Marita Figueroa just completed her masters in nursing education and is delighted to join the faculty of a prestigious school of nursing. She plans to work on her doctorate in nursing part-time and hopes one day to secure a tenure line position. She joins a very senior faculty member, Ann Brown, as co-director of the BSN senior level complex problems curriculum. Her responsibilities include classroom lectures, clinical supervision and testing. She also is responsible for the simulation center. The dean suggests that she ask Ann to formally mentor her. Ann is a tenured, full professor who has worked at the university for 32 years. Marita is a bit intimidated by Ann, but expresses gratitude when she eagerly agrees to be her mentor. In the weeks that follow, Ann seems to be transferring more and more of her workload to Marita under the guise of mentoring and “This will be a good experience for you.” Struggling to complete her own responsibilities — which include care for two young sons and aging parents — Marita nonetheless picks up whatever work Ann assigns her. She is now grading all the coursework, developed power point presentations for each of Ann’s lectures, struggled to find critical care placements for two clinical groups who were suddenly left without placements and the list goes on. Marita understands she needs to publish as the school values scholarship. When Ann suggests they work on an article together, Marita eagerly begins researching the literature and is happy to contribute her strong writing skills to the task. When the manuscript is ready to submit Ann thanks her for her research and tells her that next time she may be able to actually be a co-author. Marita is stunned.
Guidance from the ANA Code of Ethics
Provision 1.5 of the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses addresses the nurse’s relationships with colleagues and others: Respect for persons extends to all individuals with whom the nurse interacts. Nurses maintain professional, respectful, and caring relationships with colleagues and are committed to fair treatment, transparency, integrity-preserving compromise and the best resolution of conflicts (ANA, 4).
Provision 2.4 addresses professional boundaries: Boundary violations can also occur in professional colleague relationships. In all communications and actions, nurses are responsible for maintaining professional boundaries. They should seek the assistance of peers or supervisors in managing or removing themselves from difficult situations.
Ann’s refusal to allow Marita to co-author the article was a clear wake-up call. Reflecting on how pleased she had been when Ann initially complimented her on her work, Marita realized she had been cleverly manipulated. Even when she first began to suspect Ann was using her, she told herself that she was fortunate to have such a senior mentor and that all successful faculty must have to “pay their dues.” She wasn’t happy to have to put Ann’s name on all the power point presentations she spent hours designing for Ann’s lectures, but she let this go. Ann had been so complimentary about the slides she designed for her own lectures and her “wizardry” with graphics! What a fool she had been. Now she wonders if the dean was in cahoots with Ann and routinely used new recruits to help her friends. Ann opens up to a few of the newer faculty and finds they also have gripes. They counsel her to “fire” her mentor and stop doing Ann’s work. Marita enjoys participating in their snarky comments about some of the faculty. Although Marita expected to feel better after getting out from underneath Ann she has lost her joy in teaching and isn’t happy with her new self who slyly uses every opportunity to criticize and undermine Ann and some of the other old guard.
Marita seeks the counsel of a colleague she respects who has been on the faculty for six years and who seems to have a good sense of the players. She learns that Ann was hospitalized the previous year for pneumonia and that she never quite came back with her energy and expertise intact. The colleague suspects Ann might unwittingly have fallen into the temptation to use Marita’s talents to save herself and counsels Marita to have an honest conversation with Ann. Ann is hoping to work a few more years so she can retire comfortably. If Marita’s conversation with Ann isn’t fruitful the colleague says she must speak with the dean — and sooner rather than later. The colleague also alerts Marita to a confidential employee assistant program that offers off site and confidential counseling. Marita is grateful for these suggestions and feels newly positive about herself, her integrity and accomplishments.