I have tried to write this post multiple times over the last few months. Something happens at work or school, even in the media, or one of my followers messages me feeling discouraged and I feel the need to write – to vent my disdain and anger as if to “get back at her or him,” meaning the unsupportive nurse. However, after pondering it again this morning, I realized I have been trying to write it in a reactive state, so my words have come across as bitter and hateful. Maybe this is precisely how the unsupportive nurse becomes; just maybe the other unsupportive nurses create her.

Historically, there are many reasons why the unsupportive nurse may exist. After all, nurses were an oppressed tribe of women, deemed handmaids to male physicians, with roots in nunnery. Nurses were taught to never complain, for fear their job may be in jeopardy. Therefore, their anger was displaced upon each other. I believe there is truth to this.

So, the origins of an occupation born out of oppression cannot be discounted. We must note, oppression is cyclical:

“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?” – George Orwell, 1984

We also must note, by ignoring it, it becomes worse:

“People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware…” – Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography

And frequently, the oppressed fight back subjecting themselves to retaliation:

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” ― Nelson Mandela

These examples could all be relevant to the nursing profession or women in general. However, I don’t buy the old “it’s just 100% women being women,” and here’s why. There have been multiple research studies polling nurses about their experiences with bullying. Countless times, nurses have stated they were more bullied within their own profession than by physicians or any other cohort. I have spoken to countless professional women – doctors, lawyers, businesswomen, and while they have their own set of struggles, none of their examples compare to those of nursing. In research, nursing has coined the terms “eating their young” and “lateral violence;” there is something to be said about a profession that can create new, fancy, terms synonymous with bullying.

Personally, I have had several run-ins with the unsupportive nurse. They began in nursing school, but have followed me throughout my career. Looking back, I noticed to compensate for the actions of the unsupportive nurse, I kept a lot to myself. I never told anyone except my best friends that I took physiology twice, or that it took me two attempts to get into nursing school, or two attempts to get into graduate school. I never let out that I was working toward certifications or had plans of travel nursing or moving to bigger hospitals for more experience, because I knew the unsupportive nurse would use it against me. I knew I could expect “bad” assignments until my last day on the unit or ungodly amounts of discouraging banter, which some people just can’t take. My appearance has been dismantled piece by piece by several nurses, my mannerisms, and my being. And the further I progress into my education, the unsupportive nurse finds new and more manipulative ways to negatively effect my progress.

As I’m writing and thinking how hard it was to overcome all of the unsupportive nurses, I wonder how many nurses never achieved their dreams because of one, single, unsupportive nurse. And to be honest with you, in every step of my career as a nurse, even through my grad school endeavors, the unsupportive nurse has been present and nagging like the devil on my shoulder, whispering into my ear.

However, here I am now, confident that I am where I need to be. How did I do it? Looking back, I have very much followed this advice:

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man[woman] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he [she] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy

Little by little, I have learned to surround myself with supportive nurses – they are out there and they are everything. I have also learned to surround myself with other supportive people (women and men) from all different professions. Perspective is important. I have refused to become an unsupportive nurse myself. I am sure I’ve had my moments, but I try to self-reflect and change my actions and biases if need be.

Most importantly, I learned to define my purpose. I know exactly WHY I want to succeed. I know WHY I went to back to school for my DNP and I know what I want to do afterwards. Ask yourself, right now, what is the real reason you want more letters after your name? Do you feel you have something to prove or are you doing it for yourself or the profession? The last thing nursing needs is more people going through an identity crisis. So, define what you’re doing and just do it. This confidence will give you the motivation to overcome the barriers of the unsupportive nurse, because when you truly know yourself and your purpose, the unsupportive nurse only evokes pity. In fact, when you know yourself, the unsupportive nurse actually invites further support from within, so…

Dear Unsupportive Nurse,

I support you.