Nurses "Eat Their Young"? Changing the Culture of Nursing

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By The Gypsy Nurse Staff

June 20, 2013

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Nurses “Eat Their Young”?

I did a phone interview the other day for a Healthcare Magazine in Chicago. The interviewer asked me about the saying, ‘nurses eat their young? and what does it mean?’  She also wanted to know where/why this term started.  I was stumped.  How do you explain this type of behavior within your profession? It’s actually embarrassing…

I began to reflect on this question after the interview was over, and I still can’t say that I understand the ‘why.’  Is it jealousy?  Perhaps we don’t want to see others succeed?  Maybe it’s just a rush to get our own work done under stressed-out, short-staffed conditions?  

The morning of the interview, I had just completed a pretty challenging (for me) hike with a new friend here in Panama.  If you know me, you know that I’m not a great hiker.  I love to hike, but I’m certainly not in ‘hiking’ shape.  My skills are that of a brand new nurse comparatively.  The hiking friend “Richard” was forewarned and agreed to support me through this hike.  Richard gave me the option to take a flat hike without a view or a ‘more challenging’ hike with a great view.  Of course, I choose the great view.  Warning Richard of my lack of skills…he was supportive, and off we went.

How did the hike go?  

I made it as far as I could….with a lot of verbal support, a little hand-holding, and lots of patience from Richard. He slowed his hike to keep my pace, gave me tips and pointers along the way, and exhibited a grand attitude of teamwork and camaraderie.  In turn, when it got to a point where I couldn’t go any further, I encouraged Richard to go ahead and get the ‘great view.’  We worked together, both supporting and respecting the skill levels each possessed.  He held back to help me gain a little experience, and I let him forge ahead when I knew I had reached my limit.

I didn’t’ reach the summit that day…

I did, however, gain some great experience and confidence as well as a wonderful view.  I finished the day feeling motivated, energized, and encouraged.

eat their young
My View at about 2/3 the way to the summit
Piedra de Lino (Lino Rock) Boquete Panama
Courtesy of: Candy Treft

Why am I telling you about hiking?

Later that afternoon, while reflecting on all of the day’s events, I began thinking about how the hike with Richard and working with a new nurse are very similar.  Like me (when it comes to hiking), a new nurse needs lots of encouragement, support, a little hand-holding, and a lot of patience.  I’ve been on hikes where the others forged ahead, left me behind, and didn’t work with me to help build my hiking skills, and these hikes were never enjoyable.  Not only were they not enjoyable, but they also left me with a feeling of defeat and want to give it up.  We’ve all seen nurse preceptors that will forge ahead with their work, never stopping to explain or allow a much slower new nurse an opportunity to attempt a skill or procedure. I’ve worked with nurses who will completely ignore questions from a new nurse while forging ahead to get their tasks completed.

The lack of camaraderie in nursing is disheartening and embarrassing.  It pains me to be associated with a career of ‘carers’ who carry a stigma of ‘eating their young.’  

eat their young
View from the summit
Piedra de Lino (Lino Rock) Boquete Panama
Courtesy of: Richard Morris

I would encourage you, the next time you encounter a new or inexperienced nurse; think of my hike and the support provided by Richard and help that new nurse reach her summit, it only takes a bit of your time, and perhaps one by one, we can attempt to change the culture from “Nurses Eat Their Young” to “Nurses support their young…” Let’s work together to help the new nurse walk away from her shift feeling motivated, energized, and encouraged instead of defeated.

Do you have any insight into why many believe ‘nurses eat their young?’

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