Why Do Nurses Eat Their Young?

The nursing profession, often characterized by long hours of intense work, dedication, and compassion, is not immune to the darker aspects of human behavior. Bullying and harassment, unfortunately, have long been an unwelcome presence in the healthcare field.

Nurses Eat their Young

The phrase “nurses eat their young” is no stranger to those in the profession, referring to the mistreatment and bullying of new nurses by their more experienced colleagues. As a senior nurse in a management position, I have witnessed the devastating effects of this behavior on the morale, job satisfaction, and overall well-being of those subjected to it.

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This article aims to shed light on the underlying causes of this phenomenon and explore potential strategies for cultivating a more supportive work environment for nurses at all levels of experience.

My Story: How did my preceptor eat me as a new IEN nurse?

My experience as a new Internationally Educated Nurses (IEN) nurse was challenging and eye-opening. When I first began working in a new hospital in a new country, I was under the guidance of a preceptor who, although highly knowledgeable, adopted a hard-teaching approach. This led to several instances where I felt belittled and isolated, rather than supported and encouraged.

My preceptor’s behavior manifested in various ways, such as harsh criticism, dismissive tones, and condescension when I made mistakes or asked questions. On top of that, she was a racist too. This treatment not only affected my confidence but also made me question my competence as a nurse. I began to dread my shifts, experiencing anxiety and a sense of unease that persisted even when I was not at work.

Fortunately, as I progressed in my career, I encountered more compassionate and supportive mentors who recognized the value of constructive feedback and encouragement. These positive experiences not only helped me regain my confidence but also motivated me to advocate for change within the nursing profession. I believe that by sharing my story and promoting the importance of empathy, understanding, and inclusivity, we can work together to prevent future instances of bullying and harassment among nurses.

Importance of Addressing this Issue in the Nursing Profession

Addressing the issue of bullying and harassment in the nursing profession is of paramount importance for several reasons.

Addressing the Well-Being of New Nurses

The well-being of new nurses is at risk when they face bullying and harassment. As they enter the field, these eager professionals are enthusiastic about learning and contributing their skills to the healthcare system. However, being subjected to bullying can damage their self-esteem and impede their professional growth and development.

The Impact on Patient Care Quality

The quality of patient care may suffer when nurses work in a hostile environment. A strong sense of teamwork, collaboration, and support among colleagues is essential for delivering the best possible care to patients. Bullying can lead to increased stress, burnout, and poor mental health among nurses, which can negatively impact their ability to perform their duties effectively and efficiently.

Crucial for the long-term sustainability and success of the nursing profession

Addressing the issue of bullying and harassment is crucial for the long-term sustainability and success of the nursing profession. High turnover rates and staff shortages can be partially attributed to the prevalence of these negative behaviors. When new nurses feel unsupported or intimidated, they may choose to leave the profession altogether, exacerbating the existing nursing shortage crisis. By fostering a culture of support and respect, we can ensure that the nursing profession continues to attract and retain dedicated, compassionate individuals who are committed to delivering high-quality patient care.

The Negative Impact on Staff Retention Rate

A toxic work environment can wreak havoc on staff retention rates, leading to a continuous cycle of hiring and training new nurses. When new nurses are subjected to bullying and harassment, they may feel isolated, unsupported, and undervalued in their roles. This emotional toll can result in nurses seeking alternative employment opportunities, leaving their current positions to escape the hostility they face. Consequently, healthcare facilities may struggle to maintain a stable, highly-skilled workforce, which is essential for delivering consistent, high-quality patient care.

Moreover, the departure of nurses who have been bullied may also affect their colleagues who remain in the workplace. Witnessing or being aware of the bullying and harassment of peers can create an atmosphere of fear and apprehension, negatively impacting the morale of the entire nursing team. Ultimately, this can lead to decreased job satisfaction and increased turnover rates, as nurses seek out more supportive and respectful work environments. To break this cycle, the nursing profession must prioritize addressing and preventing bullying and harassment, fostering a culture of mentorship and camaraderie among all nurses, regardless of experience level.

Poor Mental Health Outcomes

The impact of bullying and harassment on a nurse’s mental health cannot be overstated. When subjected to these behaviors, both new and experienced nurses may experience a decline in their mental well-being. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of self-harm or suicide can emerge as a result of ongoing mistreatment in the workplace.

