WWYD?: I found out why my co-workers behaved like bullies

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Unfortunately, they were poorly informed. #StoriesArticleSeries

This story is a recent submission to the website. It is lighter in nature somewhat, when compared to some of these devastating stories we’ve received, and seems like a good and gentle way to kick off our article series of member submitted stories. If you would like to contribute your story to this series, visit our article submission page.

“I have been blessed to have never experienced the “nurse vs tech” thing. Or, so I thought. I’m part of a supplementary float pool. I am pulled to different floors all the time. One of the hardest parts of this is never fully getting to know your way around a unit and each unit’s culture. I never imagined how different every floor was until I started working at this place around a couple of years ago.

“Some floors have wonderful working relationships with each other across the job description aisle. One, however, does not. More specifically, nurses ignore call bells and don’t help techs, and this makes the techs very frustrated with the nurses, to the extent that they openly give attitude to the nurses. Can you blame them? I’d be furious if I ran my butt off for hours only to see a group of nurses standing outside the door of a ringing call bell.

“As for me, I try to get in with the patient as much as possible. This makes me enjoy night shift because it allows more time for that. The downside of nights is that patients don’t get much sleep, especially if we’ve been loud. If a call bell rings for 10 minutes, it wakes the whole floor. To combat that issue, I usually sit in the hallway near my rooms for all of my charting. I just don’t want people waking up. Plus, if I get in there for toileting or a bed bath, I can get more elements of an assessment than I would if I missed those opportunities.

“This is what makes me The Slow Nurse. You know The Slow Nurse. Every unit has at least one. This is the nurse that leaves after everyone else and spends more time than most in the patients’ rooms. I’m okay with the label. Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel this compulsion, like I need to do absolutely everything, thoroughly. Other nurses do twice as well as me, I’m sure, in half the time. I’m not sure why I’m not the fast nurse. I accept the late clock outs as collateral and do the best I can.

“Setting the backdrop of this story hopefully will help you understand why I am so upset right now. A month or two after I took this job, I was having a horrible night with a tech. Let’s call her Karen. Every time I walked into a room, whatever it was she was doing, Karen stopped and left. It didn’t matter what I, or she, was doing. As soon as I entered the room, she would stop, expecting, I assume, that I would finish everything she was doing. This really became a problem during HS med pass. I had a heavy meds night, one of the kinds of nights when you have to rely heavily on the help of techs during 2100-2300 or else you’re not making through.

“As I generally do, I bottled it well. After all, this is not a floor I live on, and I just met Karen that night. However, later in the night, I walked into a patient room where she was prepping to insert a foley. This, I said something about. In my work state, foleys can be started by techs. In my first nursing job’s work state, techs didn’t do this. In this situation, scope of practice required I be notified of the situation. The patient had pulled out the original foley they had inserted. Karen saw it happened and decided to reinsert it, without saying a word to me. Not only was this decision outside her scope of practice, it was outside of my own as well. A doctor needed to be informed to decide whether to reinsert it. She said she told the charge nurse, and the charge nurse thought I knew what was going on. I didn’t.

“That morning, I made a specific complaint about the night we’d just had. In many years of being a nurse, I have never met a tech who not only behaved so unprofessionally, but also acted outside of her & my own scopes of practice. I was angry. I sat down with the charge nurse, who was receptive to my feedback, and she told me that the floor has been having a hard time with “techs vs nurses” battles. I decided to believe it was just a crappy night. I put on my optimist hat. I hoped to make sure with every shift after that the floor’s techs would know I wasn’t going to screw them over.

“Months later, I was working what amounted to be a 17 hour shift. Around hour 15 or so, I realized that if I didn’t move out of the hallway near my patient’s rooms, I was going to be in their rooms all night. They were collectively a terribly busy group. I moved to the dictation area at the nurses’ station. Sitting at the nurses’ station was the charge nurse reading some stuff online, tech Karen streaming Netflix, and the tech assigned to my group that night (let’s call her Betty), who was reading a novel nearby.

“A call bell rang as I was just getting knee deep in charting. Tech Karen turned off the call bell without answering it, then immediately told me that my patient needed their nurse. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard that line from her before, but it was the first time I caught her saying that without knowing if the patient specifically needed a nurse or if a tech could take the call. This was my first opportunity to chart in so many hours and I was desperate to get that wrapped up. I asked Karen, “do they need a nurse, or do they need just anyone?”

“Karen asked, “why can’t you help your techs?” To this, I responded, “are you serious right now?”

“Sighing a very irritated and dramatic sigh, she walked back to the patient’s room, and in about 45 seconds later, she was back at the nursing station, with Netflix streaming resumed.

