Nurses Eat Their Young; An Insight Into Systematic Hazing and its Implications on Patient Care

Submitted by Shelby Leahy

Tags: bullying hazing nursing nursing students patient care stress student nurse

Nurses Eat Their Young; An Insight Into Systematic Hazing and its Implications on Patient Care

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What I am about to say is something that has been on my mind for a great deal of time, and I have put a tremendous amount of thought in how I would like to articulate this particular piece of writing. Workplace bullying and hazing is something that occurs in many professions, but in the field of nursing it is so prevalent that it even has its own infamous phrase; “Nurses eat their young.” Someone who does not work within the healthcare industry may hear this phrase and experience a great deal of confusion. Though metaphorical, it is unfortunately quite true when the meaning is understood. A significant number of new nurses and nursing students experience this form of hazing on a far too regular basis.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) estimates that 18 - 31% of nurses have experienced workplace bullying and that approximately 20% of first year nurses quit the profession (ANA, 2012). “Nurses eat their young” is so well known and integrated into our field of work that it is essentially a widely accepted notion that few really question or speak out about. I am going to dissect the meaning of the phrase, the reasoning behind the phrase, and the negative implications in which this systematic form of bullying has on the patients that are under the care of nursing staff. So as stated previously the phrase, “Nurses eat their young,” is in reference to the bullying and harassment that is victimizing nursing students, and most generally perpetrated by older and more experienced nurses (Katz, 2014).

Many nursing students are left feeling insecure and begin to lack confidence in themselves and their capabilities. They begin to fear that they are not good enough and not smart enough to be given the title and position that they have spent countless hours studying in nursing school to earn. This form of workplace bullying is so widespread that it is almost formally accepted as something that is “just the way things are,” and student nurses in turn are left feeling degraded, inadequate, and powerless in the training for their chosen profession. I do not feel that this is acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

Every individual in the nursing field is equally important regardless of position or title. The jobs performed by the employees in the field of nursing of varying qualifications are only different; they are not of greater or lesser importance. They differ in the amount of education and level of responsibility that is held within their positions. Every position in nursing has its own tasks and responsibilities and in order for the field as a whole to be successful each member of the nursing team must be treated with the same respect and decency. Workers within the nursing profession should have one universal goal: to advocate for and to facilitate optimal patient care.

We are the people who are taking care of people on their death bed, recovering from an injury or a surgery, or helping individuals regain their independence so they can return to their home. In some circumstances we are the bedside caregivers that are providing needed care to individuals who are elderly and ill; those who are in the greatest need of affection, love, and a comforting environment that is free from tension and stress. The members of the healthcare team are like the various parts of a finely tuned machine; to have optimal functioning, every part must be working properly and at greatest potential. In order for this to occur nurses must learn to respect and appreciate one another as opposed to tearing each other down and discouraging one another.

When older nurses facilitate workplace bullying they are deteriorating the quality of care and the victims are not merely the targets of the harassment; the patients are suffering as well. The patients that we, as nursing employees, care for are in their most vulnerable states and need nothing more than to be in a warm and welcoming environment that is free from added and unnecessary stress. They need our tender love and care. They need empathy. They need caregivers that are selfless and devoted to maintaining a therapeutic place for them to heal or transition from this life into the next. When older nurses bully new nurses it stems from two prominent sources - their own individual insecurity and a lack of and a desire for more power.

The nurses that bully were bullied in their early days of their careers. It is undeniable to say that the nursing workplace is an extremely stressful one. Nurses have a copious amount of responsibility and patient lives are on the line. This inevitable stress paired with long hours can quickly take a toll on the mental health and well being of the nurse. It is quite common for an individual that is stressed out to take out their own frustrations on their coworkers and unfortunately, sometimes the patients (Jennings, 2008).

Regardless, when new nurses are bullied and insulted they begin to doubt their own capabilities. This added stress to the already existing and unavoidable pressure results in a less confident student nurse; thus, increasing the likelihood of errors and decreasing the quality of patient care. The lack of confidence instilled in these workers impedes them from performing their jobs to the best of their capabilities. This is not fair to the students experiencing the harassment and it is certainly not fair to the patients that are suffering as a result.

They absolutely can feel the tension that lies between arguing coworkers and they can sense the lack of confidence in nurses that have been discouraged. To reiterate - optimal quality of patient care absolutely should be the top priority of all nursing staff members. When we are consistently tearing down one another, we are creating an atmosphere of insecurity, stress, and anger. Most importantly, we are taking away energy that should be utilized in ways that promote a most favorable ambience for staff members and patients alike.


  • Nurses Association [ANA], (2012). Bullying In the Workplace. Nursing Insider News. Retrieved from
  • Katz, K. (2014). Bullying in Nursing: Why Nurses Eat Their Young. Retrieved from
  • Jennings, BM. (2008). Work Stress and Burnout Among Nurses: Role of the Work Environment and Working Conditions. In: Hughes RG, editor. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2008 Apr. Chapter 26. Available from: