Congratulations! You’ve managed to graduate from nursing school and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. In addition to that, you have successfully obtained a new-grad RN position after submitting thousands of applications. You’re now gainfully employed and about to embark on your new journey as a registered nurse. You’re very elated and excited to embark on this journey—and you deserve it. You have worked very hard to get here. However, that elation and excitement is short-lived due to the fact that you’re a new registered nurse, and as the saying goes, nurses eat their young.
Bullying towards new nurses isn’t new, and it’s a major problem. There have been many documented occurrences of new-grad bullying, but it’s not alleviating the problem. Unfortunately, this action is accepted and often swept underneath the rug. It’s as if the field of nursing is a sorority and new grads have to undergo a pledging process. It’s not enough that you’ve battled the trenches of nursing school and proven yourself to be a safe and sufficient nurse via passing boards. Now, you have to undergo the brutality and wrath of a negative, experienced nurse who sees you as an annoyance and, at times, a threat.
During my second week of orientation as a registered nurse, I was told by one of the nurse supervisors to watch my back because the experienced nurses could be “vengeful” at times. Her saying this to me was shocking for two reasons: 1) I couldn’t believe she acknowledged the fact that being vengeful towards a fellow nurse was happening on the unit. 2) As a nurse manager, wouldn’t you want to put an end to this behavior happening on your unit in order to maintain peace and order for the sake of patient safety?
Sad to say, this is a game, and new-grad RNs need to know how to play it. I come from a long line of nurses in my family, and when I spoke to them about this situation, they acknowledged that it happens and that I need to take special precautions to protect myself. Here are 10 tips to deal with new-nurse drama that they shared with me:
• Keep a journal and document your days at work. In this journal, keep a record of the date and time of specific events. This way, if you’re ever called into a meeting and/or you’re challenged concerning a situation, you will have a personal record of what was said and done.
• Come to work early and give yourself enough time to get organized. Being organized is key to nursing—and when you’re a new nurse, your coworkers are going to try to find any reason to be negative towards you. Being early and organized helps to alleviate this.
• Maintain a locker with a lock on it. It’s really unfortunate, but your coworkers could be the kind of people who would be “vengeful” and try to steal your items or tamper with your equipment.
• Don’t share any personal information. If you’re talkative like I am, this might be hard to do, but do it. You’re there to work, not to become best friends with anyone. Gaining friendships is fine, but your main priorities should be to protect your patients and yourself.
• Don’t be afraid to speak up and defend yourself. Often, new-grad RNs are made to feel inferior and fear speaking up due to retaliation. Don’t feel that way. You have a right to speak up and defend yourself, especially if you’re being threatened. Legally, you can’t get fired for that. Additionally, you can’t change whatever you tolerate. Therefore, you should acknowledge you deserve respect by standing up for yourself.
• Don’t do anything that is uncomfortable and/or wrong. During my orientation, one of the experienced nurses wanted me to help her distribute medications because she was late. She didn’t want me to look at the Medication Administration Record or any other vital information about the patient. Instead, she wanted to hand me the medications and give them to her patients. I told her no because that was a threat to safe patient care and my license. She became upset and irate with me. Did I care? No. Patient safety and the safety of my license come first. The fear of harming someone or losing my license was greater than the fear of making her upset by denying her request.
• Know your rights. This is important on any job, but new-grad RNs fail to understand their rights because they’re so consumed with learning the rules and regulations of their employed facilities. During your orientation, take the time to speak to Human Resources about your legal rights. It never hurts to know what legal protections you have at your place of employment.
• Mind your business. When you hear other nurses speak badly of a coworker, don’t join them. Walk away and divert your attention to something else. Entertaining the conversation not only makes you look bad, but is also an easy way for you to get trapped into the role of being negative. Besides, what goes around comes around, and if you start talking negatively about someone, you’re going to be the target eventually as well.
• Always take the time to learn something new. This is a great time to be a human sponge. Doing this makes you look like a team player, and it’s a great way to advance in your career. This also makes you too busy to entertain negative thoughts and/or conversations. Learning isn’t limited to learning nursing skills. You should also take the time to learn about the environment in which you work. Learn what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Also, observe and be mindful of the different personality traits of your coworkers. You may like some and you may not. It’s better to learn in order to be prepared.
• Leave work at work. When you come home, it’s time to relax. Nursing is hard work, and you don’t need to worry and stress about it when you’re at home. Whatever happens at work isn’t to be brought into your personal life. Bringing your work home is a sure way to burn yourself out quicker, and it will make you not want to work at all.