Nurse Hazing and Its Ethical Realities

By: Renee Thompson
As an ethical issue in nursing, we all know nurses who think being mean to newer nurses is a “right of passage.” They appear to take pride in demoralizing the “newbies” and think they are toughening them up to make them good nurses. They talk about how they were tortured as new nursing professionals and step into the role of tormentor once they establish themselves as an experienced, competent nurse with presumed authority.

What they don’t realize (or maybe they do but choose to continue behaving badly) is that studies show that being “hard” on someone when they are in the learning phase of their nursing job doesn’t make them strong but actually does the opposite, being hard makes the learner weak.

A Classic Example

Katie, a new nurse, works on a medical surgical unit with a nurse patient ratio of 5:1. Today is her first day off of orientation. Katie is given the following assignment: two patients in isolation, one patient going through the DTs, one in 4-point leathers, and one with the most difficult family members who have already threatened to sue the hospital and every doctor and nurse in the building. Most of her experienced co-workers have four patients; many who are stable waiting for discharge.

As an ethical issue in nursing, is Katie being set up to fail?

What helps new nurses become competent?

New nurses become competent when they feel confident in themselves. Confidence equals competence. The best way to help new nurses gain confidence is to give them the easiest assignments, fewer patients and provide a constant vigil of support. We need to do this until we see evidence that the new nurse is gaining confidence in his/her skills. Once confident, slowly add more complicated patients to their assignment.

Just like in Katie’s situation, who ultimately pays the price for the “hazing” of our new nurses? Our patients ultimately pay the price. As a nursing ethics issue, we have a responsibility to our public to ensure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that every new nurse has the skill set necessary to provide high quality care. Period. Remember, confidence equals competence. Stop the hazing, stop the violence and start the supporting!


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