Stop the Eye Rolling: Welcoming Future Nurses to the Profession

Rosemary Taylor

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.

Writes Clark:

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.

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Laura June 9, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    As a staff nurse on a busy inpatient psych ward I felt abused by the nursing “instructors”.
    They came in before the shift asking us to suggest interesting charts for them to pull for students and expected synopses of patients the students could be assigned. I was trying to put away my lunch and get to report.
    Then after report the “instructor” assigned students and LEFT. We were to watch them while they were on the floor with our patients. Then they reviewed charts, worked on assignments in the middle of our charting/ phone area.
    The “instructor ” met with them later that evening oat the school. Of course she called at the end of our shift, like we weren’t doing everything possible to wrap up, give report and leave, to check on how each student did!
    I was not paid or given time to help, watch or answer these students questions. It was a dump job. The unit manager was friends with the instructor. It was unsafe, unfair and we couldn’t do anything about it. God only knows what they were taught. We left them alone and did our jobs.

  2. Nurse Moffa January 8, 2017 at 7:47 am

    Nurses share their stories of mistreatment with me because I have spent the last few years in my doctoral program studying workplace mistreatment among nurses and the contrasting concept of Caring (as opposed to lower-case caring). According to many I’ve spoken to it comes from all angles, experienced toward novice and young toward old. I have friends who are faculty that are pressured into giving good grades and curving tests because the students will complain to admin. if they’re not getting As in class. I’m wondering if its just a part of the overall culture of rudeness and entitlement and protecting one’s piece of the pie. It’s bully’s world and the rest of us are just living in it.

  3. Chantel January 7, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    It is unfortunate that nurses do eat their young. Many do this because of the judgement that is received from nursing students while they are still in school. So many times you hear nursing students say “Can you believe the nurse just did that” or “That nurse was awful today”because they don’t understand the stress of having a full assignment. Many nurses internalize this This is when the anger builds and the bullying begins.

  4. TvG January 7, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Off course this kind of bullying is wrong but not specifically a nursing job thing. It is applicable for all kinds of students and trainees….it is a broad social problem, starting at young ages.

  5. Susan January 5, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I am Chair of our surgical services Professional Nurse counsel and would like to print the article from Miss Taylor for sharing with staff!

  6. Marcy Phipps January 5, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I worked in a busy ICU for many years and definitely saw the eye rolling, especially when I started out. I had an unkind preceptor, and in hindsight, I wonder how I weathered the storm of being a new nurse in critical care. I suppose it proved my mettle and made me a better, in the long run – not that that made it ok. But as a result of having a bullying preceptor, I swore that I would never be “that nurse”.
    I think if we keep in mind that we are shaping our future leaders, it’s easy to change the culture of a unit that resists new nurses. And it only takes one person to start the shift.

  7. LifeCoachRN, Naomi D. Jones, RN, MS, CRNI January 5, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    This abuse of new nurses often continues throughout our careers. It is way to common thus the phrase “Nurses eat their young”. A good place to start is in our schools since that is where some of this behavior begins. We can begin teaching compassion for each other as well as our patients.

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