“Remember the Slow Nurse self-designation? Well, sometimes to my own detriment, that doesn’t change. Not for any level of frustration I might experience. I wont change the quality of care I give or the way I give it over frustration with one person.

“You see, up until this point, I believed it was just this one tech who had a problem with me. Others seemed to have the anti-nurse vibe going pretty strongly, too. Like I said, though, some of these nurses really earn the cold shoulder, so I don’t blame the techs for their frustrations. I’ve been angry about this, too, listening to their alarms waking my group up as they gossip, talk on the phone, or watch videos. When there is a mild brush-off, I tend to not take it to heart. I see the dysfunction, too, and I am also frustrated.

“All of this, unfortunately, culminated into a nasty shit storm recipe (pardon my language, but I mean that sort of literally). Recently, I was assigned to that floor. We received a fresh post op with one order in completely wrong. Pharmacy started hounding the nurses’ station to reach me. Each time the nurses’ station was reached, the person answering the phone said they would get me to call back. Pharmacy would not stop repeatedly calling. I had literally six different people (over a 30-minute period of getting report) ask me to call the pharmacy.

“As I made my way to a phone so I could let them know I didn’t need the order right away and I would get it cleared up shortly, a pump was beeping. I went into the room, introduced myself, and fixed the beeping. It was at that moment that a sudden watershed came down from the patient’s suddenly detached colostomy bag. The patient, already very emotional after the terrible day she had, became anxious over the drainage not stopping. I had no materials to help her get put back together. I also had another person tell me pharmacy called. AGAIN.

“Knowing I would have to leave that room for several minutes regardless of which thing I would take care of first, and knowing I would need extra help, I put the call bell on. I let the patient know I was going to be right back, and that there was a possibility the techs might make it to the room before I do. I promised I wouldn’t be long, and then I stepped out.

“In nursing, we sometimes face two pressing issues need immediate response: one that can be delegated and one that can’t. The choice that could be delegated was an awful mess that I wanted to be there to help with. No one wants something like that “dumped” on them, and I didn’t want to do that to a tech (plus it would be a great way to do a very thorough assessment, including psychosocial and emotional adjustment to news received that day). The choice that couldn’t be delegated should have been low priority (in hindsight). As relentless as PharmD was being, I had to address whatever they were calling about (or at least tell them they needed to wait). I chose the delegable thing, but first had to tell PharmD myself that he would get a call from me later so he would stop calling the nurses’ station.

I went to the nurses’ station, as soon as I reached it, an outstretched arm was handing a phone to me. I let the PharmD know that I couldn’t talk at all at that moment, and that they’d get a faster response from the person who ordered the med in question. PharmD was quite insistent we stay on the phone. It was frustrating because I knew what was waiting for me.

“After a few minutes of, “I need to go!”, I finally was able to get off the phone. All he had wanted was to know if a medication had been ordered via the right route. I could have screamed! I told him he needed to ask the doctor, but he said the doctor wasn’t answering. We were on the phone for several moments.

We hung up, I grabbed supplies, and poked my head in the messy patient room where two techs had gotten started on cleanup. I asked if the ostomy supplies were in there. With a very irritated sound in her voice, tech Amy (we’ll call her) said no. I said I would go find some and come right back.

“When I came back again and was just outside the door, I felt my face turn hot, bright red and my heart rate soaring. The techs were loudly talking about how I tell people I don’t do “tech jobs”. The patient could be heard asking, “does she even do anything?” To which the response was, “doubt it.” I had to walk into that. I subtly made sure the techs knew I heard them by responding to the question of what I was doing out of the room. (I promise I was polite but straightforward about it).

“I got things set up so I could fit the patient with a new wafer and bag. The patient stopped me and pointedly said I should go. I stood there in stunned silence. I again offered to help get her stuff measured right and help get the rest of the room put back together. I even emphasized that I wanted to do that. Again, the patient said she wanted me to go.

“Later, as I walked into a different patient’s room, the two techs came out as I was walking in. Yet another snide comment was made about how “no one” ever does anything [on this unit]. I know that I’m not supposed to care about stuff like this. I know I’m not supposed to worry about these techs viewing me as lazy. But for as much effort and energy I’ve put in to specifically build a reputation that is team-first and not lazy, it feels like a knife getting pushed right through. I do care what they think.

“In the morning, I met with the floor manager to share exactly what happened. I was so wound up about it. She responded from the position of corrective action, suggested next time that happens to let the techs know up front what is going on. I wasn’t about splitting hairs in that moment, but truly in those moments the night before, I thought I could get back to the room quickly. Her assessment and feedback was fair, though. Hopefully, this being the first time I’ve ever pressed a call bell then walked out of the room for something else, I hope this was the one and only time it will ever happen.

