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[Newsmaker] Hazing among nurses comes back to spotlight with online post

The illustration shows a nurse on duty inside a hospital. (Yonhap)
The illustration shows a nurse on duty inside a hospital. (Yonhap)
An online community post has once again shed light on the prevalence of hazing among nurses.

In a post uploaded onto local community website Nate Pann on Friday, a user who claimed to be a nurse accused a nursing professor of verbally and physically harassing her over a 13-month period around nine years ago.

The post alleged that the female professor, who was then a senior nurse, had bullied the younger staff member when both worked in an intensive care unit at the Chungbuk National University Hospital in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province.

The user said she had recently heard that the senior nurse had become a professor at a university hospital in Gangwon Province when talking to a nursing school student, causing her immense stress in recalling the incidents.

The senior nurse allegedly forced her to stand in front of an X-ray machine without any protective equipment to intentionally expose her to radiation. The online commenter also accused the senior nurse of making defamatory remarks about her mother and commenting on her looks.

“She countlessly harassed me, hit me, insulted my parents, forced me to pick a select candidate for the presidential election, unloaded a bag of phlegm on me and made me stand in front of a portable chest (X-ray machine) without a protective suit, laughing and saying ‘take all that radiation,’” the post read.

The nursing professor in question denied all allegations and is said to be preparing to file a criminal complaint against the user.

The poster said she left the university hospital after finding the hazing unbearable, and started a new job at a different hospital. She said the stress she underwent then still traumatizes her, and called for a stop to the hazing culture for the better welfare of nurses and their community.

“I shared this story in a nurses’ community earlier, and there were many people who asked to share this ‘taeum’ with the public, so I am sharing this story here with their support,” the user wrote.

Taeum, which means “to burn” in Korean, is a label coined by nurses referring to the hazing culture in the industry that has built up over the years. The term usually involves accounts of senior nurses who, by leveraging their higher rank, harass juniors and other staff members.

Senior nurses have been accused of purposely assigning relentless work schedules, intentionally holding back key work-related information, and physical and verbal bullying. In response, the senior nurses have tended to defend the culture as a means to establish discipline in the workplace.

The user has launched an online petition to the presidential office in hopes that her story will provide momentum for change in the nursing community. The petition posted Tuesday had garnered 4,691 signatures by noon Thursday.

“Taeum is a tradition that should be gone,” the petition says. “Every nurse is a sacred personality, and nurses have rights to be respected. I demand the government to urgently step up to prevent recurrence. I don’t want any more victims to suffer as I did.”

Reports about hazing culture have been brought into the public spotlight on countless occasions, but not much has changed, which is why some nurses are not so optimistic on how this latest case will play out.

A nurse at the Seoul Medical Center died by suicide in 2019 after suffering a heavy workload and months of alleged verbal and physical abuse from senior nurses. Another nurse at Asan Medical Center took her own life after enduring months of taeum.

“Taeum is just something that exists, like oxygen, among nurses and hospitals,” a registered nurse based in Seoul told The Korea Herald.

“However many politicians talk about it and however many nurses die from it, this hazing culture will continue because this has been the only way senior nurses treated younger ones, and this is the only thing younger nurses learn from their higher-ups as a disciplinary measure,” the nurse said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fears of retribution.

The ongoing culture, combined with unimproved working conditions and heavy workloads, has driven some nurses to make extreme choices, she added. She, too, was considering quitting her job at the university hospital and moving to a smaller institution for a lighter workload.

“Bigger hospitals give a better paycheck, but I don’t know if I want to endure this stress for much longer,” the nurse said. “There needs to be support on improving working conditions and dividing up the workload for those working at hospitals. That should be prioritized before anything else.”

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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