear a "you did a great job! every now and then!

  13. It's kind of amazing how just being acknowledged for something can make what you're doing WORTH it. I have said it time and time again even though the career shifts seem to be pointing to the opposite. There is not enough money to make cleaning up after patient's bowel movements, the stress that comes with staying on top of orders and assements, dealing with stressed out family, grouchy patients and a job that requires you to think like both a dr and a lawyer. If your heart is not in it there is not enough money in the world. But being in this field with the bottom line of wanting to help people, a thank you, good job, or my favorite "you nurses are our angels" makes it worth it. So, I can definitely see how you would give her the stink eye.

    I'm a LVN and work with veterans in the VA system. I started out as a brand new nurse with Spinal Cord Injury Rehab patients, PTSD, Dig Stim, ICs the works... and have been on both sides of the "eating". But I do like your pig example LOL.


  15. I totally get this!!! I remember being a new grad on the floor and at shift change, there was always one particular nurse who would jump down my throat with questions and complaints "why is he running this medication" "why didn't you do this" etc, like she was trying to break me down. One day, I finally stood up to her and told her she was being mean, and it stopped!!! Its terrible that nurses are like this, but I too, after being out of school for enough years now, I get it.

    Alycia//Crazily Normal

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