Be a Nurse. Be a Writer. Don’t Be a ‘Nurse Writer.’

I adore nurses. If I thought I could handle the math (or another round of schooling), I might become a nurse. I respect the profession and understand that 95% of the hands-on care provided by our health care system is provided by nurses, not physicians.

            That said (and I know this is going to irritate a lot of people), I think that the nurse who describes her- or himself as a “nurse writer” (or a nurse poet, nurse researcher, nurse attorney, and so on) is doing a disservice to both the writer and the profession. To me (and not to some of my colleagues here who are nurses, I hasten to add), adding “nurse” before “writer” is a bit of a cop-out.

Any writer should be proud to say, “I am a writer.” A nurse should be proud to say, “I am a nurse.” When that same person says, “I am a nurse writer,” I believe both the writer and the nurse to be diminished. The whole strips away some of the parts, weakens both, leaving neither strong enough to stand on its own. And that’s a shame.

In AJN’s Art of Nursing column, we have published some very good poems about nursing. Some of the very best poems have been written by nurses—and quite a few have been written by non-nurses. But the best poems were written by good poets, regardless of the authors’ vocational training.  

Why do I think this way? That’s where the gut comes in. I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps I react this way because I’ve seen excuses made for the bad writer: “Oh, maybe it’s not great writing, but she’s a nurse.” Every time I read “nurse writer,” I pause for a second. I say, Oh. Another nurse writer. Why can’t that person be just a writer—who happens to be a nurse? I argue that the world will take both the nurse and the writer more seriously (maybe the writer will, too) when the two words are kept apart.

            In some instances, of course, there is no other option. Nurse anesthetist, for example. Especially given the AMA’s lobby against nurses who provide anesthesia, the combined moniker is an absolute necessity. I would argue that the nurse economist, however, could be a nursing economist. Or a nurse and an economist.

            The playwright Anton Chekhov was trained as a physician. Russian composer Alexander Borodin trained as a chemist. Neither is known as a physician composer or scientist composer; each is known as a composer who happened to be (interesting fact) a physician, a chemist.

So. You. The nurse who writes. Be a nurse. Be a writer. Be very proud of both. Keep them separate.

—The Word Curmudgeon (Doug Brandt, AJN associate editor) will provide occasional and crusty contemplations for the writing nurse, from a copyeditor’s  perspective.



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2016-11-21T13:38:31+00:00 March 4th, 2009|career, nursing perspective|19 Comments

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  1. Gwen Stewart, RN December 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Be a nurse who gets paid to write, then we’ll talk.

  2. SB October 29, 2012 at 11:26 am

    I do not agree. I am a nurse writer. By identifying myself as a nurse when I write health related articles I am saying that my writing is grounded in science instead of health hype which many “healthcare” writers write about.

    When I read something produced by a healthcare provider, be it a PT, Dietician, Pharmacist etc, I automatically feel reassured that their writing will be reliable, accurate and backed up by studies that they are capable of reading and understanding.

  3. jm October 29, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Thanks for the comment. The author of that post from several years ago doesn’t work here anymore. But you’re right. There’s almost certainly not a right or wrong answer on this one, just (we hope!) the respectful exchange of opinions based on personal preference and style. Regards, Jacob M., senior editor

  4. Patricia Sam, MSN, MS, RN October 28, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Fine to put your opinion out there, but don’t suggest what a particular writer should call himself or herself, You breach that ground when you tell nurses to be a nurse and be a writer, but not both. That is why I like choice, we choose to call ourselves what we want, so looks like you will continue to be annoyed.

  5. Me July 28, 2012 at 12:17 am

    The most writing I have done was in nursing school.
    I must have written 50 research papers!

  6. jm March 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Carol, Thanks for your comment. Here at AJN I think you can find those who think as you do, and maybe those who don’t as well. Seems a matter of self-definition as much as style! All the best, Jacob (Doug no longer works here in a full-time capacity, though he still helps us out sometimes)

  7. Carol Gino March 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    I so totally disagree that I had to share this with you. I am a nurse. I am a writer. But more than that I am a nurse writer. What that tells the people who read my books is that most of what I say, though it may be a compilation of character and plot, it’s generally the truth. Because there are so many laws against nurses telling their truth, I write to help healing. To help take the reader into the deep recesses of hospitals where they are never allowed to go. I write to give my patients, all patients power. To educate, to share with them their choices. I am a nurse, I am a writer, and I’m a nurse writer when my writing is intended to take my readers to secret places, to classified areas of medicine, healthcare and the human psyche. I am not only a nurse, I am not only a writer, I am a nurse writer. And that is more than the sum of it’s parts.

  8. Penn Sadlon RN BSN MSNstudent January 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Thank you for suggesting the separation of vocations. I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. I am a nurse, and I am a student who happens to be writing a lot, and I am trying to develop into a “nurse writer” for future vocations. Hmmm. I’m a nurse, writer, educator and student. Nurses are not traditionally trained to write for publication, but for any nurse interested in speaking to other nurses and sharing information, knowledge and experience beyond the conventional classroom, then the environment best to support this is as “nurse writer”.

  9. Christine Danse July 14, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    As a writer, a nurse, and a nurse writer, I agree with Kathy. When I’m working a shift, I’m a nurse. When I’m writing a piece of fiction, I’m a writer. And when I’m writing a health or nursing piece, I’m a nurse writer. All three are different “hats” that I wear, and each has their time a purpose. I think “nurse writer” is perfectly acceptable, if used appropriately.

