Nurses are leaving the OR and while there are numerous external factors to blame — industrywide staffing shortages, unrealistic time pressures and a sense of bone-deep burnout from a stubborn, unyielding pandemic — we’re certainly not doing ourselves any favors in how we treat each other. Not only do I still hear stories of nurse-on-nurse bullying from my peers, I recently experienced a hostile and toxic workplace. At this point in my career, I thought I’d left the threat of bullying in the rearview mirror. But what I experienced from two preceptors during my last assignment — an anxiety-inducing experience that led to panic-stricken breathing, tears and, eventually, an early exit — showed me that bullying is alive and well, regardless of how seasoned of a nurse you are.
The assignment started off on a bad note, with my first preceptor complaining about the orientation the hospital required me to undergo. There are plenty of surgical staffs that believe a traveler needs no orientation, that a nurse is a nurse. That’s simply not the case. For one thing, the charting at this place was nothing like I was used to. It was a mix of electronic and handwritten, with three-fourths of it repeated over and over. One nurse would do it one way, while others would do it completely differently.
The first preceptor had no time to teach me to chart — and she let me know in no uncertain terms. I was told the nurses were all tired and that they needed help now, regardless of what the orientation protocol required. The second preceptor would barely speak to me, as if my very presence were a huge inconvenience to her. Perhaps the biggest indignity occurred while I was prepping a patient’s surgical site, something I’ve always prided myself in doing by the book. The preceptor apparently didn’t like my technique. She took the prep stick right out of my hand and proceeded to nearly scrub the skin right off the patient.
To this day, just thinking about this assignment makes my heart race and my stomach churn. I’ve even had dreams about it. Sometimes, when I think about the bullying I endured at the hands of these preceptors, I feel shaky and catch myself holding my breath — and then it feels like I can’t breathe at all. I know I’m not alone in this. It still happens far more than it ever should. Bullying should never have a place in the OR, but now more than ever we need to pick each other up and empower one another. We can’t be the ones sticking the knife in our peer’s back.
I know times are tough right now. Nurses are tired. Facilities are short-staffed. Turnover is a fact of life, and we’re not always given the time between cases to adjust to a revolving cast of OR staff we’re placed with. On top of all that, the RaDonda Vaught case has made us second guess the patient-safety-centered practice of self-reporting mistakes. We will never get through these challenging times if we turn on one another. Let’s make it our mission to refocus on pulling each other up, instead of dragging each other down. OSM