Nursing’s newest problem: The young eating the old

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In 1976, we couldn’t wait to be nurses. Our starched white dresses with the nurse caps and stripes symbolized our graduation status as we were called one by one to receive our diploma and a rose.

We took an oath to care for the sick, to be professional, to critically think, to respect doctors and to respect patients and family members.

And to respect each other.

It was the age before computers. We learned how to calculate IV fluids in drops per hour and drops per minute. We had large folders that contained algorithms for sepsis, or myocardial infarctions or code blues. We had a three-fold flow sheet that we would manually document on. Threefold front and back. Blood pressures every 15 minutes and the pressors to coincide with the blood pressure. Everything was manually written from labs to a patient’s chart to MDs handwriting new orders — and endless charting of everything that happened to the patient in the ICU or CCU. We knew everything we charted had to be precise as it was always a potential for legal matters.

The handheld calculator had just come out on the market. It was the newest invention: $85 for a handheld calculator. So we were thrilled that we could now plug in some numbers to get an accurate drip rate for IVs or calculate dosages in an instant.

We were associate-degree and diploma nurses. And only the “elite” would earn a BSN.

We didn’t have breaks; they didn’t exist. We just kept working until it was time to go.

You worked the shifts your manager told you to. There was no compromising. You just did what you were told to do. We were the new pioneers in this field of nursing, and we were quite proud of ourselves.

Some older nurses did not communicate well with younger nurses.

Sometimes it was bullying the young. Or harassing or degrading a younger nurse who was just learning.

And the newly coined phrase appeared:

“The old eating their young.”

And the phrase stuck. Unfortunately.

And there was nowhere to turn. The managers turned their heads away. Sometimes the hazing was so bad that nurses would resign and even find a new career.

The nurses we couldn’t wait to be were riddled with harassment and ridicule.

And instead of holding each other up, we slowly destroyed each other.

Fast forward to the year 2000.

We older nurses are counting the years we can say goodbye to this long, hard, relentless career. This career that afforded our family vacations and a house and car and nice clothes and college for the kids.

This career that challenged us in the gut as we watched people live longer or die faster. As we said our goodbyes to our patients, we grew to love, and we’d gulp buckets of tears when it was over. Our last goodbyes to patients we loved.

We slowly evolved painstakingly learning the computer. And the computer was foreign to us. We were “special” and slow and didn’t adapt as well as the younger nurses did. These younger ones started computers in their home, in kindergarten and throughout the rest of their young lives.

Though they sported lots of energy, they walked faster than us, and they now had medical protocols and procedures right at their fingertips — instant knowledge.

But what the young ones didn’t know was that we were pioneers. We’re the ones with years and years of knowledge and experience and wisdom. And thus, the cycle of bullying was reinvented.

I’ve been a manager of an emergency department, I’ve been first assist to the surgeon, I’ve been a staff nurse and a charge nurse in ICU. And I’ve endured over 30 years in nursing. I have to continue working three more years before I can financially retire.

My sadness comes in when I hear the young men and women in this nursing career start the harassment.

“Where’s your hearing aid?”

“Are you STILL working?”

“Where’s your walker with the tennis balls?”

And then there’s a laugh.

But it’s not funny.

It’s sad and degrading.

It compromises our integrity, worth and our camaraderie.
 And instead of working together — we tear each other apart.

This is the hardest part of nursing.

I know it’s not everywhere, but it does exist.

And so now the coin has flipped.

The young eating the old.

Are we strong enough to stop this?

Are we strong enough to encourage positive work ethics and behaviors and to learn from the new and learn from the old?

Can this profession be saved?

It’s up to us.

All of us.

Respect.

Educate.

Enrich.

Empower.

We came here for a reason. Let’s not destroy ourselves.

Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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