Things Nurses Really Do....You are NOT "Just a Nurse"


©2009 by Kathy Quan RN BSN All Rights Reserved

I recently viewed a terrific video interview on
Nursing Ideas TV with Suzanne Gordon who has authored several terrific books for nurses such as Nursing Against the Odds: How Health Care Cost Cutting, Media Stereotypes, and Medical Hubris Undermine Nurses and Patient Care.

Gordon was passionately discussing the subject of what nurses really do and how nurses tend to trivialize their job as being "just a nurse." She is angry about this trivialization and encourages nurses to examine what they do each day because they are the backbone of the health care system and need to stand up and be recognized for it.

Nurses are characterized as angels, hand holders, and graphically depicted with hands-to-hearts. This is only a part of what nurses are and do. Nurses save lives, they educate patients and families, they advocate for patients and they save the health care industry millions of dollars everyday. They are key members of the health care team and without them, the health care system would fail.

What Do Nurses Do?


In some ways I think this stems from the fact that we get asked all the time, "what do nurses do?" With so many aspects and career paths, this is such an enormous task to answer and do it justice, which we tend to down play and trivialize the job. It’s just plain easier to minimize things than to explain that it depends on what kind of nursing you do.
The other question that drives me crazy is "what is a typical day like for a nurse?" There is NO such thing as a typical day for a nurse! Every day is different because the patients are different as are the challenges and the potential for crisis.


No Such Thing as a Typical Day for a Nurse


There are some things that don’t change. You go to work. You do your job. You spend the day averting one crisis after another. You hold a few hands during painful procedures or bad news. Angry patients, doctors and/or family members yell you at. You document it all and you go home feeling like there was so much more you should have done but didn’t have time to do.

These are pretty much the constant factors in any given day along with the fact that you must always be alert to expecting the unexpected at the most inopportune moment of the day! But does this really give someone an idea of what it’s like to be a nurse?


People don’t want to hear about how many bedpans we served up and emptied, the vomit, urine and feces we cleaned up, the number of times we had to poke the obese man to get an IV line in so we could give him that life saving medication, or how we sat with a dying patient while she transitioned from her mortal body. They want to hear about happy things. The truth is nurses do all of this and ever so much more.
Nurses don’t take credit for the valuable things they do. How many times a day do you assess a patient and call the physician to report the significant changes so that the patient’s needs get met and his outcome is improved? How many times are these critical issues that make a difference between life and death? How many lives do you save each day? How much time do you spend some days trying to convince a physician to do something or change something because of your assessment or instincts?

The Things Nurses Really Do...


The 85 year old woman is ever so grateful that you helped her with the bedpan and calls you her angel because you saved her from wetting the bed which is the worst humiliation she could imagine. The truth is, you saved her from a devastating fall or injury because she’s not ready to ambulate to the bathroom or even transfer to a commode.
You took a few minutes to discuss the LP procedure with an anxious mother and her 8 year old son so that they both knew what to expect and were better able to cope with the pain and the aftercare and let their fears be only about the results and not the unknown of the process.

When the 45 year old woman received the news that her breast cancer has metastasized and she needs to decide whether to continue to fight it or give up, you were there to hold her hand and share a few tears and give her a hug that gave her the courage to make a difficult decision. Your therapeutic touch helped the 50 year old newly diagnosed diabetic man trust you and tell you his inner fears which keep him from being compliant with his medication and diet and landed him in the hospital with a blood sugar of 800. Armed with this information, you can begin the education process to help him take control of his life and his disease, in addition to informing his physician and other heath team members so that they too can understand this patient’s needs, knowledge deficits and fears.

The back-rub you gave tonight helped reduce the pain that isn’t being controlled with the medications for the patients who’s doctor refuses to make changes.
The wrinkled sheets you smoothed helped to prevent a decub that would further devastate this patient. (You also saved the hospital lost reimbursement for a "do-not-pay" event, and the health care system thousands of dollars to treat the decub.) from being compliant with his medication and diet and landed him in the hospital with a blood sugar of 800. Armed with this information, you can begin the education process to help him take control of his life and his disease, in addition to informing his physician and other heath team members so that they too can understand this patient’s needs, knowledge deficits and fears.

No matter where you work as a nurse, and no matter what your job description is, you help to save lives and make a difference in someone’s life everyday.
You are not "just a nurse;" you ARE a nurse and this is what you do. Stand up and take credit for it.
Collectively this is how, we as a profession, will be taken seriously and obtain the recognition and working conditions, salary and benefits we need to improve the health care systems and continue to provide excellent quality care.



©2009-present by Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN, all rights reserved. No
portion of this document may be used in any format without written permission. Email Me.