Why do Nurses Eat Their Young?

Another installment in my nursing series.

If you have never heard the expression, I will let you know what it means. Nurses eating their young refers to the animosity that older more experienced nurses give to new nurses. This can be expressed by not helping a new employee, not asking questions, or just ignoring them. This can be a new nurse as in newly graduated, or this can just be a newly hired nurse to your place of work.

So why does this happen? I think that it happens for a couple of different reasons.

New Nurses, New Ideas

I think people, in general, enjoy routine and predictability. New nurses offend this by just being present. If they are newly graduated they often bring with them new ideas of how to do things. Often times these are the new standard of operation that experienced nurses might not be privy to. If management agrees with these ideas, you might be looking at new policies and procedures. Which depending on the circumstance can be fought against. 

New Nurse, New Friends

A new nurse to this team means that there is another person here. Maybe other nurses feel that they will lose status or the friendship they have developed.  They feel that they will lose the bond that their team already has and a new nurse jeopardizes this. 


Sometimes places of employment have a lot of hiring, firing, and quitting, for whatever reason. This means that there is a lot of new faces all the time, often times it means that there is not good management or that people are overworked and underpaid. Ultimately training or questions are another thing that this person has to add to their plate when they already feel stretched. They can also feel defeated when they train multiple people and they don't stay.


Sometimes it has nothing to really do with any outside influence other than that person's personality. I am talking about the nurses who are seasoned and hardened. They often look like they are mad at the world. They really just have seen too many things to be soft and squishy. These people often times I refer to as having a hard chocolate outer shell and a soft gooey inside. They really do care, and really love what they do. 


A lot of people who train new nurses are not exactly teachers of the year. They are usually people who are experienced in what they do and/or are willing to train new people. Teaching is an art in itself, nurses generally only have the training of patient teaching. This means that they might not be apt in teaching at all. 

The offending trait is patience. Teaching requires a lot of patience, at no fault of the new nurse. People who learn by doing generally have to be followed and monitored while doing whatever task. To catch the mistakes and fix them. This requires patience because they might do it more than once.  Sometimes people need to be taught things in multiple different ways before they understand something, once again requiring patience. They say it's a virtue and it really is in this setting.

In the End

All of these things are things that are out of the control of the new nurse. All of these things have more to do with the other people around them or the person who is training them, then any action they have actually done. A lot of these traits fade over time. As the new nurse becomes the experienced nurse. You just have to survive the beginning to get to that part. I have experienced a lot of these things in my career.

 It is not a good experience but it really helps me to realize that all of these things are not about me. It is not because I can't understand a concept instantly, or that my personality is offensive. It has always more to do with them than it does me. As long as I try my best to make a good working environment and look at my part in situations that is all I can do. I also always keep in mind what it feels like to be a new nurse. If I keep those experiences close to my heart, I won't make the same mistakes that were done to me. 

So if you are in this situation hang in there. Give it a few months and see how it goes. Find a couple of people who are supportive to you and hang around them. If you have to get your supervisors and management involved. Hopefully knowing what might be motivating these actions will be helpful to you. 

If you are a nurse tell me your experiences about being a new nurse, were you eaten alive? How did you deal with it? Any other questions, comments, or concerns let me know! 


  1. So that was fascinating! I'm not a nurse, but it clearly takes perseverance and support! And wow, for all the nurses who do it and make a difference! That's awesome.

  2. Simply put they are bitchy & high on their horse, the reason could be big or small, don't matter. Just like the nurses you can tell have bad attitudes as soon as you hit any floor. Hard to work with, much less befriend. I've seen seasoned nurses lighthearted and willing, so it's not an excuse.

    A Nurse

    1. I think that behavior of any kind good or bad has a source that works for that person in some way. Or else they wouldn't do it. To simply be malicious I don't think is in the personality of a person who goes into a profession of caring.

    2. That was such an insightful read. While I totally understand that workplaces sometimes have all kinds of conflicts and no work setting is perfect. I had no idea about this saying of "nurses eat their young". It is definitely a profession that requires empathy and compassion more than the usual. But, again, I guess like you said, it probably has more to do with an individual's personality rather than anything else. So there are good and bad apples everywhere IMHO.

  3. Ugh people are so hard on new employees, but I had no idea nurses had it so rough. The job itself is hard enough! I'm so proud of every nurse that perseveres through all that!

    1. It is not true in all workplaces, and some places are worse than others. It just is kind of like hazing I guess in a way, but I don't think it is as hard for male nurses.


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