‘Hazing’: The hostile initiation of a new nurse


Nurse Suze came into nursing when she was over 60. She has been surprised to encounter animosity and bullying in the hospital setting and admits to feeling disillusioned. She says: ‘I’ve come to this profession late in life and I’m not ready to chuck it in yet. Well, not today anyway.’

I began my nursing career at age 62 after what seems a lifetime as a teacher. I’ve long been pulled towards nursing and began full-time university studies supplemented by a carer’s position in an aged care facility. I had wonderfully positive experiences in my clinical placements in the first year, but in a second-year surgical placement in a large regional hospital I experienced harassment and verbal bullying. I was berated before patients and other staff by a senior nurse who considered university training a waste of time. I guess she was trying to make a point at my expense. Another student in another part of the hospital suffered much worse humiliation and harassment than me, so I formed the opinion that it would be safest to stick to small hospitals or aged care facilities.

New grad

After graduating, I was offered a new grad position with the aged care provider where I’d been working part-time as an undergraduate. I wanted to gird my loins with clinical experience before venturing into a hospital. Well, my mentor didn’t mentor, but her method of teaching me not to put my keys down was to steal them. I would frantically search the whole facility and when finally, terrified, I approached her with my ‘sin’ written all over my face, she delightedly jangled them at me.

Hand of nurse giving patient medicationShe constantly reprimanded me for being too slow with the medications, attending to wounds when she thought I ought to be doing something else or for having to stay back after my shift to catch up with the progress notes. Her change of employment coincided with my defiant determination to prove I was a confident, capable nurse, about halfway through the new grad year.

Next step was to carry that confidence into a hospital setting, so I commenced my second year as an RN working part-time in both the aged care facility and a public hospital.

Exhilarating … at first

At first all was exhilarating and I looked forward to learning something new every day. I made it very clear to all my colleagues that I was learning many new things which were not available to me in aged care. A lot of time was lost in searching for items, either because I was unfamiliar with the brands of dressings or simply because they were out of stock, but rather than risk the raised eyebrows or huffs and puffs, I’d keep searching until I found a friendly face to ask.

On top of that, I was learning my way around the eMR. As in the early days at the aged care facility, I attempted to have all tasks completed by handover and then concentrate on my paperwork (so much for contemporaneous notes) and this often meant I would leave a little late after each shift. It also meant I was concentrating so hard on completing tasks that I barely had time to look up and really see all my patients. This was especially so when there were new admissions, discharges with paperwork yet to be attended, blood infusions or post-ops with vital observations required so frequently, it was difficult to attend to anyone else.


It’s a steep learning curve but I noted increasing animosity from some of the established ENs, some of whom had been in the same hospital for 20 to 30 years. These nurses offered their opinions and judgements in harsh tones or even sudden outbursts of rudeness. I didn’t know that other RNs received this treatment. Thinking it was just me, I tried harder to do things the way this nurse wanted, but it might be different to the methods of another nurse, so I tied myself in knots and whatever confidence I entered the system with is very shaky now.

I’ve had many sleepless nights going over some of the angry accusations levelled at me from one EN, who admitted “I can be a bully” after I confronted her with it. I know her anger is groundless but still I go over her accusations trying to see how I could have done it better. Other nurses have spoken to me quietly about their own experiences here of what I now see as hazing – a most unpleasant form of initiation.

Can you relate to Suze’s experience? Share your own in Comments.


  1. It’s always saddening and disappointing hearing about such experiences. We are more than these behaviours. Yes we are busy and often we just don’t have enough hours in the day to do what we need to do, but there is no reason whatsoever to treat another in this way. If we do this to each other then what is the quality of care that we are providing to our patients.

    This word ‘hazing’…feels like a downplay on what these behaviours are hurtful, bullying and verging on abusive. Lets call it for what it is and not mask it with a word that blurs the lines.

  2. Behaviour like this degrades the profession of nursing, and us as nurses. We are facing a worsening staff shortage, and an ongoing and severe failure to attract men to the profession. Nursing has long had a reputation for bullying, but we have to move past this, as a profession.

  3. Patient centred care is my goal but I believe more importantly that nurse centred care is no 1. If you don’t look after yourself and the team than the patients will suffer and hence the establishment.
    I’am an older nurse with CAM background and people skills. The short time being a nurse I have found that nurses are their own worse enemies. I believe it comes from different ego’s. I liken a nurse to be a channel that can be dialed to suit the situation. You draw upon many credential learnings and be the detective that aides the healing process for the patient. Time to listen to the patient’s story will enlighten all the reason the condition exists. Planning a suitable pathway which is customised for that patient within the parameters of the establishment is important. Encouraging the patient to do their own research for their full healing empowers them and may lead to a great recovery . Working with all the health care team members and asking questions. No question is insignificant!
    Alas this is the world of nursing that is true nursing. Businesses today dictate many unrealistic goals so this leaves the nurse and other health care team members not functioning 100%. The world is a busy place. We must learn to step back and breathe new life into nursing. Hmmmmmm how is the big unanswered question, answered?Are
    Don’t take criticism from colleagues personal but learn by reflecting on the moment. Focus on the patient at hand and don’t be side tracked.


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