Within the nursing profession there’s a troubling old saying that “nurses eat their young.” It refers to a problem sometimes called lateral violence or horizontal bullying – in essence, negative behavior that’s directed at a colleague within the same level of the nursing hierarchy. You’ve probably seen it, or perhaps been the victim of it. Among nurses, this kind of bullying can take many forms: verbal insults, a condescending attitude, unwarranted criticism, gossiping or spreading rumors, or withholding information in a way that sets someone up to fail.
There’s no doubt this kind of bullying happens across professions, in all industries. But it’s especially troubling when it occurs among nurses. Why? Because a nurse is someone who supposedly has dedicated her life to caring for other people, with a holistic approach that considers a person’s physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. And it’s only logical that we should do this not only for our patients, but for our co-workers as well.
Be supportive by becoming a mentor
Your warmth and encouragement should extend to all your colleagues. However, new nurses, as well as those from an international background and those adjusting to a new specialty area, can especially benefit from your support. If you take time to stop and really listen to these newer nurses, you may be able to share your expertise and knowledge in a way that will make a positive impact on their professional development – thereby enhancing their ability to provide high quality nursing care. One way to do this is by becoming a mentor to a younger or less experienced nurse.
Formal mentoring programs may not be right for everyone, but if your hospital has one, you should consider getting involved. Your participation will benefit your career, by showcasing your leadership skills. But it has the potential to help your hospital and your patients as well. Hospitals report that they often lose new nurses during the first two years of employment, and mentoring programs have been shown to increase employee retention. This in turn helps reduce patient safety issues that are associated with high turnover, insufficient staffing rates, etc.
The informal approach to mentoring
Even if your hospital doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, you have many opportunities to share knowledge and useful insights. When you make time to offer support and friendship to a less experienced nurse, you’re helping to promote competent nursing practice by influencing the quality of care that nurse is able to provide.
Think of this way: you can probably remember a time when you were chatting with a friend or colleague and suddenly experienced a “light bulb moment” – an instance of sudden clarity, where you saw a solution to a problem, or an option you hadn’t previously considered. Conversations and relationships have the ability to provide inspiration and stimulate thinking, often by chance. And this is the idea behind informal mentoring – it just happens, when the time is right, with no formal program or meetings to attend. It’s just two people, with enough compatibility to exchange ideas and learn from each other.
Informal mentoring honors the human side of the workplace, and it holds sacred the ideal that people can bring out the best in each other. When you seize upon every opportunity to act as an informal mentor, you can provide coaching, advice, and an empathetic ear to someone who needs a sounding board –all in an unstructured, casual manner. It’s more of a mindset on your part than a scheduled activity. And it’s a great way to advance nursing practice at your hospital and throughout the profession.