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Nurse Relationships
Healing Wounds between Nurses
How to bring unity back to nursing.

What nurse hasn’t heard the phrase “Nurses eat their own.”? You’ve probably witnessed it at some point in your career. Or maybe you’ve personally experienced the burn of cattiness, gossip, condemning verbal attacks, or bullying.

Plain old meanness seems to pervade nursing, and you wonder, Is there anything I can really do about it?

Letting this behavior go on will progressively change nursing for the worse. We’re in a nursing shortage, and if we don’t address this issue, we’re in trouble. Nurses are leaving already. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With effort, the ideal workplace--where everyone gets along and supports each other--is attainable. Here’s how to make it a reality:

Speak Your Truth
When you hear that someone is talking about you behind your back, or someone says something hurtful to you in public, don’t just walk away. Do something about it. But have patience. Ask to speak to them in private and tell them what you heard. Explain that if they have something to say to you, they should just say it. Then the two of you can work it out. Most bad feelings are left unaddressed in the workplace. So take a stand, speak your truth, and fix the problem.

Never Be a Silent Witness
Nurses who are unprofessional talk about people behind their backs or gossip. And while that’s not acceptable, remaining a silent witness isn’t much better. Never stand by saying nothing. Don’t be the ears that listen while one nurse is slamming another nurse or bringing someone else down. Never. Take a personal vow of integrity. Say, “Professionals do not do that.” Or tell the complaining person to go talk to the person directly involved, not you. At the very least, walk away.

Don’t Ignore Non-Verbal Language
It’s pretty typical for a nurse to be passive aggressive, especially since the average age of a nurse is 47 or higher. Remember, the Boomer generation isn’t as open as Generations X and Y. If you ask a nurse how she’s doing and she says, “Fine,” but her vocal inflections or body language say otherwise, ask her what’s really going on. Take the time to show that asking “How are you?” isn’t just a standard greeting—and that you really do care

Compliments Go a Long Way
Few nurses actually take the time to give positive feedback to their nursing coworkers, even though it’s a critical component of creating cohesion on your unit. Complimenting someone isn’t just a warm fuzzy. You can’t compliment someone for something specific unless you actually pay attention to what they did. We need to celebrate our differences, and affirm each other’s strengths. Sure, we have the same educational backgrounds and training, but it’s the particular things we do on the floor that we have to notice: “Wow, you can get a Foley into anyone!” Or, “Gosh, you really deescalated that patient. You’re really good at that.”

Take Time to Listen
Nurses are labeled as “snobs” or “self aggrandizing” if they talk about their own successes at work. That’s why it’s important to encourage other nurses--especially new nurses--by saying, “I want to hear about your work and your day.” By giving nurses permission to talk about their successes, they become confident in their own strengths—and less concerned about others’ perceptions of them. It also helps nurses to find value in each nurse’s contribution to the unit.

Appreciate the Art of Nursing
The profession isn’t just a science. It really is an art. A nurse becomes more than a skillful practitioner when he or she enters a perfect stranger’s room, who is probably in an extremely vulnerable place, and makes that patient feel at ease within five seconds. That’s talent. It’s the art of connecting with another human being. And it’s incredibly important to remember that you are the artist. When you recognize you and your co-nurse aren’t just “handmaidens”—but professionals integrally involved in helping your patients become healthy—you will see the benefit of putting aside the behaviors that undermine your professionalism.

Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN served as the manager of a 57-bed orthopedic and spine unit in a tertiary hospital in Seattle, Washington, for more than six years and has just recently ended her position to begin work in consulting. A registered nurse and counselor, Bartholomew brings to light the challenges and issues facing nurses today through the use of story. For more information, go to .

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22 Responses to “Healing Wounds between Nurses”

  1. Emma Kennedy Says:

    This article helps a lot. I have working for six months in a new job and do worry about people talking about me as I have had a bad experience in the past. One thing that I don’t like is all the politics that happens in the NHS. I am slowly learning how to cope with it. Thank you. This is an excellent website emmax

  2. aimee Says:

    This article is about fifty years too late. Even now, with the egregious shortage of nurses, the pecking order is still in full swing. The insecure ones still try to bad-mouth those whom they perceive to be a threat.

    The notion that nursing is not a profession because a BSN is not the entry level is absurd. Nursing is not a profession because there is no unity among us. Those with MSN’s are just as likely to back stab and bad-mouth as those with ADN’s.

    This is a mean, awful profession and nurses have no greater enemies than each other. It doesn’t help that bean counters are now supervising the MSN’s.

    I have given up on this profession. Thirty years of “improvement” has only led to more of the same.
    I have no hopes that it will ever get better.

  3. diane Says:

    Interesting posts.