This decline in mental health not only affects the individual nurse but also has repercussions on the entire healthcare system. Poor mental health can lead to increased sick days, reduced productivity, and ultimately a weakened ability to provide optimal patient care. Furthermore, the emotional distress experienced by bullied nurses can spill over into their personal lives, straining relationships and impacting their overall quality of life.

Decreased Collaboration with Team Members

Bullying and harassment in the nursing profession can significantly hinder collaboration among team members. When new nurses are subjected to such behaviors, they may feel hesitant to ask questions or seek guidance from their colleagues, fearing further ridicule or humiliation. This reluctance to collaborate can lead to a breakdown in communication, resulting in knowledge gaps and unaddressed concerns, which ultimately compromise patient care.

Additionally, a hostile work environment can create an atmosphere of distrust and resentment among nursing staff. Colleagues may begin to distance themselves from one another, avoiding interactions that could trigger conflicts or expose them to the negative behaviors perpetuated by the bullies. This lack of camaraderie not only impedes the development of strong professional relationships but also undermines the cohesiveness and efficiency of the nursing team as a whole.

Causes of “Nurses Eat their Young”

Now let us have a look at common root causes of “nurses eating they’re young”.

1. High-stress work environment

The high-stress nature of the nursing profession can contribute significantly to the phenomenon of nurses eating their young. Long hours, high patient acuity, and the emotional weight of caring for critically ill patients can create an environment where stress levels run high. This pressure can sometimes lead experienced nurses to take out their frustrations on their less experienced colleagues, perpetuating a cycle of bullying and harassment.

Additionally, when nurses feel overwhelmed by their workload, they may perceive new nurses as a burden rather than an asset. They might view the time spent mentoring and supporting new nurses as an unwelcome distraction from their duties, which can exacerbate feelings of resentment and foster the development of negative behaviors. To address this issue, healthcare organizations need to recognize the impact of high-stress work environments on their staff and implement strategies to reduce workplace stress and promote positive, supportive relationships among nurses.

2. Generational differences and communication styles

Generational differences and varying communication styles can also play a significant role in the occurrence of bullying and harassment among nurses. Different age groups often have distinct values, expectations, and preferred communication methods, which can lead to misunderstandings and clashes in the workplace.

For example, older, more experienced nurses may prioritize hierarchy and authority, while younger nurses may place a higher value on collaboration and open communication. These differences in perspective can create tension and animosity between nurses of different generations, leading to the mistreatment of new nurses by their more experienced colleagues.

Furthermore, communication styles can greatly impact how nurses interact with one another. When a more experienced nurse uses a direct and authoritative communication style, it may be perceived as abrasive or condescending by a new nurse who prefers a more collaborative and open approach. This disparity in communication styles can lead to misunderstandings, and feelings of inadequacy, and ultimately contribute to the bullying and harassment of new nurses.

To mitigate the impact of generational differences and communication styles on workplace dynamics, it is essential to promote open dialogue and understanding among nurses of all ages and experience levels. Offering training and workshops on effective communication, conflict resolution, and generational diversity can help nurses develop the skills needed to navigate these challenges and foster a more supportive and inclusive work environment.

3. Lack of mentorship and support

A lack of proper mentorship and support for new nurses is another contributing factor to the prevalence of bullying and harassment in the nursing profession. Inadequate orientation and training programs can leave new nurses feeling ill-prepared and overwhelmed, making them vulnerable targets for bullying by more experienced colleagues. When senior nurses fail to provide guidance and encouragement, new nurses may struggle to develop the necessary skills and confidence to succeed in their roles, further perpetuating a cycle of mistreatment and hostility.

To address this issue, healthcare organizations should prioritize establishing comprehensive mentorship programs for new nurses, pairing them with experienced nurses who can offer guidance, support, and constructive feedback. By fostering an environment where new nurses feel valued and supported, we can help to break the cycle of bullying and harassment, ultimately improving the overall culture and morale within the nursing profession. Additionally, management should provide ongoing training and professional development opportunities to help nurses at all levels continue to grow in their careers, promoting a culture of lifelong learning and collaboration among nursing staff.

4. Discrimination

Discrimination is another contributing factor to bullying and harassment within the nursing profession, with Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) often bearing the brunt of such mistreatment. IENs, whose first language may not be English, can face unique challenges when integrating into the workplace, due to language barriers, cultural differences, and unfamiliarity with local healthcare practices. These challenges can make IENs more vulnerable to bullying, as they may be perceived as less competent or less deserving of respect by their colleagues.

