NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2008
by Anne Watson Bongiorno, PhD, RN, Chairperson, NYSNA Council on Nursing Education
Ensuring the health in patients and clients is the goal of nursing. But as a profession we sometimes fall short in creating healthy environments for ourselves. We successfully attract talented nurses from diverse applicant pools, yet struggle to retain these graduates in the workforce.
Today, the typical nurse is white, middle class, female, and middle-aged. The average nursing professor has similar characteristics. This generation faced oppression by patriarchal medical and hospital systems. Over the years, this created an institutional environment beset with dissonance turned inward on itself. Today, the profession has successfully navigated hierarchal systems but we continue to work in an atmosphere rife with bullying and oppression. These behaviors are so institutionalized that few seasoned nurses recognize the problem.
New graduates and nursing students are bright, articulate professionals. They are quick to recognize our inhospitable schools and workplaces encumbered by acts of horizontal violence. Too often, nurses are subjected to covert use of rumor, innuendo, and subtle harassment that creates an environment in which one must conform or leave. Students from diverse backgrounds fail at breathtakingly high rates. Novice nurses are leaving the profession in droves.
Recruiting and retaining the best and brightest professionals is the key to our nation’s health and, in part, to solving our nursing shortage. It is time for nurses to take the responsibility for creating a nurturing environment for diverse students and novice nurses.
Good first steps include simply greeting students, offering patience and support to novices, encouraging challenges to the status quo, and actively working with management to create a system that supports staff with sufficient time to be good mentors.
Additionally, as a profession we need to look within ourselves to examine our biases and worldviews, actively promote a culture of inclusion and pluralism, and recognize the dynamics of oppression. We should accept no less than a zero tolerance policy for horizontal violence. This is one way to help solve our nursing crisis that is right here, right now, and within each of us.