Nasty Nurse Vice? How to Break Bad Habits in Nursing

by | May 31, 2016 | 16 comments

Nasty Nurse Vice? How to Break Bad Habits in NursingSo you’re looking to break a bad habit. Even nurses have vices! Maybe you’re notoriously late for shift report. Or you’re constantly glancing up to see what’s on the patient’s TV. How about this one? Biting your nails in the workplace? Eww, gross!

Nurses are human too. We’ve got our faults, challenges, and nasty habits. We’re not perfect (even though others may like to think that we are). And so even we need help to break some bad habits in nursing!

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And Offer a Solution to Each!

1. Becoming Robotic on the Job

Problem: Say you’ve been a nurse for a good amount of time now. On the same unit, doing the same thing- day in and day out. So maybe you’re an ED nurse, taking patients back from the waiting room to the unit. When you call their name, you just start walking them back to the room. The patient gets to the room and you slap on the blood pressure cuff. At no point in time did you introduce yourself, orient the patient to the room, or provide any information on what the patient can expect. The trouble is- you’ve done this routine so many times… it’s old hat to you. But the patient!?! The patient has no idea what is happening and is feeling pretty scared and full of overwhelm.

Solution: Treat each patient as if it’s the first one you’ve ever seen. Realize that each patient is having a pretty scary experience (otherwise they wouldn’t be in the hospital… for the most part). Make sure to introduce yourself, maintaining eye contact and inviting body language. Answer questions and provide details. You may need to repeat things more than once since the patient is receiving a ton of new information all at one time.

Nasty Nurse Vice? How to Break Bad Habits in Nursing2. Treating Work Like A Disco Dance Party

Problem: Work can be tough. It’s long hours. Often tedious tasks. There can be a lot to do and so many people coming and going. A nurse you haven’t seen in months just got back from maternity leave. Your manager just brought in lunch for the evening shift. There can be lots going on and part of work is making sure you enjoy yourself. I’ve said it time and time again… have fun at work, people! Well, when we have TOO much fun… we make it a bit noisy. The patients do need quiet for healing- so try not to explode the sounds at work.

Solution: That’s right. Keep it down. Or at least… keep the noise away from patient care areas. You never know what time of day a patient needs a nap or a family member comes in for a calming visit. As I mentioned above, I am all FOR having fun in the workplace. And at the same time… there is a time and place for that. So stay mindful of your volume and keep the noise down in the patient healing areas.

3. Bringing Down the Energy of the Team

Problem: Nursing is tough work. It’s physically demanding, emotionally exhausting, and can get to be a pain in the you-know-what! And then there’s always the chance that a negative teammate joins the crowd. Negativity loves company and it’s easy to get sucked into the drama. Let me warn you right now- don’t! I’ve been there and done that and gossip, complaining, and negative attitudes have no place in the nursing workforce.

Solution: Keep your spirits high. Whether it’s surrounding yourself with positive people, leaving the room when the gossip gets going, or protecting yourself from negative energy with self-care practices like mantra, breath, and grounding… you gotta stay out of the line of fire. I know it can be hard. You may feel like the lone man on the totem pole. But I’m telling you, dear friend, you have to steer clear of the energy suck. And let me warn you against being that negative nurse who is trying to bring the team down. That’s no place for a successful nursing career.

4. Taking Your Teammate for Granted

Problem: I know you work with them every single day. And maybe you’ve delegated that task to the support staff a zillion times before. But guess what? You know as well as I do that the work won’t get done without everyone’s helping hand. Sure, you want the praise or thanks to come across in a genuine nature. But that doesn’t mean that you completely omit it! Support staff (as well as nurse peers and colleagues) need a pat on the back from time-to-time. And so do you! Be sure to realize that your teammates are all helping you and each other out on a daily basis.

Solution: Get to know your team (this is a great tip to share with your nurse leaders as well). The more you know the person beneath the uniform, the more equipped you are to offer praise that means something to them. Not just another ‘thank you’… but a heart-felt, genuine ‘thanks’ that goes a long way. Let’s say your clinical technician really loves music. She’s always talking about the new artist that’s coming to town or the recent show she enjoyed. So, you’ve been working closely with this colleague day in and day out over the past few weeks. Why not surprise her with a special music-related gift?!? A ticket to a show she’s been dying to see or new earphones that she can use on the way to work. A special ‘thank you’ goes a very long way.

Nasty Nurse Vice? How to Break Bad Habits in Nursing5. Coming to Work Tired, Distracted, Unhappy… or You Name It

Problem: We’ve discussed it above so no point in belaboring the issue. Nursing is hard. And sometimes you work shift after shift (after shift… after shift), right? There’s no break in sight and if another person asks you for a hand you’re going to SNAP! Oy. This sounds like a break is way beyond needed. And that’s just the point. We cannot wait to take care of ourselves when we’ve reached the point of nursed burnout beyond any return. Coming to work in an unhealthy state of mind is no good for the unit. No good for the patient. No good for the team, your management, and… no good for you!

Solution: Be proactive in your health and well-being. Instead of waiting until you are beyond tired to take a break, do it along the way. Instead of saying I’ll just exercise when it’s summer time… get a bit of movement in each and every day (even if it means parking farther away from the hospital entrance and taking the stairs to your nursing unit). Come on people- there are opportunities all day long to get health in. Find ways to be creative. Ask colleagues for help. Don’t say ‘yes’ every time the overtime call comes in. Take care of yourselves so that you show up to your nursing career as the best nurse you can be!

