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Why Do Nurses Eat Their Young?

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One common theme or question among nurses and nursing students is, why do nurses eat their young? Nurses that are tough during orientation can often be mistaken for eating their young.

While this can be scary for some nursing students or new nurses, you shouldn’t be as worried as you might think.

Today I’m going to be deep diving into why nurses eat their young, along with many other common misconceptions around the topic.

Story Time: My Preceptor Nurse “Eating Her Young”

When I was fresh out of nursing school and started working in the ICU, I was very nervous. The way it worked for us was that we had a preceptor on day-shift, and one on night-shift. My night-shift preceptor was just a few years older than me, and we got along really well.

But, the day-shift nurse had been their for quite a while. She was a lot harder to work with because she had developed “her system” throughout years of working in the ICU. It was difficult to learn from her, because she would not accept any other methods other than her own. In addition, she definitely “had it out” for some new nurses to try and weed them out of the ICU.

In the end, everything worked out. Although, I did learn that nurses can and do eat their young – for varying reasons.

3 Reasons Nurses Eat Their Young

Why do nurses eat their young? Well, I have seen them do this for several reasons, but the most common include: weeding out, hard-teaching, and how they were taught.

1. How They Were Taught

If we look back to nursing history, you’ll find out that the first nurses were part of the military (source). They were serving British soldiers during the war. And, throughout history, this trend continued.

The military nurses taught other nurses who took over for them, and then they taught the ones that came after then, and so on. Many of these “strict” teaching techniques have been passed down over the decades.

While the nursing profession is often affiliated with being gentle and caring, the reality is that in wartime or during an intense life-saving moment, you have to be regimented. It is vital for young nurses to understand the difference between caring for someone’s life, and saving someone’s life.

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It can be compared to the typical stigma of how surgeons might act in the operating room.

2. Hard-Teaching

If you look at the top teaching styles typically hard-teaching isn’t one of them. However, being tough on someone who’s learning is one way that nurses teach their young.

I believe that this goes back to and relates to live saving experiences. During a code situation (when someone’s heart stops beating), you cannot not know what to do. It is very important that you know the appropriate steps to take. And, it can also be an intense period. So, when teaching someone during these times, it can be a bit hectic and tough.

3. Weeding Out

Often another common reason nurses might seem like they are eating their young, is a weeding out process.

Weeding out can happen when nurses are trying to access a new nurse’s abilities. Typically in areas like the ICU or emergency department, there can be a lot of emergency situations. During these situations new nurses need to be able to handle the stress of the situation, as well as think under pressure.

So, a lot of weeding out can occur when more experienced preceptors might try to “see what a new nurse can do”. Again, it can be mistaken for eating their young, but these nurses are just trying to make sure the patients are receiving the best possible care.

Is It Okay for Nurses to Eat Their Young?

While this might be a common practice, is it acceptable or okay for nurses to eat their young? Typically, you would assume not, but in many cases it might be encouraged. Let me explain.

Tough love or weeding out is a common practice in healthcare to make sure the new nurses can keep up. It sounds challenging, but fast-pace emergency areas are challenging. And, it’s extremely important for these nurses and healthcare workers to be on top of things. So, they need to test their new nurses to see if they are up for the challenge.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, why do nurses eat their young? I think the real answer is that they don’t. Well, at least on purpose. Nurse preceptors being hard on new nurses is almost a right a passage. Without tough preceptors, we might not have well-prepared orientees and new nurses.

It goes without saying that patient safety is a priority, and improving the education of our new nurses can be vital to ensuring that.

Full Time Nurse

Striving to help nurses and nursing students succeed.

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