advertise with us find a job post your topic join the community log in
Rookie Wit & Wisdom
The New Nurse Scapegoat

Sometimes it feels like I’m not given the time—or opportunity—to learn.

As a new surgical nurse, I’ve noticed that the nurses who have been around for a while don’t want to let me do some of the procedures. I’m nudged out of the way. I’ve talked with other nurses, and they say that they’re afraid of getting into trouble if the new nurse blunders, or they don’t want to slow down the pace by teaching the new nurse.

A lot of the times, new nurses don’t even get a chance to learn because they have to be so fast from the get-go. When I say I don’t know how to do something, I often am ignored instead of being told, “I know you haven’t done this. I know you don’t know how to, so let’s go through it together.”

But if something does go wrong they say, “Oh, it wasn’t me. It was the new girl!”—even if you haven’t participated in the procedure.

Once I was working with two other nurses—one who was significantly more experienced and a newer nurse than I was at the time (she was still in training). When I came into the operating room, after working with the nurse-in-training, I noticed the seasoned nurse’s laps were off. I counted and recounted. The numbers she wrote down didn’t match the actual count.

The doctor came in, and of course, he started flipping out. When the nurse-in-training left the operating room, the seasoned nurse turned and said to the doctor, “That’s why I hate working with her.”

She didn’t want to get in trouble. She wanted to look good. And who’s a better scapegoat than the new nurse?

Read more Rookie Wit & Wisdom articles

31 Responses to “The New Nurse Scapegoat”

  1. Shannon, RN Says:

    Amen, I am a new nurse but I am not a young girl just out of college. Nursing is a 2nd carrer for me. We were warned in school about nursing being one of the only professions where we eat our young. I thought for sure that can’t be true but it so is. I have seriously considered leaving my unit already and I’ve only been there 3 months. What is the deal with older nurses hating the newbie’s I mean aren’t we there rescue from understaffing etc…??? It just blows my mind.

  2. JT Says:

    I believe the expression that “nurses eat their young” should be dropped. It’s not true and the statement has become a ridiculous cliché. The statement gives an impression that nurses are mean and vicious. Don’t get me wrong, some probably are but the many are not.

  3. GRACE FINCH Says:

    I told my friend that l am training as a nurse, all she wished me was good luck, she proceeded by saying that nurses have very bad hearts, and she hopes l do not change………. This has freaked me out, l really do not want to get that experience, secondly qualified nurses, treat other races so badly, like they do not know anything, l do not want to be judged

  4. Karen Stead Says:

    I am sorry many of the newly qualified nurses get treated so badly, unfortunately it happens everywhere. And yes it seems we do eat our young. I work as a Midwifery Clinical Coach and my role is supporting new and existing staff to gain and maintain skills. I try very hard to boost everones confidence but then I return to work and some mean, nasty colleague has ruined my hard work……………….We should start a group lol

  5. Natalie Says:

    No – this doesn’t happen in England in my experience. I have met nurses who say they have never made a drug error and when you report one deny they were involved even when the nurse responsible has admitted it was their fault. We certainly don’t have a reputation on the child side (my area) for eating our young. Anyone shirking responsibility tends to do it with any colleague they could get away with it with. There are certain procedures, such as giving IV drugs, where we have to do extra training and until we have the certificate we will not be allowed to participate but it’s transparent because noone should be doing IVs until they have the piece of paper to say they can. In a good team this type of behaviour could only be damaging.

  6. Kathy RN Student Says:

    My opinion is that there needs to be a MAJOR revolution in healthcare (at least, here in the US). This is my second career, first was finance. My experience is yes, the vast majority of staff nurses treat students abhorrently. In fact, I don’t see too much professionalism in ANY health care facility among peers. (Those people wouldn’t last a day in the business world.) HOWEVER. It seems to me that all the hospitals care about is BUDGET, rather than patient care and working conditions for RN’s. My head spins when I think about caring for 7+ patients. That just should NOT be. But, no, the management weasels just want their bottom line nice and fat, so they overburden the staff and there go the nurses. Or, they stay and become hardened and bitter. Does anyone else see it this way?

  7. grannyb Says:

    I have been a practicing nurse for more than 24 years and I do agree that we “old seasoned” nurses are hard on the “new younger nurses” But the trend that I have noted over the years is that the new nurses come to work thinking that they know everything and paying very little attention to the one who is trying to help them in their training. Most of the time we just give up and think “they will figure it out” and you know what? After a few hard knocks they do figure it out. But maybe we should teach the new nurses to have some respect for those who have been doing this for years…..