What did we miss? I’d love to hear how you overcome bad habits. Leave a tip in the comments below to help each other break those nasty nurse vices. Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN; Founder of Nursing from WithinAbout the Author: As a keynote speaker, bestselling author and virtual conference host, Elizabeth partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. In her bestselling book, ‘Nursing from Within‘, Elizabeth supports nurses to make those inner shifts that are required to more fully enjoy our nursing careers.


  1. Dr. Jean Benzel-Lindley


    Thank you for the tips on how to break bad habits that may be impacting nursing practice. One way to keep nurses thinking about their is to organize brief sessions of chair yoga or Tia Chi. Both of these activities can be done on virtually any nursing unit without great displacement of personnel or increased noise levels.


    • Elizabeth

      Wow, what great additions to this post, Dr. Jean. Thank you for bringing the notion of chair Yoga or Tai Chi. Lovely!!

  2. tiffanytamillaT

    I have to admit one of my former bad habits that I am actually ashamed of. I am formerly very shy and a natural introvert so it has always been hard for me to speak to people in person. Even a friendly hello would make my heart race. I let my issues develop into a bad habit of not speaking to my coworkers unless they spoke to me first ( some of this was fear of rejection too) it was a really nasty habit, and I didn’t realize how it felt to be on the receiving end until it happened to me. I have learned there is no better way to spread love and encouragement than a friendly hello! Sometimes we are so stressed and focused on ourselves that we can’t take the time to acknowledge each other, this creates disharmony. How did I overcome this??? By self reelection and just simply always putting myself in someone else’s shoes. A simply friendly hello with a smile goes a long way! Just as you mentioned Elizabeth, we get caught up in our routine and often don’t acknowledge our patients, we do the same thing to each other.

    • Elizabeth

      OH My Goodness… Tiffany! This is so helpful for others (and myself) to hear. What a wonderful reminder of how internalizing our own ‘stuff’ can impact our external environment (in this case relationships with co-workers). I must admit I have experienced similar shyness and have had to work to overcome this as well. Thank you for your honest insights. Much appreciated!

  3. Donna Maheady

    Elizabeth, I love your solution focus for these issues.

    I would add that nursing faculty have similar issues. Nursing faculty have to stay clear of the “energy suck”, find time for self-care and say “thanks” to nursing colleagues on campus and in clinical settings!

    • Elizabeth

      Great point, Donna! What we talk about in the acute care system can certainly apply to the academic setting. Thanks for pointing this out!

  4. bethboynton80539889

    I love how you are framing these bad habits. I’m guilty of all of them from time to time and appreciate the non-shaming you encourage us to reflect and grow. Thanks, Elizabeth!

    • Elizabeth

      You got it, Beth! Thanks for reading.

  5. Carmen Davailus Buck

    This is great! I think this can pertain to just about every profession or even relationship. Our professions are relationships after all. Life’s too short to not keep things fresh! Great blog post

    • Elizabeth

      Thanks, Carmen!

  6. April Koenig

    Great tips! I love your tips on self-care. It truly believe that many of those other vices can be addressed through self-care and better awareness of our own needs. By taking the time to breathe and look inward, we are better able to recognize that new ED admit as a person, overwhelmed, scared, and in need of our presence and not just the physical care. Thanks for sharing!

    • Elizabeth

      You got it, April! Super glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the feedback.

  7. Greg Russell,RN

    Well done Elizabeth. Gossip is one bad habit that I have to watch for in myself. It has been present in every place I’ve worked as a nurse and it’s so easy to pass along items that we’ve been told and assume are true, or are simply too juicy to keep to ourselves. Perhaps we long to feel in the know, it be in on the latest but even gossip we think is benign can be hurtful. I do my best when I slow down and ask myself ‘do I know this to be true’ or ‘does sharing this run the risk of hurting anyone?’

    • Elizabeth

      Wow, great points, Greg. Thank you so much for commenting as you did. I appreciate your perspective and know others reading the blog will learn from your insights. Many thanks!

  8. Phyllis

    My hubby has cancer. We’ve had some very fantastic nurses, but, then we’ve run into Larry, Curly Joe and Moe. This was very hard, because, he has terminal cancer. No one would believe how “comocal”, for lack of a nice word for it. I wish I had video taped this experience, a blood transfusion. I know it happens to everyone, but the nurse, I’ll call Curly Joe, was so clumsy, she dropped everything after removing it from the sterilization bag. Than would have — USED them, had I not objected. She wore clogs, kept slipping, and finally, she did fall. My hubby’s chair was set in front of the huge, plate glass window, with the wheel locks off, and he was shoved into the window, on the second floor. Horror. “Larry”, took his blood, and 45 MINUTES later, Moe, asked, “IS THIS BLOOD SUPPOSED TO GO SOMEWHERE” THAT IS WHEN I LOST IT, AND BLEW UP. WHAT AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE THIS WAS FOR US, ESPECIALLY ME, BECA– USE I’M SO WORRIED ABOUT HIM, AND LOSING HIM, AND HERE IS A DIRE SITUATION, AND WE HAVE THE 3 STOOGES, MAKING LIKE THEY ARE TAKING CARE OF MY HUSBAND. I’M SORRY, FOR VENTING, BECA– USE WE HAVE HAD SOME EXCELLENT NURSES. BUT THESE THREE, WILL NEVER TAKE CARE OF HIM AGAIN, I MADE SURE OF THAT. GOD BLESS ALL NURSES. THANK YOU. MAYBE THIS WILL SNSP INTO SOMEONE’S MIND, WAS THAT ME…??? GOD BLESS. ..

    • Elizabeth

      Phyllis, I appreciate you sharing your experiences with us. These reminders are important for us all to hear. Taking our career seriously, as a nurse, is crucial. Thank you for bringing the patient perspective to this post.



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