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'We need to look after our friends and colleagues'

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As a student nurse who is in second year, I am terrified, I’m scared of what is due to come when I qualify. 

Instead of having the usual worries about qualifying – do I know enough? Am I on track with medication knowledge? Am I confident that I can be left with a patient alone and make the correct clinical decisions? – I am confident I will do my best for my patients.

But I’m scared about the future ward I will join. Will I be unfortunate and join a ward where staff bullying is known about but not seen as a problem? Will it make me hate my job? Will this, in turn, affect patient care? Will I want to wake up to come to work the next day? Will my mental health be affected by the staff I work with?

It shouldn’t be like this and I know that I am not alone with this fear. I should be excited about the prospect of becoming the nurse I always wanted to be. I should be excited about the new ‘family’ I will be joining.

A saying goes that nurses eat their young, although this is not the case with most nursing staff, I have seen and experienced this throughout my placements.

I have witnessed staff bullying. I have watched as senior nurses laugh and make comments about some nurses because they “flap and panic” when it comes to emergency situations. But these nurses flapping are the ones who have that day already, who haven’t shied away from basic patient care. That flapping nurse got to know her patient and is now worried and scared at the prospect of losing her. Meanwhile, the ones laughing and joking behind her back are the ones who think that they do not have to do the basic care. In their eyes, that is what care assistants are for. That bullying nurse does not know the patient’s wife, son, daughter or grandchild.

I have witnessed nurses laughing behind another’s back because “nurse J cried the other day, she cannot hold her emotions –she’s not really cut out for nursing”.

When I saw and heard this, it made me reflect on my own practice and how I should handle becoming upset when a patient I have looked after for a while has passed. I found I was scared to show my emotions in case I was seen as weak or overly emotional, so I cried in the toilet. I needed that five minutes of grief, especially as a student. I certainly did not need any judgement, I needed support.

When it comes to reporting incidents that I have found to be unsafe, I have deliberated whether I should wait until I finish my placement or just report it then and deal with the backlash later. When I reported it straight away, I found the rest of the ward then ignored me. I was punished by not being able to partake in interesting patients that would be a good source of learning. I would be made to stand outside and wait or instead, drain catheter bags.

The reason that I am discussing this is because something has to change. We are not being supported by anyone, not even our fellow staff.

With a lot of paramedics and doctors, after their shift, they have a debrief. They are able to discuss the problems they have faced among each other and in turn lean on each other for support. Whereas, with nursing, we finish our shift and go home to our families.

We do not discuss the challenges we have faced throughout the day with our husband or wife because of patient confidentiality and we do not want to burden them with our problems and sometimes, sadness.

“In many cases, we will not discuss the bullying we have faced”

In many cases, we will not discuss the bullying we have faced, or the challenges with staff. So we try to find our own way to cope. Sometimes, this is not enough.

Suicide among female nurses is 23% higher than the national average, student nurses made up 4% of all student suicides between 2001-2017. This is unacceptable.

We should be looking after our nurses. On a ward we should be family; we spend all of our time together; we spend more time together than we do with our own family. 

We need to look after our friends and colleagues. If you notice changes in their behaviour, take them aside and ask, be a friendly ear, and watch for signs of becoming withdrawn.

If you notice a friend of colleague crying, give them a hug. We need to treat each other like a family. Show students and other staff a kinder side of nursing.

Be an advocate not just for your patients, but for our nurses too.

Kylie-Ann Johnson is a second-year student nurse at De Montfort University


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