  8. Revive Says:

    I have to agree with Kathy. Most of the bitterness has sometimes been built around the pressure of a Budget rather than adequate patient care and sometimes those we consider mean to new nurses can be just really stressed and bummed out. I do know though from first hand experience how very mean nurses can be to newcomers regardless of stress sometimes. I now realize that it can be a matter of dealing with someone who is practicing on theory based knowledge, which new graduates only know to use at first, which conflicts with someone who have already learned to put these practices to use in a real life basis. New comers can be very judgemental based on how things should really be until they get a taste of the real world. I can only hope that we can learn to be a lot more patient and understanding of each other, both old and young.

  9. James Says:

    This is so true. I am at the end of my new graduate year here in Australia and am only now getting told of my faults and the apparent perception i give of to other experienced nurses which grates on them. It seems even the educators when confronted with the situation of a new nurse not being perfect, and lets face it their not perfect by any means, that that completely leave you in the dark. Telling you that you have done wrong your focus is off and all that crap, but don’t offer any advice at the time of this happening. It frustrates me. Too confident – not confident enough, over enthusiastic – not willing to participate. there is no mid ground. ARRRGH. One thing that makes me smile though is that soon all these baby boomer’s will be leaving and hopefully new nurses like me can bond together to make this a real profession that takes care of our own and nurtures and educates our young – not eating them.

  10. Jai Says:

    Ok. So I am now just entering the nurseing profession, (I just started my Junior Year of my BSN this fall) and all this talk of the older “seasoned” nurses not being so nice to the “new” nurses it very dissapointing. I find it to be very disturbing that i chose to get into a profession that cares more about the bottom-line, than it cares about having professional and compentant nurses. I just got a wake-up call and im going to have to rethink my

  11. tim Says:

    Jai, while the reality may be that there are problems with older nurses being mean and some folks in the profession are more concerned about budgets than care, it is certainly not the rule. There are several wonderful and caring seasoned nurses in the profession who embrace the role of mentor for new nurses – there just need to be more… You could be one of those in a few years. Don’t be scared off! Use this new knowledge as you interview for your first job and set the expectation with your superiors that you expect to be mentored and encouraged as you get your feet under you. If they look at you like you’re crazy – go on another interview… As new nurses, we can affect change.

  12. Debra Says:

    Thanks for the tips everyone. I was just hired to work in an E.R. (totally new for me.) BUT, I’m going to interview for another position as Education Specialist/Clinical Mentor as I’ve been a RN for 23+ years, and have been preceptored at least 7x in different hospitals and units from AIDS care to L&D. This past 2 weeks I’ve been preceptored by a nurse on Med-Surg (sweat-shop of a unit) in preparation for the ER. Coming from L&D, I felt totally disoriented and insecure. As in every preceptor experience I’ve ever had, this young RN was GREAT!! There are great, compassionate and understanding nurses everywhere. Don’t give up hope guys, and commit yourself as I have, to passing it on. The “mean” ones are stressed and have their own issues. Just let them be. In fact, be kind and model right behavior. It’s not you. Find the ones who want to help and let them know how much you appreciate their help/kindness. Nursing is a challenging job, no question about it, but if you want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, you have come to the right place. You’ll never have to wonder what your purpose is. Worth every ounce of my blood, sweat and tears these past 23 yrs. (Sorry, I’m one of those “Baby-Boomers”) That’s how it is/was for me and thanks again for the reminder of how it can be for the new nurse. I think I’ll get my preceptor a little “thank-you” gift.

  13. Adrienne Zurub Says:

    Until the power dynamics of the workplace where nurses and doctors practice change, this type of ritulistic behavior will continue!

    It happens because, nurses, who are predominantly women, do not want to be ‘yelled at, perceived as dumb, or incur disfavor with a surgeon or doctor who is usually male. It is analogous to a abused wife relationship.

    I do not have the solution other than training nurses in schools to be more empowered and take responsibility for their respective practice.

    Adrienne Zurub, RN,CNOR
    ‘cardiacbitch’…so what!
    Author,’Notes From the Mothership The Naked Invisibles’

  14. MK Says:

    You’re absolutely right. The only thing that matters in the for-profit hospital is that the profits are what the investors expect for the quarter. This means the staff, and as a result, the customer(patient) is gonna get screwed.
    I’ve worked for both for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals; and I have to say sometimes the for-profit can be the worst in terms of staffing and working conditions.

