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Can you tell me more about your personal experiences with lateral violence?

I used to be an Emergency Medical Technician and spent a couple of years working in the pre-hospital setting.  I had spent months and months poring over my textbooks and working in manikins in preparation for patient care in the back of an ambulance, but nothing could have prepared me for what it would be like in the ‘real world.’  During one of my very first patient care experiences, my preceptor had started an IV on a patient and told me to hand him the sharps container.  I grabbed it and passed it to him, but didn’t think to open the lid.  He literally yelled at me, “Open it!  What the hell is wrong with you?” Then he snatched it out of my hands and continued to mumble profanities under his breath.  It was frightening and humiliating, and I was so startled that I was shaking.  While my preceptor was doing the call-in report, the patient touched my arm and very softly said, “Honey, I’m so sorry that he yelled at you that way.  Are you okay?”  I thought it was ironic that she was the one being transported to the Emergency Department by ambulance, and her greatest concern at the moment was for me and my wellbeing. 

I’ve heard stories about acts of lateral violence from people in all kinds of health care careers; it certainly isn’t limited to nursing.  Pre-hospital care tends to be a male-dominated profession, so lateral violence manifests itself in more direct, abrupt acts like the one that I experienced.  Nursing is definitely a female-dominated field, so lateral violence appears moreso as passive-aggressive acts, like spreading rumors, mocking and talking about peers behind their backs, and setting each other up for sabotage.  Some of the situations that appear in Lions and Tigers and Nurses were inspired by true events that were shared with me by friends and colleagues.  The interesting thing about lateral violence is that everyone sees themselves as having been a victim at some point, but very few people will recognize or admit to committing acts of lateral violence themselves.  The sad reality is that we’ve all been violent to each other in some way, shape, or form.  If you’ve ever so much as engaged in gossip – or even smiled and laughed at someone else’s gossip – then you’ve committed a violent act.  A big part of the cure for lateral violence is simply recognizing how it is manifested in the nursing culture, and then taking responsibility for your own behavior by making a conscious effort to stop the acts that allow lateral violence to persist in nursing culture.  Mahatma Ghandi said “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” which speaks volumes about the responsibility that nurses have to themselves and each other.

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