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Why Is It So Hard To Be A New Nurse Among Experienced Nurses?

We’ve all heard that little expression “nurses eat their young” and give a little giggle because #newnurses, right? They are often young, inexperienced in nursing, inexperienced in life and in need of guidance by more experienced folks like ourselves.

I’ve seen and experienced this type of bullying among nurses throughout my career in healthcare and it really burns me up. It’s not even always “older” nurses or more experienced nurses but other nurses in general who feel like they have something to prove to whoever else they can try to bully into a false “respect”. In my experience it has also been my peers who were at exactly the same level of education and experience as myself attacking because they thought they could.

I’ve been on both sides of this. I have seen both how it feels to be irritated by some 20 year old hot shot who thinks they know everything right out of the gate, and how it feels to be the noob getting bossed around by everyone who thinks they know better.

I’ve seen fresh out of the boards noobs walk onto the unit and declare “I’m bored” or even better “I have my master’s degree and I’m better than you” before they even got a chance to see or do anything. Put. Your. Time. In.

I’ve been on the receiving end of older nurses saying to my face “You can’t tell me anything because I’ve been at this for longer than you and you don’t know anything!” I’ve been a fairly inexperienced team lead where the others just roll their eyes and do whatever they want because they can, not giving me the chance to prove myself.

What frustrates me the most about this whole topic is not so much “older” nurses bullying newer nurses, but the concept that some of the more experienced nurses just assume that someone new to them is also new to everything. Just because I’m new to your unit or to this particular job does not mean I am totally clueless. Just because I look younger than I am does not mean that I am young and stupid.

I’ve started on a new unit and had nurses with experience on that unit speak to me like I was a child and try to explain things to me like how to spike a bag, or how to manage a stretcher (FYI, once upon a time, I was a stretcher pushing PROFESSIONAL), or how to do an EKG (again, EKG pro here! I can’t read them that well admittedly, but I can perform one with the best of them!). I had them be shocked and amazed that I can pop in an IV like it wasn’t that hard – Bruh. I was an ER nurse. That’s what we do. Why all the shock that the newbie knows how to do her job?

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t all be open to listening and learning because that is one of the most important things about being a nurse – learning! Everyone from the nurse of 35 years to the nurse who is still studying for their boards should be open to learning new information, procedures, evidence based research, and best practice for patient care.

We should be listening to each other and giving a mutual earned respect for each other’s education and background. New or old, we all have a unique life experience that shapes what we know and what we do. A new nurse might be more up to date on current policies and procedures which an older nurse may not be aware of because “we always did it that way”. An older nurse should be listened to because she’s done the things, put the time in, and learned what works and what doesn’t.

Currently I’m working as a school nurse, as you all know. I’m fairly new to this particular area of nursing but certainly not new to being a nurse, dealing with kids, dealing with adults and parents, or understanding pediatrics in general. We weren’t given an extraordinary amount of training for this specific job compared to the many months of intense orientation on the critical care units in the hospital that I’m used to. We (the almost 300 nurses in the network) kind of rely on each other to understand our specific policies. It doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be a nurse, it just means I don’t always know the very specific details of some policies just yet.

My message for the new nurses, younger nurses, or new-to-this-unit nurses is this: listen to the ones with experience. Be open to learning always. No matter how many years of experience you get under your belt, there’s always something new to learn. Be teachable. Don’t walk into any unit and assume you know everything and can take charge. Go ahead and get your master’s degree but understand that it’s a piece of paper and classes you took, not real life experience. Get. The. Experience.

My message to the experienced and older nurses: Don’t assume the new people are young, dumb, and annoying. Don’t be offended when a newer nurse tells you something you didn’t know. Give constructive criticism without tearing the other person down. Be a teacher. Be a supporter. Be an encouragement. Don’t be a jerk.

Published by Emme Mauer M.Ed., BSN, RN, CSN

Mom to two preemies, anxiety sufferer, postpartum depression survivor, and school nurse extraordinaire.

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