  15. Lulu Says:

    Sometimes I definitely feel like the newbie scapegoat of my unit. Not only have they not hired new grads in 10 years, but I’m the youngest of the five they hired. I really do want to learn, but when I ask questions, I get simplistic answers. When I bring up issues, I get blown off. I’ve actually had a senior nurse take credit for the work I did and criticize me about “not doing xyz.” Recently, I was trying to explain something to a senior nurse and she actually left a note on my locker “discrediting” the information I had given her (even though it was completely right!). I feel like I’m expected to be dumber or something. There’s a real hard resistance to change, and I can’t stand doing things without a better reason than “that’s the way they’ve always been done.”

  16. SUE Says:

    I find it very offensive when older CERTIFICATE! nurses criticize new nurses with REAL degrees. They definitely have an inferiority complex. The reason is because, a new nurse is up on nursing as far as information learned. Just because they don’t have 100 years on the floor for experience, does NOT mean they don’t know anything. If anything, technically they are smarter where books are concerned. They just need other nurses to give them that chance to apply it. Until older nurses drop their inferiority complexes, and nasty attitudes, there will always be trouble with a new nurse. This is so unprofessional, and high school! They need to get out of nursing if they have to treat people like that! A nurse is supposed to have the best interest of ALL humanity, with great compassion and drive to help. They eat there young instead?????? I personally think they need a doctor ( a Psychiatrist!) They act crazy with new nurses, somtimes you wonder………

  17. SUE Says:

    … and another thing to “old seasoned” nurses, those with bad attitudes toward new nurses are afraid they are going to lose their jobs to them.
    What it really boils down to is this: old certificate nurses know that new nurses are well educated and they have a fear that they will show them up in different ways, so they insist on kickin them first. This is insane and they need their heads examined. They need to remember where THEY came from!!!

  18. Mr Ian Says:

    This is an interesting thread – albeit an old one revived.
    As neither seasoned nor new (15 years) and as a nurse who trained under the transition period of the change from vocational to degree nursing, I have a few comments on the matter.
    Firstly, I consider myself vocationally trained, tho we were required to do some of that new fangled research critique work and write course essays. I found them to be of little use but that may have been the course tuition rather than content.
    I would also note that there seems to be a pervasive theme of attack on the more experienced nurses by the lesser experienced nurses. I have a few theories on this.
    To address Kathy’s comparison of healthcare to finance is a bit odd. People tend not to die if a new financier makes a error crunching numbers.
    Older nurses ‘scapegoating’ newer nurses is perhaps not as mean as it first sounds; not only do they have to do their job but they also now have to teach new nurses the practical skills of the job – something most nurses came out of training able to do. Nowhere have I seen these older nurses given the time, resources or skills in providing on the job training. Nor do they get any relief from their usual workloads. Tho it may be right to identify that older nurses are less receptive to newer ones, just remember in their day of qualifying they would turn up first day newly polished and often be given charge of the ward or unit for the entire shift. This may be an improved situation now – but in their experience, it wasn’t done that way. They are only replicating what the service put them through.
    I would also suggest that the new nurses who identify older nurses as being afraid of them as being a bit arrogant and ignorant. An experienced nurse is worth 4 newly graduated nurses at least. Though they may all be able to analyse, synthesise and philosophically discuss the pros and cons of the sociological factors of a middle aged pregnant newly diagnosed diabetic – it is of little use in actually getting the job done on the floor. New nurses are being trained up to understand why they do what they do – without actually experiencing what it is they are doing. That’s cart – then horse.
    However, the problem does exist, and it does so because the changes to the training in nursing was done without consideration for it’s effect on the shop floor. The process of change from one methodology to another was not given any support or duly thought through. In ten years time, this will matter much less as those ‘experienced’ nurses will understand more of the training and knowledge of the new nurses who have little skills; which by then the now experienced nurse will be able to supplement.
    Nurses do not eat their young – the young nurse are not nurses as the older nurses know them. They are strangers in the history of nursing. Until new academic trained nurses become the new fabric of nursing it will remain an anomaly that exists between one style and another.
    Meanwhile, it’s like wearing plaid with check.

    Nevertheless, I agree with every comment made that recognises that this problem does exists – yet I would exercise caution in the way it is analysed. It is not so simple and straight forward as it might first appear – that old nurses despise new nurses simply for being new nurses. But those who have REAL degrees and who would have learnt to analyse beyond the primae facie symptoms would no doubt have known that though?

