I have not had cable television for a year and a half now, but it was hard to miss the outcries on social media over the disparaging remarks regarding nurses made by a few of the hosts on the popular talk show, The View. I find it somewhat interesting that nurses are reacting so indignantly and cohesively on this situation. To the detriment of the profession, we have struggled to coordinate our efforts on much more serious issues. Nurses are faced daily with unsafe patient care assignments, workplace violence and bullying, long hours without adequate breaks, unfair pay, and other poor working conditions. Yet, it took a few comments by ignorant celebrities to capture our attention and make our voices heard. I do not really care what the hosts of the The View have to say about nurses, but it is an indication of a larger problem that plagues the profession. People don’t understand what nurses do and that has an insidious and far-reaching impact on the care that is delivered to patients. Even our fellow health care colleagues often don’t know what it is that we really do. Part of that is because we do a lot. Nurses work across diverse specialties and hold many different clinical and non-clinical positions. But the more pressing issue is that nurses are simply not good at talking about what they do. Nurses tend to downplay the critical roles that they play in the health care system. I’ve been guilty of this as well, especially when it comes to my skills as a functional health practitioner and the work that I do in ancestral health to help people to heal from autoimmunity and other chronic disease. I hesitate to take credit for the work that I do to help people and much of that is ingrained into me by the culture of the nursing itself.
As I was reflecting on all of this, I decided to write a short piece to showcase the many different and important roles that I’ve held during my nursing career. I have worked in the emergency department, med-surg, home health, and hospice as a nurse, in addition to the work I do as a nutritional therapist and functional health practitioner. I have also held non-clinical roles in staff education, quality, and health care regulation/compliance. All of this was accomplished in a little under a decade, which is a reflection of my general dissatisfaction with the nursing profession, as well as my tendency to become bored quickly. Nursing has taught me many valuable life lessons and it comes with many rewards, but to be honest, I am working toward leaving the profession in the sense that I no longer have any desire to work in any realm of conventional health care. I obtained my master’s degree in health care administration because I wanted to change the system and make it better. Change has to start from within (and that applies to my nutrition/functional health clients as well!). But several years spent trying to change the system from within have beaten me down and stolen my joy and enthusiasm. I still have hope that someday both the nursing profession and our sick care system will be different, but I am ready to pass the torch to someone else and focus instead on creating an entirely new system of care that is truly about health.
Regardless of where I find myself in a few years, I will always be proud that I am a nurse. (As an aside, I read an article a few months ago that discussed how the word "just" detracts from communication and places one in a subtle position of subordination. Since then, I've tried hard to eliminate this word from my vocabulary and I find that my communication is stronger, clearer, and less apologetic.)
“Just” a Nurse
I was the first professional to lay eyes and hands on you as you were rushed into the emergency department with chest pain. Within a minute, I determined that you were likely suffering a heart attack and I initiated life-saving treatment.
After your hip replacement, I monitored you for complications, hour after hour, and I became suspicious when I noticed subtle changes in your leg. It was my assessment skills that identified the blood clot before it traveled to your lungs or heart as an embolism.
When you were diagnosed with diabetes, I came into your home to teach you how to live with your disease. I taught you how to administer insulin, the signs and symptoms of hypo- and hyperglycemia, how to monitor your blood sugar, and what to eat to keep your diabetes under control.
I instructed you on managing your autoimmune disease symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes. I helped you to address the root causes of disease rather than use the band-aide approach of conventional medicine.
When no one else would give you a realistic prognosis, I told you the truth about the time that you likely had left. I administered medications that eased your pain and breathing difficulty and I helped you to die peacefully at home surrounded by your loved ones.
I ensured that the clinical staff caring for you was competent at performing their job duties. I taught clinicians how to properly clean your central line site to prevent an infection, the steps to take to prevent you from suffering a fall, and how to document accurately to reflect the care that they provided to you.
After you nearly died from a serious medication error, I investigated to get to the bottom of what happened. I wrote new organizational policies and procedures and implemented processes to ensure that such a medication error did not occur again and impact other patients.
I inspected your health care organization to ensure that they were following the many rules and regulations that govern health care. When they were not able to correct their poor quality care, I provided the evidence needed for the government to close the organization’s doors and ensure that they never harmed another patient.
I have delivered care at the bedside of thousands of patients, taught nurses, physicians, and other health care professionals, directed the delivery of care at the organizational level, and made decisions that affected tens of thousands- if not hundreds of thousands- of patients. I am not “just” a nurse—I am a nurse that plays an essential role in keeping our health care system running and makes a difference in the lives of patients and families.