How Dare You? Nursing [Data] At Its Finest

Linda Pellico, Carol Brewer, & Christine Kovener studied new nurses’ comments in 2009. Their analysis called for drastic reform of work environments. Five years have passed; what’s changed? Worn Out, Vincent van Gogh. 1882.

I‘ve written this post many times today. I’m tired of it, but I keep coming back. My brain, sandwiched between shifts, can’t seem to decide which hat to don – nurse, or writer. These days off with nothing pressing are rare, and I can’t seem to ease back into the absence of a mental checklist. Summer slowed after school let out, but my internal pace stays quick.

Even after seven years, that tiny alarm still rings in the back of my brain on my days off: Did I miss anything yesterday? Leave any loose ends? What will my next shift bring?

I guess it’s hard to fully hang up the nurse in me, my hat so firmly placed.

This mental tic was born back in the summer of 2007, when I first started this whole nursing thing. While reading some research in spare moments on the unit yesterday, I remembered its entrance into my mind. I’d heard of the study, “What newly licensed registered nurses have to say about their first experiences,” before, but never really dove into its qualitative analysis, or realized how raw it read.

Published in 2009, many of its listed quotes and data still seem true today. Sadly, the authors say the same thing, noting similarities to a book written in 1974 on why nurses leave nursing. Thirty-five years is a long time for problems this deep to go unchanged.

Five themes emerged, via analyzed comments from studied nurses. They’re potent, but the quotes, though profound, aren’t unfamiliar:

Colliding Expectations: “Trying to find a ‘happy place’ in nursing — where not overworked and underpaid — where appreciated and respected with adequate resources and support — a dream — huh?”

The Need for Speed: “My workload is the same as a veteran 20 year on the job nurse and the speed of working is the same requirement as well — suspiciously given under the guise that the nurse needs the experience.”

You Want Too Much: “Basic working conditions and staffing, how much break time does an RN have for meals? Is it uninterrupted? Is coverage available so that the RN can take this time to de-stress? Can the RN go to the bathroom?”

How Dare You?: “One of my preceptors said, ‘don’t speak unless you are spoken to.'”

Change is on the Horizon: “I wanted to quit many times, went home crying everyday and struggled with the lack of compassion from the other more experienced nurses…after the first six months these struggles subsided…but those first six months came very close on many occasions as making or breaking me.”


No resources or support, dangerous work environments with labor law violations, abusive trainers, and the first year of the job pushing many to breakdown? Sheesh.

This study makes me sad today. I’m sad to read, “Every day that I work I am disappointed by one thing or another. I now hate what I do,” in its pages, and also in my Facebook inbox, from a friend just seven months into her nursing career. The last time we saw each other, she was prepping for her NCLEX, her face glowing with excitement to start a new bedside job.

Will these themes ever morph into positive ones? Will we start intelligently challenging our employers? Will we let the public know how dangerous our work environments often are? Will we ever stop being unnecessarily mean to each other? Will we ever realize that working without breaks is a legal violation we might someday be held liable for in court?

Questions for days. On this one, I feel tired by this study, and its themes. I still see them at the bedside. I still hear them from nurses all the time. I’m a proud and grateful survivor of my first year of nursing and the six that followed, and I know many new grad and work environment initiatives exist, but they seem the exception.

Perhaps, today I am just wondering. Should we, as individual nurses, keep accepting this data as the professional norm? The fact that another five years has passed beneath its lurking shadow gives me much to think on, anyway.