  4. De Says:

    When I came to this profession at the age of 42 after going back to school I was very idealistic about what kind of people nurses would be. WHat I found was that nurses were like everyone else. I realized after being bullied & talked about that it was no different that high school. SOme were wonderful nice people, others were not. It was very hard for me to go through but I have found light in this profession. I have the best job, work with wonderful caring people & learn new things every day. I will retire in a couple of years but I intend to keep dabbling as long as I can stand up! I am 58 & am loving it! Hang in there, we need you.

  5. Laura Says:

    Thanks for this. I’m having issues while I’m still in nursing school. The drama is ridiculous! I’m ready to graduate so I can get away from the high school behavior… but sadly, it seems like it’s in the real world too.

  6. Memcde Says:

    I will be 50 years old when I start nursing school – is that too old – Will I be marketable or should ( think of another endeavor

  7. Elaine Says:

    This was one of the main reasons I quit nursing school. I was totally unprepared for the unprofessionalism and back stabbing and just over all MEANNESS, but not just by fellow students by staff nurses in the clinical situation. I said to myself do i really want to be involved in a profession where people treat each other this way? How can nurses expect respect from other healthcare providers and the general public when they treat each other so disrepectfully?

    Maybe it’s just part of my personality and I do not care for high conflict situations. Maybe I was not suited for the profression. but I simply don’t have the killer instinct it requires apparently and I am not into bullying other people. I am also not into backstabbing, gossping, and trashing and humiliating students who are trying to learn.

    I am not into high school behavior at 40.

    There are many highly eduacted and caring people who might consider nursing if the profession would clean up and stop acting like a bunch of high school “mean girls”.

    I am not saying every nurse behaves this way but boy there are a lot of them and I have seen it family of patients in their care and as a student nurse. It’s appalling.

    Look a lot terrible behavior happens in the business world as well, but I worked in banking for 10 years in a customer service arnea and while the mantra was sell, sell, sell which I did not care for, the staff strived to show a public decorum and professionalism befitting of a business institution. They were police, and professional, and followed a decorum of bheavior to clients. You would never see a branch manager screaming at an employee in front of customers, as they know customers would likely never return.

    But nurses can rip each other to shreds in front of patients and students are “fair game” as far I can tell for everyone. It’s really sad.

    There is a nursing shortage but you are losing potential candidates who could be excellent nurses when you behave like teenagers and gossips instead of professionals. I realize nursing is high stress and that the working conditions can be sub par. It’s a tough job and I truly respect the work nurses do but they are crippling their own field when they turn on each other and future nurses.

  8. Suzanne Says:

    I don’t think interpersonal problems are limited to the nursing profession. They occur in any occupation, wherever humans are, and are all related to ego.

    Don’t get discouraged, fellow nurses. Use the Golden Rule as your guide.

  9. chaedden Says:

    First of all to Memcde in two years you will be 52, weather you go to school and become a nurse or not you will still be two years older and at 52 although night shift, patient transport and physical demands that nursing put on a person are easier to handle at 32 I have worked with nurses that truck along with the “kids.” My favorite Charge nurse Retired last year at 80, she was like a grandma that took none of our crap she kept us in line. So go for it you can do it there is nothing stopping you except for you. Also I graduated with four grandparents when I finished. Good Luck
    It is a sad state of affairs that have led to this many comments on how mean nurses can be. Although I do run into the cattiness of nurses in my practice but it is few and far between. I think that if you have a no tolerance policy about back biting, gossip, and meanness, your co-workers see that right off the bat and do not bring it around you. On my unit and my shift I work with the nicest group of women they are all supportive of me and my goals, they are encouraging role models that are the epitome of Florence Nightingale. By them striving to be so much better they pull me up with them. They provide culturally component, knowledgeable, cost effective, personal care to each and every one of their patients.
    I feel sorry for those of you who are working in an environment where you are not up lifted as a nurse and a person, but you may have to do like I have done look within yourself to determine are you part of the problem or the solution. Make that change people will notice and they will change along side of you or you will find another unit to work in that will provide you with the up lifting spirit that every nurse needs in order to make it though the day.

  10. Karen Koeberl R.N. Says:

    It doesn’t have to be a ‘dog eat dog’ world. I’m new at this, but I really feel respected where I work, and plan to stay there for my entire nursing career. I didn’t get my degree until I was 46.

  11. michelle ceo Says:

    i graduated at 53, i am working in my second job in 6 monthes. i won’t let the lunatic i work with push me out. she is young, and resents everything and everybody. i find there are allot of power junkies in nursing. i knew what i was getting into. i’ll plod forward, working to the best of my abilities.

