One perennial topic that comes up among nurses on social media is the extent to which many nurses have been treated unkindly by colleagues at some points in their careers. New nurses and nursing students are, for obvious reasons, particularly vulnerable to rudeness and other forms of unprofessional conduct. The Viewpoint in the January issue of AJN, “Stop the Eye Rolling: Supporting Nursing Students in Learning,” by Rosemary Taylor, PhD, RN, CNL, assistant professor of nursing at the University of New Hampshire, makes the case that nursing students often face an “unwelcoming introduction” to the profession when they venture out of the classroom for clinical instruction.
Nursing students are often targets of the kinds of incivility that can be classified as vertical violence. The majority of these incivilities are “low risk,” as described in Cynthia Clark’s “continuum of incivility,” with eye rolling (“low risk”) just below sarcasm on one end of the spectrum and threatening behaviors and physical assault (“high risk”) on the other.
Citing her own students’ sometimes disheartening experiences, as well as Cynthia Clark’s book Creating and Sustaining Civility in Nursing Education, Taylor makes a convincing argument that “eye rolling, a seemingly trivial gesture, is in fact a particularly hurtful form of nonverbal aggression.”
Yet, says Taylor, these and other forms of incivility can become the norm, and may even “be accepted as a rite of passage” by many experienced nurses.
It’s not only unprofessional and unkind for experienced nurses to treat nursing students badly, but it’s damaging to the profession:
We are all responsible for modeling professionalism and positive communication skills. Our students are our future colleagues. How often have we told them that “every day is a job interview”? Indeed, they are interviewing each of us to determine whether they want to join in the work we do.
In the article, Taylor offers some possible ways to counter this trend. There’s no doubt that many, possibly most, nurses do their best to welcome nursing students to the profession, despite often stressful work environments. But there’s obviously more work to be done.