One of my earliest memories is of an incident that occurred in the third month of Year One. My classmates and I, having waited ten weeks for our student nurse uniforms to be delivered, were thrilled to finally present ourselves in that full uniform and cap to our assigned nursing units. Eight of us arrived as a group at the nurses’ station one morning, in the company of our Nursing Instructor, to receive our patient assignments. We were seventeen and eighteen year old girls, full of innocence and wonder about hospitals and our futures as Registered Nurses. A male physician approaching the station from down the hall, announced loudly to all in the vicinity: “why do our students have to wear the ugliest uniforms in the city?” We were stunned, unsure of ourselves, and humiliated. I remember looking up at our Instructor expecting her to speak out in our defense, but she didn’t. She remained silent, as though she hadn’t heard him. She never mentioned the incident to us again, but I have never forgotten it. It was my first lesson in the hospital’s hierarchy of power, a lesson that was reinforced to me throughout my career.
Two years later in another hospital and another ICU/CCU, I personally experienced the term “nurses eat their young”. An old term that nurses and nurse executives whispered about, it explained an abuse of power that some senior nurses meted out to inexperienced, junior nurses. No one was proud of the nurse to nurse abuse of power phenomenon; it was an embarrassment to admit publicly that nurses would deliberately seek out vulnerable nurses to bully. In my case, the Head Nurse of the ICU/CCU was insecure about her level of clinical expertise and we staff all knew it. Having worked in another ICU and bringing a level of confidence and skill with me to this new Unit threatened her. After about a year of tense exchanges between us, she probably decided I had to go. She bullied me in front of a number of my nurse colleagues and I was unable to resist verbally defending myself. Within a few days, I was disciplined by the Director of Nursing for insubordination, placed on eighteen months probation, and was forced to leave the ICU/CCU. My nurse colleagues banded together behind me, signed a petition to have me re-instated on the grounds that I’d been unfairly targeted, but it was all to no avail.
Within a few days, I transferred to the Obstetrical (OBS) Unit, another specialty service which required a high level of team work and respectful relationships between staff members. I worried about the most senior staff nurse there, as she had a reputation for rudeness and rough treatment of new staff. I demonstrated a respectful eagerness to learn and won her over within weeks. I remember my years on Obstetrics with great fondness; the relationships I built there with nurse colleagues and with the Head Nurse were permanent.