  12. Laura Says:

    I am seeing this first hand as a nursing student who happens to have a doctorate from another field. Maybe because I worked in male-dominated industries for over 20 years, I wasn’t prepared for the junior-high school, cliquish, gossipy behavior that seems to permeate staff nursing. It’s so disappointing. As a result, I plan upon graduation to distance myself from the “pink collar ghetto” and seek out an area of the practice that is more professional. If that exists..

  13. Angie, RN Says:

    I’ve worked in a hospital and a LTC facility. At the hospital, there were cliques, just like in high school, but I found the ones to be the meanest to the new nurses were the LPNs that have worked there for years and make next to nothing compared to a graduate RN just out of school. Then I left there to go to a LTC facility. I was in a new position. The 3-11 shift had never had an RN charge nurse. The LPN’s just did charge. It was terrible. The backstabbing and downright meanness of some of them. After many complaints about me (mainly from the LPNs and CNAs b/c of me making them do their job) I was let go. Afterwards, the high school behavior didn’t stop. They would call my cell phone and send threatening text messages, implying that they put something in my food, etc. I filed a complaint against this place with the state. But through it all, I still love nursing. I just try to always be nice to the new nurse on the block. Friendliness will sometimes cause more friendliness to blossom.

  14. Montana Says:

    This post makes me so sad. I hope that there is a day where this kind of situation becomes the exception and not such a typical situation. I know I really try to “be the change I wish to see in the world.” Hopefully, these situations will help new nurses see what kind of professionals that they don’t want to become and how not to treat other nurses.

  15. Jason R. Thrift, RN, BSN Says:

    I’ll tell ya, the more I read on this post, the more I believe we need a mentorship program across the board for Nursing.

    This is a topic I’m working on for my Clinical Research Paper now that I am working on my Master’s degree.

    The problem with nursing is, we’re all human. Nursing, today, is geared like an automated factory. Get them in, fix them, get them out, no emotion, no control, no interpersonal relationships. Ms. Bartholomew said you could make a person feel at ease in the first 5 seconds, if a nurse is lucky.

    The art of nursing has been lost. Somewhere between electronic documentation and dealing with a physician, taking care of a patient doesn’t seem paramount anymore. Being in Nursing Informatics I have often heard nurses say, “I don’t take care of patients, I take care of the computer.” Unfortunately, all the breakthroughs in technology have not come with time efficiency in mind, but safety. But at the cost of that safety, are we creating a generation of nurses that have become so staunch and blase about care that nursing is disappearing?

    I’ve noticed in the posts several people on here have chosen nursing as their second career. I’m 32 and comparatively young to most of them just now starting, where I was 8 years ago. I’ll admit, I probably should be on the floor myself. But, we also need people to try and make a change and hopefully for the better. So I applaud those that have chosen later in life to try nursing as a career and even more so those that are young to stay with it for a while, as I did.

    Unfortunately, no amount of change will ever diminish human nature and gossiping. People are going to gossip, you live with that and shake it off. But the working together aspect certainly intrigues me.

    Since day one on the unit I have believed a mentorship program would be essential to the nursing profession. It could create a camaraderie between veteran nurses and new nurses, notice I didn’t say young and old. Nursing needs that because the “eat your young” mentality is very real. When you’re a new nurse you experience it firsthand and it doesn’t go away ever, because you later find yourself doing the exact same thing to new nurses that come after you.

    Being a mentor is like being a parent; you guide, nurture, listen, encourage, and to some degree, in the context of a professional relationship, you love. It won’t always be ideal, as no relationship between a parent and child has ever been itself (those of you with small children or teenagers know what I mean), but it would be a genuine relationship that can grow and if done well the new nurse will pass on that same relationship to the newbie they encounter.

    Some of you might say, “Won’t happen,” but it already has. Some Canadian hospitals have implemented a mentorship strategy into nursing, Ontario I believe, that has worked and is cost effective. It’s been so effective, those hospitals are now instituting the same philosophy as a multidisciplinary approach. I don’t have all the statistics as of yet, but I am working on it now.

    If you want to change behavior…good luck, parents are the real instigators of that. If you want to change nursing, perhaps a mentorship program is the way to go. Along the way, you just might get some of those behavior modifications that you’ve been looking for.

  16. Elizabeth RN Says:

    Nurses have very little support,it,s all hurry up and get this one discharged and that one admitted.The bosses expect us to do 4 IV,s,EKG,s,meds ,charting all at the same time,then the doctors are hounding you to hurry up and do each of their orders,if your tech disappears and is playing with her cell phone,calling friends or checking email,it is very frustrating.We are expected to grin and bear it and keep everyone happy.We have to vent somehow.Bosses are VERY critical,how about a bit of encouragement.