“As I got into my car, my manager (different manager than the floor’s manager) called me. She said the patient made an official complaint. My manager wanted to talk to me before dealing with it. Once again, I was back to angry. After the techs had left from cleanup during the shift, I had been the only one to help this patient for the rest of the shift except for vital signs. She had noteworthy blood pressure issues, so I was in there with her far more than I was with the rest of my group. We got along very well. There was no animosity expressed toward me, so the shock was enormous and surprising.

“So, there I was, telling the story all over again. It was during this conversation when I heard that months prior to this shift, someone sent my manager an email saying that I told people that I don’t do “tech jobs”. I wasn’t told who made that accusation. I will say that that has NEVER come out of my mouth. Never. So here we were, with this second report against me saying that I think “tech work” is beneath me. I have worked so hard to not be “that nurse”. It is a priority to me that I not stick techs with work that clearly I could have and should have done myself.

“So having this lie shared from tech to tech has made me anxious. If they were willing to say stuff about me to patients, what is the limit that they are willing to say or do? Do they ALL think I said this? I know this started with Karen. Was that first ever shift with Karen intended on being hazing that went wrong? Or did it begin with the 17-hour shift when I asked if a tech could take care of a call bell so I could chart?

“Hopefully my story doesn’t come across as being dismissive of concerns that techs might have regarding nurses. I’ve had so much anxiety about going to work. How do I share patients with these techs? What if their attitudes get even worse, since I reported their behaviors toward me?

“I’ve been very fortunate in that I haven’t been assigned to that floor since this last event happened. I was in desperate need for a break from there. I can’t hide from them forever, though. Eventually I have to go back. How can I proactively make this stop? I just don’t know, and I’m nervous to even try.”

For me, Koko, it has only been on one occasion that I personally have had the vibe of nurse vs tech. I was brand new in my first-ever nursing job. I called someone named Michelle, Melissa. There were techs with both names on the floor that shift – a Melissa and a Michelle. I’d only met one of them that day, and the other once or twice before that shift. I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I learned she wasn’t staying.

The thing is, these nurse vs doctor, tech vs nurse, interdepartmental rivalries, complaints, hazings – they all create massive problems in professionalism and the delivery of safe and effective patient care. First, it further perpetuates (or validates) bad stereotypes. Take, for example, the story shared with us here today. A tech, possibly Karen, started telling people the nurse doesn’t do ‘tech stuff’ because ‘tech stuff’ is beneath her. Along came a mess the nurse had to walk away from while simultaneously attending to 2 other events: a beeping pump and a pharmacy issue being portrayed as urgent. The nurse left the room after turning the call bell on, which seemed the best thing to do for the patient. From a tech’s perspective, though, it looked like the nurse literally dumped a large mess on them. With that, the lazy nurse stereotype is validated.

Would this situation have been better if the bullyish rumors were never started? Well, did this nurse ever do a thing like that before? Had he ever put on a call bell and walked away from it before? (I asked: no, to both.) Removing the rumor from the mind, perhaps these techs would have considered how out-of-character it was for this nurse to walk away from a situation like that. Perhaps if the techs didn’t gossip with the patient, planting the the idea that the nurse is lazy and “above” hands on care, the patient would have remembered that the nurse said he was coming back.

This should not be a stressor in our workplaces. Be the one to stop the rumor mill. If you hear something negative from someone about someone else, follow this up. Know if it’s true. Otherwise, to continue to spread it creates a difficult situation that will be really hard to control later on. Stuff like this can get people fired based on misinformation. Don’t contribute to gossip or hazing. If you actually do learn that something said turns out to be true, then handle it through proper channels. Do it right. Don’t let it compromise patient care. The patient does not need to hear what kind of drama or struggle is going on behind the scenes. Talk to the person in question. If that goes no where, lift it up to management. The whole story shared above is filled with bullying and compromised patient care. Thank goodness nothing more severe happened in this situation. I fear for this nurse, though. He has no idea what he’s walking into on future shifts. I hope very much that this situation gets better before it gets worse.

This also puts one more important responsibility on our shoulders: if you see a bully or bullyish behaviors, such as gossiping or saying nasty things about another person, that should have no place in your workplace. Say something! This should be mandatory. We are all grown adults and jumping in on a conversation like that can diffuse the conflict immediately, and help another person actually want to be part of your unit. So, see something? Say something!

All that said, I was hoping that others might share their own comments on this story. I have to admit that workplace bullying is outside my expertise. I’ve felt very unhelpful. What do you think this nurse should do?