  19. brahm Says:

    hello all, i am not a nurse or a student nurse. i’m a former patient. and listening to this argument has done nothing to ease any of my fears about returning to a hospital for anything. while i’m sure most of this happens out of the view of the patients, we still notice the looks and can percieve the change in moods. and it worries us. because in the end we the patients are the ones who will suffer.

    nursing is a very hard profession, one that, i truly hope, demands perfection from imperfect beings(us humans). it is physically and emotionally draining, and yet i’m sure it has its rewards. some nurses i have spoken with tell me that anymore that they just don’t care anymore. they just want their shift to end before some patient dies, lest they bring that “aura” home with them. i’m sure not all our like that, i sincerely hope they aren’t, but can you see how utterly and absolutely terrifying that would be? do you?

    i guess what i want to say is, please put the schoolyard bs behind you, for our, the patients, sakes. i’m guessing that most of you entered this profession because you are compassionate souls, wanting to help people in some of their darkest moments. isn’t that enough to worry about?

    thank you for listening, i know i’m not a nurse or doctor or aide. just a patients two cents. its just that anymore, our two cents=zero.

  20. bobby Says:

    as a new nurse of 3 years, i can say from experience coming out of nursing school is tough. The best advice I can give you is that your patients are your main priority, never forget that. people are people, in the nursing profesion or not, and negative attitudes will always be around where ever you go. Checked the news recently, the world is not perfect? what you need to focus on as a new nurse is the well being of your patients. I have experienced the classic line, ” use your best judgement”, when I had asked more experienced nurses about a patient or clinical situaton.Well as a new nurse, your judgement may not be the best, and depending on who your asking, their’s may not be either. you have not been around the block so to speak and so you lack clinical experience to understand certain clinical situations that will and do arise. some seasoned nurses are great resources, and some are not. If you feel uncomfortable with a clinical situation, and you are unsure on how to proceed in the best interest of you patient, consult someone else whether it be supervisor, charge nurse, MD or the new rapid response teams, to help trouble shoot a problem you may not understand completely. Never feel bad about calling a doctor, no matter how stupid you may feel. Again, your main priority is to your patient.

  21. bobby Says:

    oh, and to the patient who just wrote about the nursing profession, demanding perfection from nurses,well they do. unfortunately nurses are people too, and are imperfect just like you and every other person living in this world. All anyone can do is their best.

  22. nurse on duty Says:

    I agree… I’ve been experiencing the same thing because I am new nurse. I’ve been working for the past 4 months as a volunteer and sometimes (my bad: often times) I make mistakes because the senor nurses assumed that I know how to do something when in fact it is my first time to do it. (Don’t get me wrong, I asked them to help but they usually ignore me). I just feel glad that I am not alone in this situation, and I wish those senior nurses would help me adjust since I am working for free.

  23. Pamela Says:

    I woulde just like to add a coment to this discussion. I am a new BN although I was an LPN while I went to University. Any way my advice is to stand up for ourselves and do not allow other to treat us this way. I just calmly point out that I am still learning and that I need them to help me become a great nurse. I also point out that they also have things to learn form me and that we need to work as a team to get the job done. I also think that it is very important to come on to the job with the proper attitude. We may have just finished school and we are full of new ideas and are going to change the world and the face of nursing. This is not the case for all of us and we have to remeber that the proper attitude will get us a long way with our co-workers.

  24. Pamela Says:

    Nurse on duty,
    You need to make yourself heard. It is not appropriate for you to be doing skills that you have never done before on your own. You need to tell the senior nurses that you can not do this on your own and that you are not comfortable. If they won’t help you then you need to tell them that you will not do it because it is not safe and you will not put your patients at risk. Do not allow anyone to assume anything about your abilities or what have or haven’t done. You could wind up in a whole lot of trouble someday if you continue with this trend.

  25. Pamela Says:

    Get over your anger. A certificate nurse is just as qualified as degree nurse. The difference is 1 year of classes you can not tell me that 1 year makes that much of a difference in your abilities as a nurse. An attitude like yours is a big part of the problem, and if you walked onto my unit with that attitude I wouldn’t treat you very nicely either. Take a look in the mirror before you judge others for their attitude. You may only be receiving what you are projecting.

  26. Pamela Says:

    One more thing. everyone should read the Hopelessly Human Nurse Series. Two books both easy reads. Book1 Relighting your lamp, and Book 2 The marriage of art and science. It helps to give a new perspective on Nursing and reminds us why we became nurses in the first place.

