Let me share some snippets of conversation with you. I want you to guess where I’ve gathered this conversation salad.

“No, shit.” “What the fuck?” “Are you fucking kidding me?” “You’ve got to be shitting me.” “Tell them bitches to calm down.” Or my personal favorite without expletives, “Check out my belly.” Lifting of the shirt. “Let’s compare tattoos.”

Okay, where do you think that I collected this? You’d think that it would be something you would hear in a place where friends gather to share stories, gossip, or vent. That it would be in a place where there are social beverages shared of the high alcohol content variety…or not.

I’ll give you three guesses where this actually took place. The first two don’t count. This didn’t occur in a civilian environment and the only social beverage of choice is coffee. If it’s not, that’s another blog post.

Let me give you a hint. Naw, let me just tell you. I collected all these lovely tidbits from various nursing stations. These are nursing stations in the middle of nursing floors with patients and visitors walking around.

The crazy thing is it was all in one day.

I would like to ask you something. Now, be real.

  • Would you trust someone who you heard speak or act in this way?
  • Would you trust them with your life?
  • Would you trust them to provide the best care possible for your loved ones?
  • Do you think that they are serious about your life or care?
  • Are they professional?

I’m not saying that these people aren’t good nurses. In fact, they are fabulous, caring, and intelligent individuals. Just because they use florid language doesn’t mean that they’re incompetent. It does mean that they are being unprofessional. That plays into the ability to be competent due to perception.

I bet you’re wondering, how? How can language tie into competence?

Well. Language is an aspect of communication. If it becomes a norm to utilize curse words or expletives in our normal communications at work then it could slip into our advocacy discussions with physicians or nurse practitioners. If we do that then it jeopardizes our ability to ensure that our patients get the right care or safe care.

It’s about perception. If a provider hears you swear they do not respect you as a professional. You are diminished. They think that if you are unable to speak with intelligence consistently then your competence could be in question. They are not going to take what you say seriously because obviously you don’t respect yourself due to your choice of language.

If we swear without discretion we will then turn to this easy language to express ourselves in times of stress. As we all know stress is a major component of nursing. This can jeopardize our ability to connect with each other and can effect patient care. How can you establish trust if you swear at someone? How can you trust someone who swears at you?

When patients and families hear us swear this diminishes our profession, all the good work we do as nurses, and our intellect.

Swearing can mask our true emotions. Yes, nurses have emotions. Accept this. Often expletives are used to prevent us from feeling. As nurses we are witness to the most intimate moments of a person’s life. This can be emotional and it is difficult to deal with these emotions. So, we use this form of language as a shield to be tough. Please, don’t do this. It works for a while to smoosh them down but it doesn’t make them go away. When they come back it’s with a vengeance. Find other words to say and connect to those feelings. If the situation makes you sad, say it. If it’s frustrating, acknowledge it. This will help to prevent compassion fatigue. We have to feel as human beings and nurses.

Words have power. If we chose our words wisely, we can create a professional image that reflects our intellect and our superhero persona. This will generate respect from those around us. Also, curse words are negative. In the moment we use these words to express negativity. To feel power in a situation where we may be powerless. When we overuse them this can create a negative environment around us. These words used injudiciously can detrimentally affect our mental health.

That being said, I’ve had the occasional “shit” or “fuck” pop out of my mouth like an explosion when something unexpected happens. Swearing can be used as a reliever. In fact, there has been research that states an occasional swear can help relieve pain (emotional or physical) but the overuse can cause a resistance effect. Even though this has happened unintentionally I quickly apologize. Now, there are also times when I need more of a release. An intentional stress letting, if you will. This is when I go into the bathroom or the clean utility room to create a “blue room” with my sailor tongue or the fine language of truck drivers everywhere. During these times I just let loose and swear away. Quietly but passionately. I even try to get creative to make myself laugh. When I do this it is away from patients and family. I don’t include my colleagues. Although, there have been a few that come to watch and laugh as I have my planned tantrum.

What if you need someone to vent with? This is when you can involve your colleagues. Tell them that you need a B&M (Bitch and Moan) session. This is a limited session. You get 30 seconds to swear, complain, and identify your emotions. That’s it. ONLY 30 seconds. That lets you get out the feeling and then you can move on to problem-solving.

Here are some solutions to this swearing epidemic. Yes, it’s an epidemic. This a bleeping disease that is ruining nursing. Yet you are the cure…

  • When you hear swearing around you let people know that it’s not professional. You don’t have to be a bummer. You can just say, “Hey, not cool. There are patients and families around.”
  • Create a safe swearing space. If you hear people swearing because they are mad you can say, “Want to vent? Let’s go into the clean utility.”
  • Find a B&M buddy. Express yourself for 30 seconds and begin troubleshooting.
  • Find fun ways to express yourself
    • Go retro:
      • Fiddlesticks
      • Jiminy Crickets
      • By Jiminy
      • Gadzooks
      • Shoot
      • Dagnabit
    • Go Regional:
      • Jeezum Crow (New England favorite)
    • Make up your own:
      • Unicorns barfing rainbows!
      • Be creative and string together funny words. I like, “Oh, monkey pickles.”

Swearing can be useful but it’s not professional or appropriate for the outside to see. If you need to do it, be secluded and safe. Truly think about what image you present when you swear in public around patients and families. Think about the work environment that you want to create.

Heck, I didn’t even mention the belly thing. What can I say? It’s ridiculous that I even have to say anything. So, keep your shirt on. If you need to share do it in the lounge because when you do it around others who may not want to look at your art you could be charged with sexual harassment. Keep it on and down. In other words, your mother was right.


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