I worked with a DNP student as her “clinical mentor” for the last year and a half. During one of our meetings she told me that she has had to justify her decisions at every point in her nursing career. When she first became a nurse she chose a BSN program. Then in her first job she was working with all ADN nurses who treated her differently because of her 4-year degree. When a position opened up in the Emergency Department, this nurse got the job because she had a BSN and she dealt with even more fall-out.
When my colleague decided to pursue a master’s degree, she was given a hard time for choosing to become a CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist) rather than an NP (Nurse Practitioner). Her most recent experience with having to justify her nursing career and education path was when she began an online DNP program. Why DNP and not PhD? Why online and not on campus?
My colleague’s story reminded me of discussions I’ve had in the past about how nurses treat each other and the age old “nurses eat their young.” I imagine this type of behavior happens in many professions; my biggest concern, though, is that what is known as the most trusted, the “caring” profession, would participate in it.
What is it about nurses or nursing that contributes to this phenomenon? Is it the stress we deal with in our daily jobs – leaving no energy for interpersonal relationships? Do our work settings or the people we work for cause us to feel inadequate leading to insecurities and jealousy? Does questioning ourselves lead to questioning others?
I have witnessed nurses who are incredibly loyal to each other and would do anything for one another. I have close, lifelong friendships with nurses I worked with years ago. I’ve also seen nurses treat each other unkindly and not support each other.
I believe that leadership makes a huge difference. In my experience, nurses who are valued, respected, and given autonomy treat each other better than those who feel micro-managed or not trusted. Management can make or break a nurse’s experience and maybe even how she or he treats their co-workers. That, of course, can trickle down to patient care, which is the whole point of what we do!
Leadership also happens in the classroom. Those who teach and shape nurses can encourage them to support each other and by doing so strengthen the profession. Leaders of our local, state, and national organizations can do the same. And those nurses who are on the front line, feeling the effects (good or bad) of professional relationships, can contribute to making nursing a consistently friendly profession by taking a leadership role in their workplace, or their professional organization. At the very least they can be friendly and helpful to their nurse colleagues.
I am proud to be a nurse, and I’m a passionate advocate for and supporter of the nursing profession. So when I hear stories like the one my friend told me, I get concerned. There are enough stresses and challenges in health care today. By standing together, nurses can make a difference to patients and to each other. I envision nurses as a group of health care professionals who have each others’ backs. I see nurses as being excited for another nurse who is advancing his or her career or education – an opportunity for growth as an individual, a team, a unit, and most important for improving patient care.