  17. Cheryl RN Says:

    I’m a relatively new R.N. to a LTC hospital in CA. I’ve been in nursing since February 2001. Being a positive, friendly person has not kept me from being sabotaged, back-stabbed, negatively gossiped about and “set-up” for failure. I am frequently disrupted during my shift with harassment by a few LVN’s and their “friends”, RN’s. I always respond in kindness, and this seems to make it worse, they resent it. They want me to get angry and be unprofessional like themselves. I refuse to change my positive attitude, but am concerned that my statements to my supervisors and the CNO is ineffective in problem-solving this issue. My feelings are that there is a goal of making me quit this job, rather than being terminated. These girls, (two LVN’s and one RN), speak Spanish primarily to eachother knowing I know only a little Spanish. It’s apparent with their facial expressions and body language towards me that they are negatively speaking about me while I’m present. They have wasted too much hospital time gathering-up every employee they can to go along with their opinions of me. I have carried-out all that is in the employee handbook except contacting the CEO of the hospital. I have introspected so many times trying to note if I have said or done anything to cause this hatred, hostility, intimidation and harassment towards me. I am barely hanging in there, I am even at the point of looking for a job that is not in nursing.

  18. Lolly Camoe Says:

    Yes, after being an LPN for 22 years, I have witnessed a lot of mean nurses at work. I can’t understand why they want to behave this way. Whenever I work with other nurses, I always work hard and try to keep the peace. I appreciate help that you receive from being a preceptor and having a student do some work. I know other nurses hate precepting, but I always loved the fresh new input from students.
    Now it is so disappointing for me as I hav egone back to school to further my nursing, and in this last practicum, my preceptor won’t look at me or talk to me or include me in any oth his work. It is just a terrible feeling to be standing around looking lost while constantly being ignored. He with-holds information from me and won’t show me around. This nasty preceptor wouldn’t even say hello after I said hello to him. How rude and ignorant can nurses ber. My God, what is wrong with this picture? What ever happened to team-work and professionalism? People like him shouldn’t be preceptors. It’s not fair to the student whose just trying to learn the ropes.

  19. Joann Says:

    What a sad bunch we are. we are mean, nasty and rude. i have been a nurse for over 26 yrs and i enjoy my job, and my career. I have encountered the type of people you all described and they too, are still in the field. knowledge can be dangerous, or thinking you have all the knowledge is dangerous. this is the problem with seasoned nurses, they forget how it was when they were new grads. Gossip and women will always go hand in hand, yes being the subject can be painful but acknowledging it empowers the problem. As a person, one should know oneself, your ethics, morals, your history, your limitations,etc., one should not give anyone permission to tear down the walls to your self respect. Your contribution to the discipline of nursing is welcome and needed, so please do not give up. Self respect is the secret weapon against the meanness, pettiness, and rudeness of seasoned nurses. Smile and look at gossip as boy you must be a very interesting person for them to notice you, your mistakes, your accomplishments, your downfalls, so straighten out your shoulders, lift your head and be proud that YOU have survive nursing school and now is the time to make your mark in your own way. The FAMILIES you serve will appreciate you. I welcome you into the wonderful world of nursing with open arms and you are all very wonderful and you will bloom to be good providers.

  20. rondodondo Says:

    As the only guy on my floor I can tell you straight up that most of the nurses I work with are all mean nasty byothches. They talk about each other all the time, probably about me too, but I could care less. Last week they were ripping one nurse about her haircut. Seriously……her haircut? Give me a break. I can’t stand to have much interaction with most of em because they are so bad to everyone. I wish they would put that energy into doing a good job instead of wasting time with petty B.S. that is none of their business.

  21. Mixs Says:

    HiI have been neonatal nurse wokirng in a level II unit for 10 years now. I think the most important issue for parents & families especially mothers is the availability of rooming in facilities for mothers once discharged from hospital care. New neonatal units are being built with 2 rooms per 10 neonatal beds and this is just not enough. Often these mothers come from out of town. we should be supporting the provision of breastmilk and breastfeeding of infants by ensuring that the mothers are able to be as close as possible to their infants from admission to discharge. An infant and mother are a diad that should not be separated. This is to promote bonding and breast feeding which will benefit their lifelong health and well being. And should be a priority.

  22. Anita RN Says:

    We have all seen the dynamics that goes on in nursing and even after 34 yrs as an RN I can say it has only much gotten worse.I have worked with some wonderful staff along the way ,RNs RNAs, NAs
    but now I think that health care is in a general downward spiral. RPNs now “feel” that they are the exactly the same as RNs so they don’t need to follow the advice of the RNs and if you try to gently advise they role their eyes. But I am not there for the staff , I am there for the patients for whom I give 110% in spite of the staff.

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