In addition to language barriers, IENs may also experience discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or cultural background, which can exacerbate feelings of isolation and create further obstacles to their professional development. This discrimination can manifest in various forms, such as exclusion from team discussions, microaggressions, or overtly hostile behavior from colleagues. The cumulative impact of these experiences can significantly harm the mental and emotional well-being of IENs, ultimately affecting their job performance and career progression.

To combat discrimination and promote inclusivity within the nursing profession, healthcare organizations should invest in cultural competency training for all nursing staff, focusing on addressing potential biases, enhancing cross-cultural communication, and fostering a culture of empathy and understanding. Additionally, implementing workplace policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination and provide clear avenues for reporting incidents can help to create a safer and more supportive environment for IENs and all nursing staff. By prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we can work together to ensure that all nurses, regardless of their background or language proficiency, have the opportunity to thrive in their careers and contribute to the delivery of high-quality patient care.

5. Hard-Teaching

Hard teaching is an outmoded practice and it should not be allowed. This practice involves senior nurses using condescending or demeaning language to correct mistakes made by junior staff. Unfortunately, many mentors and even teachers believe that hard teaching is necessary to ensure quick and accurate decision-making. Such tactics, however, can be damaging to the morale of junior nurses and lead to feelings of inadequacy or resentment.

To counteract this problem, senior nurses should strive to use constructive criticism when correcting mistakes made by their new colleagues. This entails providing detailed feedback on areas for improvement while also offering support and encouragement. Additionally, healthcare organizations should provide mentorship training to supervisors and managers, emphasizing the need for constructive criticism to foster a culture of learning and collaboration among nursing staff.

Strategies to prevent and address this issue

How can we prevent and address bullying and harassment among nurses? Here are a few strategies healthcare organizations can implement:

1. Implement anti-bullying policies:

Healthcare organizations should create workplace policies that explicitly prohibit any form of mistreatment, such as verbal or physical abuse, discrimination, and sexual harassment. These policies should also provide clear channels through which staff members can report incidents of bullying and harassment. The name and other details of the complainant should be kept confidential to ensure the safety and security of staff members.

2. Establish mentorship programs:

Mentoring can be an effective way to provide support for new nurses, helping them develop their skills and understanding of professional practices in a safe environment. Mentorship programs should be tailored to suit the individual needs of each nurse, allowing them to tap into the valuable experience of senior nurses.

3. Promote workplace dialogue:

Healthcare organizations should foster an environment where staff members can openly discuss issues of bullying and harassment, as well as provide a platform for employees to share their personal stories and perspectives on the subject matter. By encouraging open communication and feedback, organizations can create a safe space for nurses to voice any concerns they may have and work together to create a healthier work culture.

4. Provide training on diversity and inclusion:

Organizations should invest in cultural competency training for all nursing staff, focusing on promoting empathy, identifying potential biases, and enhancing communication across different cultures and backgrounds. By developing an understanding of diversity among nurses, healthcare organizations can support IENs as well as create a more inclusive and respectful workplace.

C. Provide Buddy Shifts

The new nurses and IENs are new to the healthcare system and may experience difficulty in adapting to their new roles. To aid these nurses, healthcare organizations can provide buddy shifts where veteran nurses can shadow and guide novice nurses through the day-to-day operations of the hospital. These senior nurses should be given special training and should be allowed to talk about any issues or concerns that the new nurses may have. This will help them not only understand their roles better but also build relationships with other nursing staff members.

D. Address Every Incident

Healthcare organizations need to take every reported incident of bullying and harassment seriously and address them promptly. Establishing a transparent and fair process for investigating complaints can help build trust among nursing staff and encourage them to report incidents without fear of retaliation. Management should ensure that confidentiality is maintained throughout the investigation process to protect both the complainant and the accused from any potential backlash.


In conclusion, addressing and preventing “Nurses Eat Their Young” is crucial to creating a healthy and inclusive work environment for all nursing staff, including new nurses and IENs. By implementing comprehensive anti-bullying policies, fostering open communication, establishing mentorship programs, and providing training on diversity and inclusion, healthcare organizations can empower nurses to thrive in their careers and contribute to a higher standard of patient care. Senior nurses in management positions play a vital role in leading by example and promoting a culture that values respect, empathy, and collaboration among colleagues. Together, we can work towards a future where every nurse feels supported, valued, and encouraged to grow professionally, regardless of their background or level of experience.

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