My story will reveal how to deal with superiors that are actually inferior to you.
“Walt, you’re going to take the para in room 12,” said Rich, an X-Ray technician.
I was getting tired of doing paracenteses. I wanted to learn how to do the other procedures!
“I’d rather do a case more challenging,” I said.
“You’re only in your first month on the job, though. You gotta take it one step at a time.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing. Let’s be real. If I didn’t say anything, you guys would assign me to para’s all day. I have to take charge of my own development.”
Eventually, Rich assigned me to higher level case. As I walked in to room 11, my ego screamed at me. Why was an X-Ray tech assigning duties to me? And why did I allow such bullshit to happen? I had been a nurse for five years and had graduated from NYU. On the other hand, I doubted if Rich could even spell the word nurse. (And what school did he go to? Long Beach City college?) I was infuriated by how a college educated guy (like me) could be subjected to the authority of a dumbass (like Rich).
I reflected on how common this situation is. Male nurses often find themselves listening to the directions of inferior people (aka scrubs), whether they be females or men of subpar intellect. When such scrubs delegate duties, the male nurses often feel anger. Not only is there resentment for the inferior person barking orders, but there is also frustration with one’s station in life. The following conversation is a typical example of self-talk for the male nurse (especially the Type A ones).
“How did my career get to this point, where I’m listening to the directions of a fuck-up like this? I was at the top of my graduating class, paving the way in college. No one could compete against me. But now, I’m following the orders of a guy who can’t even spell radiology. What has happened in the last ten years for this shift to happen? Why am I now getting punked by a scrub who doesn’t read books and just watches Youtube videos all day?”
It took me a while to realize that people of inferior intellect often rise to power because they stick with companies longer. In my case, I had left six different hospitals prior to coming to my newest hospital in Long Beach. But Rich had stayed at the Long Beach hospital for over five years. During that time, he had stroked the right people and befriended his colleagues. Therefore, his occupation of the “coordinator” role was a reflection of his tenure at the hospital, not of his intellect or courage.
How does this apply to you? I promise you that in your nursing career, you’ll get pissed when scrubs delegate tasks to you. Catastrophic thinking will probably overtake your self-talk, leading you to believe that none of your work experience means anything, since you have descended to the point of listening to a scrub tell you what to do. In that moment of black-and-white thinking, I hope you remember the message of this blog entry: that scrub is telling you what to do because he has more tenure than you. His position of authority has nothing to do with how smart or capable he is. In fact, he could have been awarded for his fear of the unknown. Because he feared leaving the hospital for a better job, he stayed at the institution through thick and thin, stroking the right set of balls until he got promoted to a leadership position. His fear of the unknown is the reason he is able to delegate tasks to you.
That said, the way to deal with superiors who are actually inferior to you is to assume that they know something you don’t. Such knowledge will come from their length of time spent with the hospital. In other words, the last thing you’ll want to do is antagonize scrubs. When the shit hits the fan, those scrubs will be resources for you. They’ll understand unique points in your unit’s culture that require years to grasp, such as the right people to call in crisis situations and the shortcut procedures to follow in emergency situations.
So what do you say when a scrub tells you to do something you disagree with? Just express your appreciation, but ask for what you really want. The worst the scrub can say is no. That said, try to stay on good terms with scrubs. If you treat them with disrespect, they can easily withhold key information you’ll need in exigent patient care situations.
You don’t need to stroke people or curry favor from scrubs. Just be affable and show respect. If you stick around, you will need the scrub’s help eventually.
By the way, here are nine useful strategies for dealing with difficult people.