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We all know nurses who think being mean to newer nurses is a “right of passage.” They appear to take pride in demoralizing the “newbies” and think they are toughening them up to make them good nurses. They talk about how they were tortured as new nurses and step into the role of tormentor once they establish themselves as an experienced, competent nurse with presumed authority.  What they don’t realize (or maybe they do but choose to continue behaving badly) is that studies show that being “hard” on someone when they are in the learning phase doesn’t make them strong but actually does the opposite – being hard makes the learner weak.

Classic Example:  Katie, a new nurse, works on a medical surgical unit with a nurse patient ratio of 5:1. Today is her first day off of orientation. Katie is given the following assignment:  two patients in isolation, one patient going through the DTs, one in 4-point leathers, and one with the most difficult family members who have already threatened to sue the hospital and every doctor and nurse in the building! Most of her experienced co-workers have four patients; many who are stable waiting for discharge.

Is Katie being set up to fail?
What helps new nurses become competent?
New nurses become competent when they feel confident in themselves. Confidence = competence. The best way to help new nurses gain confidence is to give them the easiest assignments, fewer patients and provide a constant vigil of support. We need to do this until we see evidence that the new nurse is gaining confidence in his/her skills. Once confident, then slowly add more complicated patients to their assignment.
Just like in Katie’s situation, who ultimately pays the price for the “hazing” of our new nurses? Our patients ultimately pay the price. As nurses, we have an ethical responsibility to our public to ensure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that every new nurse has the skill set necessary to provide high quality care. Period.
Remember, confidence equals competence. Stop the hazing and start the supporting!
Thanks for reading. Take care and stay connected!
For more great tips, make sure you “like” me on Facebook,”follow” me on Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to my blog. Also, check out my new book on nurse-to-nurse bullying!

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  1. As I new RN almost 40+yrs ago in Psychiatric/Mental Health,I would take the patients no one else wanted- that the staff believed were a lost case- I found that by having faith in them they made changes no one ever imagined possible. This was a great blessing for me.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing! I've also found that if we just go out of our way to treat others with kindness and respect, they behave in turn.

    Thanks for doing your part to keep the compassion alive in nursing!

    Kudos to you!

  3. Overwhelming a new nurse just to continue a rite of passage is really setting one and your floor for failure. The new nurse is obviously learning her new role on the job. To make a new nurse an effective nurse the last thing any established nurse should do is overwhelm them. Yes there are certain expectation of a new nurse, but with good guidance and loosing that hazing mentality, a preceptor or the staff in general will help make an excellent nurse where all (staff and clients) will benefit from.

  4. Hi Brenda
    Thanks for your comments! It takes a village like they say. Ultimately, patients AND nurses benefit when all nurses work in a nurturing and supportive environment.



  5. I found the above comments very refreshing.As a nurse of many years, I could not understand of what benefit to the nurse or the patient overwhelming, disrespecting and literally setting up other nurses would be. I did not participate in it and took the punishment as it came. At times questioning my own sanity. i was of course considered weak by colleagues. However, I have arrived at a point where i am transtioning out of nursing to another area of healthcare, still not understanding this insane "right of passage"

  6. Thanks for commenting BET…so sorry to hear about your experiences – so wrong! I've never understood hazing either and try to do everything I can to stop it. I'm an optimist and believe we can end this behavior today!…however, I'm also a realist – I'm aiming for progress.

    Warmest regards

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