How to Help Create a Better Nursing Culture at Work

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A group of nurses and doctors demonstrates a healthy nursing culture.

You and your coworker go into your patient’s room to assist them from the bed to the chair. The patient is on the phone and asks if you can come back later. You exit the room, and your coworker remarks, “We aren’t a hotel offering room service, we’re a hospital!”

You feel the other nurse’s eyes on you as you prepare to respond. Is this response normal? Is it just how this person is? What’s an appropriate response?

All of these questions center around nursing culture. In this article, we’ll dive into what nurse culture is and how you can enhance the culture within your unit.

What Is Nursing Workplace Culture?

Culture is a broad term that encompasses how a group of people think and act. Nurse culture refers to the way a unit/facility operates. What is encouraged and discouraged? How are coworkers spoken to? What is and isn’t acceptable behavior?

Workplace culture, in nursing especially, has the potential to greatly impact your job satisfaction, career trajectory, self-confidence, mental health, and even your spirit. Unfortunately, there’s a prevalent “nurses eat their young” culture in nursing. This refers to an unhealthy culture of bullying in the nursing profession.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Nurse Culture

It can be extremely difficult, especially as a new grad nurse, to know if what you’re experiencing is the norm for the nursing profession or if it’s just a bad workplace culture. A healthy workplace encourages open communication, welcomes feedback and questions, values teamwork and honesty, and makes you feel supported.

Unhealthy examples of culture in nursing include:

  • Making fun of a nurse for not knowing something
  • Spreading rumors about a fellow nurse
  • Publicly announcing your coworker’s mistake to humiliate them
  • Throwing items at your coworker
  • Yelling or calling names
  • Refusing to help your coworker

Why Is Culture Important in Nursing?

In many ways, nurses see their coworkers more than their family due to working long shifts, holidays, and weekends. Having a sense of camaraderie and solidarity is important for nurses’ well-being, job satisfaction, and patient outcomes. The nursing profession also requires an environment of open communication to be able to report mistakes honestly, which nursing culture can promote or hinder.

For example, if your unit culture fosters shaming or humiliating nurses for asking questions, you may feel hesitant to ask one. This leaves less opportunity for growth and learning as a nurse, but may also lead to more mistakes and risk taking. It’s essential that nurses, administrators, and organizations promote healthy workplace culture.

7 Ways to Improve Nursing Culture

As the saying goes, we need to be the change we want to see. One of the best ways to improve your unit’s culture is to model the behavior you want. Here are seven ways you can positively influence your current nursing culture.

1. Ask Questions

As a nurse, you absolutely have to ask questions. There will not be a day where you have arrived and suddenly know everything. The trouble arises when you’re working in a place that discourages questions. How can you change that? Start asking questions.

Create a nonpunitive nurse culture in which questions and open communication are encouraged. When you start asking questions, others will see that it’s okay to do so and will be more likely to start to do it themselves.

2. Build Rapport With Your Coworkers

Get to know your coworkers. Who are they besides a nurse, respiratory therapist, or doctor? What are their hobbies? Where do they call home?

Not only does working with friends make the time fly by, but you’re more likely to enjoy going to work if you get to be around your friends. Having workplace friendships is shown to enhance your well-being, reduce stress, promote innovation, decrease accidents, and increase productivity.

3. Refuse to Engage in Gossip

If a fellow coworker begins talking to you about another nurse or team member, do not engage. Even if you don’t contribute to the conversation, listening to the gossip tells the coworker that you allow this type of behavior.

If your coworker attempts to gossip with you, try responding like this:

  • Openly state your stance — “I’m not comfortable talking about that. Let’s talk about X.”
  • Set a boundary — “I will not continue this conversation with you if you continue to gossip.”
  • Change the subject — “That’s none of my business. What are you up to this weekend?”

4. Celebrate Achievements

Most people like positive feedback and encouragement. When you notice something your colleague did well — tell them. Praise them for giving an awesome report. Give them a congratulations card for passing their nursing certification exam. Announce in the team huddle what an awesome job they did in the code earlier.

The key is to set an example. Show your team members that they’re valued by valuing them. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk — and what’s a better way to do that than publicly celebrating them?

5. Offer Help Often

Another way to improve nursing culture is to make a habit out of asking your colleagues if they need any help. Likely, you’ll need their help at some point as well. This will help develop a nurse culture of reciprocity. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, but when you’re caught up with work, don’t sit at the nurse’s station while your fellow nurse is drowning.

Need ideas? Try these:

  • Ask your coworkers if they need any help before you leave.
  • Offer assistance with patient repositioning.
  • Lend a hand with a bed bath.
  • Help your fellow nurse during their med pass.

6. Critique Gently

Let’s face it — you’ll likely have to offer some constructive criticism at one point or another. When this time comes, be sure to do it respectfully. It’s never easy to hear that you’re doing something wrong or outdated, so speak with empathy and mutual respect.

Try the sandwich approach: Start with a compliment, insert critique, and end with a compliment. Having a positive opening makes it easier for the critique to be received without defensiveness, and makes it clear that the criticism is not an attack.

For example, you can say, “I really love working with you — you always offer a helping hand! I noticed you haven’t been emptying the foley bag after your shifts, and starting my shift with it empty really helps me have accurate I’s and O’s. Could you empty it next time? I also noticed you left an extra bag of normal saline in the room, which I appreciated so much. Thank you for doing that!”

7. Speak Truth

If you’re facing a pervasive unhealthy culture within your unit, you may need to speak up. Sometimes, you really just need to call it like it is — call it bullying, gossiping, or harassing if that’s the case. When you name something, you take its power away. Make it known that mistreatment is not acceptable behavior. It’s not teasing — it’s bullying. It’s not chit chat — it’s gossiping. Call it like it is. No one ever has the right to mistreat you or others.

How Is Your Current Work Culture?

After learning about the importance of fostering a healthy nursing culture at work, what do you think about your own work environment? If you need a change, IntelyCare is here to help. Find a job that matches your skills and values today.