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I always knew I wanted to be a Nurse Practitioner (NP), even before starting nursing school, but I didn’t realize at the time one of the major benefits of being an NP: You’re not really considered a nurse anymore.
During my undergraduate clinicals, I started seeing the ugly underside of nursing, the side that students only hear about if they have nurses in their family: Nurses eat their young. At times it’s said almost jokingly, like a girl describing the awful band her boyfriend likes with a tone of, “I hate it, but that’s just the way it is, and I love him in spite of it.” As a student nurse, I would talk to any NP that would give me the time of day, and one of questions was about the interpersonal dynamics at the provider level: Are NPs catty to each other the way staff nurses can be? Everyone I spoke with said that the environment among providers was overwhelmingly better than being a floor nurse. So y’all can imagine how disheartened I was after spending the majority of my clinical hours this semester on a unit where the NPs are just as much a part of the Mean Girls culture as the nurses. One of the reasons I wanted to become a mid-level provider was to get above the fray, away from the backstabbing and snideness.
The real problem here isn’t my recent morale-crushing experience in the ICU, but rather the general Mean Girls culture in nursing, and the way little seems to be done to combat it. Channeling Regina and Gretchen might be okay in high school (if you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it now), but that kind of behavior is not only unacceptable for nurses, it’s dangerous. And it’s unfortunately all too common. When I typed in “bullying among” the first thing Google autofills to is “bullying among nurses.” That says a lot. There have even been articles written for the American Association for Critical-Care Nurses, American Nurses Association, and the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses about bullying in the nursing profession. New grad RNs tend to get targeted the most, and much like the Greek system, there is a strong tradition of hazing in nursing that ultimately puts the patient at risk.
Bullying contributes to the high turnover rate in nursing, and it’s not uncommon for nurses to work on a unit for six to twelve months before transferring to another unit or an entirely new hospital. High turnover rates affect health care costs more than you might think. Anytime a new RN is hired, there’s often a six- to eight-week orientation period, regardless of previous work experience, during which the new RN is paired with an experienced nurse on that unit. For those two months of orientation, the hospital is paying two nurses to do the job of one. Since nursing salaries are covered under the fee of the facility that’s billed, patients ultimately end up literally paying the price for nurses not being able to play nice.
But it can get even worse than just an increase in your hospital bill. Sometimes patient lives are literally put in jeopardy because of the Mean Girls culture. While I’ve never had a nurse refuse to help during a patient emergency, I’ve read stories of nurses who were left to fend for themselves while a patient was crashing. And I’ve chosen to handle a patient emergency by myself instead of asking for help from the other nurses (well, one particular nurse) who had created an adversarial work environment. It’s hard to bring yourself to ask for help when you feel you can’t trust the other person.
I’ve experienced the backstabbing, manipulation, and cattiness in almost every clinical and work setting I’ve been in as an RN and NP student. Fortunately, until this semester, I’ve been above the fray by virtue of functioning as an NP. But all of this makes me ask: Why is it that many times, when women are together in a group, they sabotage and tear each other down? Why are women often more critical of each other than we are of men?
I was reading something on Facebook about the division within my church over women’s ordination, and as someone pointed out, the most vocal critics of having women on the platform came from other women. I’m not convinced that it comes down to biology, as some would have us believe, or women wanting to gain the attention of the best potential mate. Women who are married with children can be just as mean as the single gals.
So what drives women to such lengths, even to the point of putting someone’s life in danger? Is it an innate desire for control? Respect? Status? Or are we perpetually stuck in high school, looking for the approval of the popular girls?