Bully RNs: Please Stop Eating Our Young

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in the film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That awful phrase, “nurses are the only ones that eat their young”, has always gotten under my skin. I first heard it back in 1990 when I was studying to become a licensed practical nurse. Now it’s 2013 and we’re still eating our young. You’d think we’d have had our fill by now!

Eating our young is the same as bullying and it all falls under the category of lateral violence. One of the main reasons I believe we’re still hungry is because our profession can’t seem to establish an entry-level educational standard. Policy makers say it ought to be bachelor level but we continually regress – in part because of supply and demand and the economics of 21st century healthcare. So we keep jumping back into swimming pool school, defog our goggles, and try again, while we compete for a gold standard that doesn’t exist.

How does the lack of an educational standard cause such a feeding frenzy? Let’s consider a real life example. Take four nurses working a busy 12-hour day shift on an inpatient unit with high acuity (is there such a thing as low acuity?). They all carry the title of RN and are doing the exact same tasks – with different hourly pay. The most experienced one has the old school RN Diploma (battle weary and concerned about all the BSN talk). Another is a single dad in his 40s with an associate degree (boot camp school I call it) – he couldn’t afford 4 years of school. Our 3rd nurse is in her 20’s, fresh out of school with a bachelor degree (total newbie and frequently gets on everyone’s nerves). Lastly is a master’s prepared nursing faculty member who had to take this job to make ends meet (despite all that education it doesn’t pay the bills). While jockeying for the RN Blue Ribbon of the Day, they backstab, spread rumors, and form cliques.

Talk about a perfect storm!

If the four nurses in my scenario all had a BSN there would be less friction because the playing field would be level. But I don’t see how that’s going to be possible because the silver tsunami of Baby Boomers is upon us and they need all of us. Now. The system doesn’t have the time or the money to reach that gold standard. Our policy makers are well-intentioned, but unfortunately, shortsighted (I forgive them). So for now we have to learn to get along. If not for ourselves, let’s do it for our patients. That, I believe, we can agree on.

© Julia Gallant McConnell and Julia5150, 2012.


  1. Love this. I have a post on my blog regarding my encounter with Kathleen Bartholomew, and her lecture on Nurse to Nurse Hostility you should have a look see. Kathleen has also written a few books on the topic of nurse hostility and lateral violence. One of my stories is going to be included in her book she is currently writing, aimed more for students. I agree that not everyone has to like each other, but everyone must be respectful, and work together efficiently for the best quality patient care. Sometimes we have to step back and realize that we are here for the patient, not to settle our own personal debts, or make others feel beneath us. We’re all on the same team here.

    1. Thanks for the like! I’ll def check it out. I have a reference for you also, might already have it. Deborah Boyle MSN, RN, AOCNS, FAAN. She and a colleage have written on LV and also Compassion Fatigue, the latter of which is another big contributor to LV. I found one of her articles on the ANA website, it’s called “Countering Compassion Fatigue: A Requiste Nuring Agenda”. She and a colleage have just published a book on this and apparently it’s recieved one award so far (came out in March 2012). I wish you the best with you thesis and hope you will con’t your work in this most important subject. Thanks again!

  2. Oh, and I am also using lateral violence for my thesis topic for my Masters Degree if you ever run across any good peer reviewed literature I would definatley appreciate taking a look 🙂

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