In modern society, certain professions are often revered and celebrated for their noble pursuits and dedication to helping others. Among these, nursing stands out as a pillar of healthcare, providing essential care and compassion to those in need. However, some have likened the culture and practices within nursing to that of a cult. While this assertion may seem provocative, examining certain aspects of nursing through this lens can provide valuable insights into the profession’s dynamics and offer guidance on exiting safely, or seeking alternate career options, should one choose to do so.

Firstly, let us consider the characteristics often associated with cult-like behaviour. Cults typically exhibit a strong hierarchical structure, strict adherence to doctrine, a special language and codes of behaviour, and intense devotion to a charismatic leader or ideology.

In the nursing profession, hierarchical structures are evident in the rigid chain of command within healthcare settings, where nurses often follow orders from senior staff or doctors, or non-evidence-based guides such as the DSM, without question. Special medical language and acronyms which are unknown to others outside of healthcare, provide a sense of belonging and inclusion.

The environment of bullying so prevalent in healthcare and particularly toward females enforces unquestioning practice and adherence to covert and overt expectations.

Furthermore, nursing education instils a set of principles and protocols that are upheld as sacrosanct, leaving little room for deviation or critical inquiry. The reverence for figures such as Florence Nightingale, often hailed as the founder of modern nursing, can also be seen as emblematic of the cult of nursing, with her teachings and legacy treated as inspirational within the profession.

The role of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia sadly appears to accord with cult leadership in some ways, ensuring strict adherence to rules and prioritising the needs of authorities, hospitals and healthcare settings with apparent disregard for the wellbeing of the individual nurse, under the cult-like slogan of “safeguarding the public”, therefore branding anyone who questions their authority (e.g. lack of due diligence in safety for nurses during COVID) as heretical or dangerous.

Moreover, the indoctrination of aspiring nurses begins early in their training, with emphasis placed on selflessness, sacrifice, and unwavering dedication to patient care. While these qualities are undoubtedly admirable, they can also create a sense of nobility and obligation that keeps individuals tethered to the profession even when their own well-being is at stake. The long hours, emotional toll, and physical demands of nursing can lead to burnout and disillusionment, yet leaving the profession may be perceived as betrayal or failure, further entrenching individuals in the cult-like mentality.

So, how does one safely navigate an exit from the cult of nursing? Firstly, it is essential to recognize that leaving the profession does not diminish the value of one’s experiences or contributions as a nurse. As a nurse myself I say it is okay to prioritize your own health and happiness over societal expectations or professional obligations, and to expect to be treated as a professional and not as a cult member.

Seeking supervision or support from peers, mentors, counsellors or other mental health professionals can provide guidance and validation if you wish to change or transition to something different. These services may also be able to help you deal with bullying at work if you want to stay. Additionally, exploring alternative career paths, trainings or hobbies that align with your interests and values can help rediscover a sense of purpose and fulfilment outside of nursing. It helps to remember who you were before you became a nurse!

In conclusion, while nursing undoubtedly serves a vital role in healthcare and is fulfilling for many people, it is crucial to acknowledge and critically examine the negative effect of its cultural norms and practices. By recognizing the cult-like dynamics at play and empowering individuals to make informed choices about their career paths, we can foster healthier choices for nurses. Exiting the cult of nursing may require courage, curiosity and resilience, but ultimately, it opens doors to new opportunities for personal growth and fulfilment. It is possible to be a nurse but not be a cult member. For this we need to work awake!

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