Being Tough on New Nurses – Bullying or Helping?

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Megan is a new nurse on a cardiac unit. Although she’s had a good experience so far, she struggles when working with the nurses on the night shift. These nurses are older and have been working on the unit for decades. Megan dreads the nights she has to work with them. Why? Because they tend to “throw her into the deep end without a life jacket.”

They give Megan the worst assignments, rarely help her, and frequently talk about how back in the day, they only had one day of orientation and then single-handedly had to care for 12 critically ill patients. They talk about the “good ol’ days” and how tough THEY had it as they sit at the nurses station while Megan runs around like a chicken with her head cut off.

Megan is so afraid she is going to make a mistake yet she does not feel comfortable asking these nurses for help.

Are these nurses bullies or are they trying to help Megan become competent by being tough on her?

There are two types of nurses who are tough on new nurses:

Nurse 1: Nurses who secretly want the new nurse to fail. Why? Because seeing other nurses fail while they succeed, gives them a sense of power.

Nurse 2: Nurses who THINK that by being hard on new nurses, they are actually helping them.

For nurse 1: Please refer to the gazillion blog posts, article, videos, books and presentations I’ve created about her.

For nurse 2: The problem is that their intent is good. They really think that by being hard they are helping new nurses become competent.

But they need to know that it’s a lie.

Studies show that when you are hard on new people during the LEARNING phase, you actually DECREASE their competence.

Here’s what we know about nurse competence: Nurses become competent when they are confident.

<h3>How do you help new nurses become confident?</h3>

1. Give them the easiest patients on the units.

I was working one evening and the charge nurse (her first ever in charge) was struggling to make assignments for the 7pm shift change and asked me for help. She told me that Sarah was new and it was her first night off of orientation. I said, “Oh. That’s easy. Figure out who are the easiest patients on the unit and give those patients to Sarah.”

2. Give them one less patient than everyone else to start.

Yep. That means you and your colleagues will have to pick up the slack.

3. Give them time to master tasks.

Do you remember what it was like to put in your first Foley catheter? I do. It took me 10 times as long as it does now. Why? Because I had to concentrate and think about every step! Now, I’ve put so many catheters in that I don’t have to think about it. I just do it. Give these new nurses the time to master their skills.

Providing new nurses with the opportunities to master easy patients and tasks first and then gradually give them more challenging patients/situations will help them become the competent nurses we all need them to become.

While some nurses are truly being hard on new nurses because they LIKE it. Others are being hard because they falsely think they are helping.


What you have to do is ask yourself, what type are you?
Thanks so much for reading. I’d love to read your comments about this topic.
Take care and stay connected.


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