  27. Emily Says:

    Im a student on my first placement and the bitchiness im receiving from qualified nurses has totally disillusioned me I feel so worthless and disencouraged, the only thing keeping me going is the satisfaction i get in helping patients and their genuine appreciation. I am now seriously wondering to do I want to be a Nurse…

  28. jane Says:

    Emily, I know these attitudes can be very unsettling, especially to a new nurse. Keep your focus on your patients and performing the best to capabilities, ask for help when needed. Usually once you find a work place you can call home, even despite gloomy co-workers, you will be able to establish yourself and your skills in time, despite negative influences you will do just fine. These negative attitudes can be found every where, and it is not an isolated incident. Don’t let your dreams be squashed by other peoples bad attitudes, you can make a difference as a nurse, you don’t need to buy into the negative tudes, just be yourself, be polite when asking for help, most respectable nurses will try to help ease your transition, most good nurses who actually have a genuine caring attitude want to see new nurses suceed.

  29. Grace H. Says:

    It’s all a matter of perspective. We all need encouragement and don’t seem to get enough. In a field where you work you rear off and go the extra mile only to go unnoticed, it’s tough not to get frustrated. We’ve all had those days when we’ve been mentally, emotionally, and physically drained and are still expected to behave and perform to perfect professional standards. That’s hard when you feel like you have nothing left.
    It’s true that those “bitchy” nurses have their own issues, and it’s usually nothing personal.

    I recently started working in an ER after 3 yrs in Med/Surg. I feel like a new nurse again. Each unit, each shift has is pros and cons. There are some amazing nurses out there and there are some with bad attitudes. That’s just how it is. It’s the same in life. If only growing thick skin was easy and comfortable. I preach to myself every day to “hang in there” especially when I am a type B personality in a department of type A’s, and I’m expected to think or perform the way THEY want me to. To be expected to be like someone else is never fair. We all are different in our own ways and bring different things to the table.

    To every new nurse out there, I say don’t give up. Speak up. If you sense tension coming from someone, take a deep breath and talk it over with them in a safe environment (i.e. not in front of your peers at the nurses’ station or when they’re obviously busy doing something) and you will be respected for it. To every seasoned nurse out there, I say a little encouragement goes a long way. Don’t forget that. Communication is always the key.

  30. Maryann Says:

    I read this with interest as we are now in 2009 and the situation is not changing. We, the nurses, have to change it. I am no longer working in the field, but did for 26 years. I found a speciality that worked for me…Travel Nursing. Most people loved to see you because they were so short handed. Some were down right SNAKES. You learn to handle snakes in 20 some years…you kill them with kindness and your excellent skills. Nurses eat their young. Sad, BUT true. It needs to stop, but it has only grown worse each year the staffing has grown worse. HOW BIZARRE!!! Now, with the economy the way it is, I fear it will become a minefield for all graduates and that puts everyone at risk. There needs to be more accountabiliy for the staff that are doing the chowing down of our new nurses. They use to have staff development in charge of the orientees. If they don’t want to start retraining new nurses every few weeks and risk patient safety, they need to put a safety net in place for the new orientees to have an outlet to go to when they are being eaten alive by the older and poisonous mind sets out there….that may sound mean, BUT it is mean. NO ONE is there for your job, they are there to enhance your work enviroment and for patient care. Someone taught you. Teach them. Remember what is was like to be in their shoes. 27 years ago, they were cheering me on with each step I took to success, not tearing me apart….maybe one nurse…who had her own issues…but we all get one bad apple who is tired or misses her kids…whatever, but this new attitude is everywhere…we all see it and we all have tasted it….IT NEEDS TO STOP for all our sakes.

  31. Mike Says:

    Im a student nurse in the uk coming to the end of my third year, and I have felt like this at times, especially in the ward setting. However as I feel myself progress bow, and my confidence grow, I find it hard to care about the attitudes of a few rude people, when I know I will be twice the nurse they are eventually.

    In terms of critical care however (itu, anaesthetic recovery, theatre, etc) most staff are so supportive of people like me. Perhaps this is due to a much more relaxed atmosphere?

    I also sometimes wonder if the ‘bitchy’ attitude that thrives in nursing is simply because it is a profession dominated by women? I dont mean this in a rude way, but we all know how a group of girls can get if they’re around each other all the time!

Leave a Reply

search realityrn

sign up for weekly cartoons, tips, and blog posts
first name
last name

Register to win a pair of RX Medical Silver Fox Crocs

Nursing Jobs