Nurses ‘eat their young’?

Nurses ‘eat their young’?

I did a phone interview the other day for a Healthcare Magazine in Chicago. The interviewer asked me about the saying ‘nurses eat their young’? and what does it mean?’  She also wanted to know where/why this term started.  I was stumped.  How do you explain this type of behavior within your profession? It’s actually embarrassing…

I began to reflect on this question after the interview was over and I still can’t say that I understand the ‘why’ of it.  Is it jealousy?  Perhaps we don’t want to see others succeed?  Maybe it’s just a rush to get our own work done under stressed out, short-staffed conditions?  

Candy's HikeThe morning of the interview, I had just completed a pretty challenging (for me) hike with a new friend here in Panama.  If you know me, you know that I’m not a great hiker.  I love to hike but I’m certainly not in ‘hiking’ shape.  My skills are that of a brand new nurse comparatively.  The hiking friend “Richard” was forewarned and agreed to support me through this hike.  Richard gave me the option to take a flat hike without a view or a ‘more challenging’ hike with a great view.  Of course, I choose the great view.  Warning Richard of my lack of skills…he was supportive and off we went.

How did the hike go?  I made it as far as I could….with a lot of verbal support, a little hand-holding and lots of patience from Richard. He slowed his hike to keep my pace, gave me tips and pointers along the way and exhibited a grand attitude of teamwork and camaraderie.  In turn, when it got to a point where i couldn’t go any further, I encouraged Richard to go ahead and get the ‘great view’.  We worked together, both supporting and respecting the skill levels each possessed.  He held back to help me gain a little experience and I let him forge ahead when I knew I had reached my limit.

I didn’t’ reach the summit that day…I did however gain some great experience and confidence as well as a wonderful view.  I finished the day feeling motivated, energized and encouraged.

My View

My View at about 2/3 the way to the summit
Piedra de Lino (Lino Rock) Boquete Panama
Courtesy of: Candy Treft

Why am I telling you about hiking?

Later that afternoon while reflecting on all of the day’s events, I began thinking about how the hike with Richard and working with a new nurse are very similar.  Like me (when it comes to hiking), a new nurse needs lots of encouragement, support, a little hand-holding and a lot of patience.  I’ve been on hikes where the others forged ahead, left me behind and didn’t work with me to help build my hiking skills and these hikes were never enjoyable.  Not only were they not enjoyable, they left me with a feeling of defeat and a want to give it up.  We’ve all seen nurse preceptors that will forge ahead with their work, never stoping to explain or allow a much slower new nurse an opportunity to attempt a skill or procedure. I’ve worked with nurses who will completely ignore questions from a new nurse while forging ahead to get their task completed.

The lack of camaraderie in nursing is disheartening, and embarrassing.  It pains me to be associated with a career of ‘carers’ who carry a stigma of ‘eating their young’.  

Richards View

View from the summit
Piedra de Lino (Lino Rock) Boquete Panama
Courtesy of: Richard Morris

I would encourage you, the next time you encounter a new or inexperienced nurse; think of my hike and the support provided by Richard and help that new nurse reach her summit, it only takes a bit of your time and perhaps one by one we can attempt to change the culture from “Nurses Eat their Young” to “Nurses support their young…” Let’s work together to help the new nurse walk away from her shift feeling motivated, energized and encouraged instead of defeated.



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As a travel nursing educator, Candy aka Gypsy Nurse, RN has worked in healthcare for nearly 20 years, working up the ranks from CNA to LPN to RN. For the past nine years, she’s worked as a travel nurse, allowing her to practice and live in 15 states throughout the U.S. She regularly shares advice for those interested in travel nurse jobs on her website at:

7 Responses to Nurses ‘eat their young’?

  1. Erica says:

    I hear you loud and clear! It is embarrassing at the lack of camaraderie in the profession of nursing. Yes, many nurses do eat their young. I have seen other work situations where this occurs but not to the extent that it happens in nursing.

  2. […] reading The Gypsy Nurse’s post Nurses ‘Eat Their Young?’, I wondered if anyone had a different opinion than me on the cause on this […]

  3. Awesome insight regarding nurse relationships. It’s disturbing to know that this age old issue still exists. As we support each other in this quest to better relationships, maybe one day true mentoring and support can be experienced by all…

  4. […] by Candy Treft, The Gypsy Nurse,  inspired me as she wrote about the age old saying  “nurses eat their young”. This is one phrase and idea which has been around for years. I love how she used a recent […]

  5. […] recently by Candy Treft, The Gypsy Nurse,  inspired me as she wrote about the age old saying  “nurses eat their young”. This is one phrase and idea which has been around for years. I love how she used a recent […]

  6. […] reading The Gypsy Nurse’s great post titled Nurses ‘Eat Their Young?’, I wondered if anyone had a different opinion on the cause of this […]

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