  10. kathy May 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Um, hellOOOOOooooo! Being a “nurse writer” means you write about nurse- and health-related topics. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are a nurse separate from a writer, or a writer separate from a nurse – a nurse who happens to write or a writer who happens to be a nurse. A NURSE WRITER is a vocation in itself. It’s like being a FORENSIC PSYCHOLGIST. You are a psychologist who assesses in the field of forensics (which, by the way, is not what people think it is). A NURSE WRITER is someone who WRITES in the HEALTH-RELATED FIELDS. Yeesh.

  11. The Nerdy Nurse March 6, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Before I becoming a nurse I enjoyed writing, speaking, and expressing myself. However, I never considered myself a “writer”.
    After some experiences in nursing, I began writing as therapy and it has lead me to many oppertunities I would have not had otherwise.
    Do I consider myself a “Nurse Writer?” No. But that’s mostly because I don’t really consider myself a writer. I’ve just got alot to say and the people around me get tired of hearing it so I have to put it somewhere, and the apparently the blogosphhere is where it’s landing as of late.
    Honestly, I am proud to call myself a nurse. I’m confidence in what I do and proud of the profession. I am almost embarased to call myself a writer. Writers are passionate, creative, and inspiring inidividuals. Writers have points to make that people want to read. The fact that anyone takes a moment to read even 2 words I write is amazing to me.
    So I am a nurse and I write. Am I a writer? That’s what they tell me, but I still just think I’m standing on a soapbox while trying to translated my very wordy rants from a my brain to text.
    But that’s just this “nurse writers” stance on the subject.

  12. MB May 24, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I disagree with you totally. I am a nurse writer and write about health related topics. Being a nurse writer means there is more substance, science and evidence based research behind what I write. It is amazing to me what writers who do not have health backgrounds suggest people do to improve their health.

  13. jm March 30, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Kim, Thanks for weighing in. Just a tardy note to say we hope you do include Doug’s post in Emergiblog’s upcoming Change of Shift. I edit the Reflections column at AJN (submission guidelines are at, though interested writers should familiarize themselves with past essays if possible). In the Reflections department, we publish monthly personal essays by nurses and others. Over time, I have observed that there seem to be an awful lot of nurses who happen to write, and writers who happen to be nurses, and every other combination. However, one thing these two pursuits may have in common is that neither of them should be undertaken halfheartedly! Jacob M, AJN senior editor

  14. Kim March 21, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I’m a nurse, and proud of it!

    I’m a writer, and proud of it!

    I am not a “nurse writer”. I am a nurse who writes AND a writer who is a nurse.

    And if I hadn’t just pulled a night shift, I might have the brain power to explain the subtle difference. Alas, I just might have to write a blog post about that!

    PS – this post would be great for Change of Shift which happens to be full of nurses who write! : )

  15. christine contillo RN March 20, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I am a nurse, and I am a writer, sometimes they are two separate things, sometimes not. Because I am a nurse people assume that’s what I always write about (not true); people who know me as a writer are often surprised to find out that I’m a nurse. I think it’s a little like being right brained/left brained — I think of both as important parts of myself and I love it even better when they overlap.

  16. Madeleine Mysko March 17, 2009 at 10:32 am

    As I have said elsewhere (in Rattle Magazine’s “tribute issue” on nurses) I too prefer to call myself a writer “who happens to be a nurse.” I happen to be a nurse by training and profession, but I am also a poet and fiction writer and teacher of creative writing and editor. When we are talking about literature, about writers like Chekhov, then it certainly makes no sense to use terms like “physician short-story writer,” or (in the case of the important American poet, Wallace Stevens)”businessman poet.” Some “nurse writers” may claim that title as a more specific version of “medical writer.” The nurse who strives to write literature (poems, stories, novels, and personal essays) will not mind if “nurse” comes after “writer”–as Doug suggests here–in the phrase “who happens to be a nurse.”

  17. Candy Goulette March 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    As a writer/editor who would love to be a nurse and who works with nurses (some of whom are writers), I find the title “nurse writer” appropriate. It sets them apart from wanna-bes like me who write about nursing and nurses while it infers some intial credibility about subject matter knowledge.
    That said, I have to say I don’t cut these nurse writers any slack when it comes to quality of writing. I’ve been an editor for a long time and have worked with good and bad writers, some nurses, some not. I expect all the writers I work with to convey correct content in such a way as to inform readers. It may not be entertaining, grammatically correct or constructed correctly, but that’s where a skilled editor comes in. I am a good writer, but even I need to be edited.
    For some nurses who dabble at writing, the combo title nurse writer may be a stretch. But for those nurses who write often, or who write for a living, the distinction is a good one and, as Thom pointed out, can be a source of pride in accomplishment.

  18. Thom Schwarz March 4, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    I agree with Dug semi-heartedly, though not because I am a poor wordsmith, but rather because I am a nurse and an occasional writer and although my writing frequently springs from my nursing work, my writing is not nursing work, it is writing work, if you will.
    Where I disagree with Doug is that I don’t think the term “nurse writer” diminishes those who would call themselves that ungainly term. For some it may indeed indicate a sense of pride in both of those pursuits. Rather I just think it’s plain unnecessary. When you write, you are a writer. Likewise, nursing. For instance, I am not a male, semi-elderly, white (caucasian?), hospice nurse writer. (Am I?)
    Thom Schwarz RN

  19. Diana Mason, RN March 4, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t quite agree with Mr. Brandt, though I understand some of his arguments. The real reason he doesn’t like the phrase “nurse writer” is because it’a noun modifying a noun. He’s an excellent editor/copyeditor and master of language who likes nothing better than to notify the producers of Stedman’s Medical Dictionary or the Oxford Dictionary of an error in their publications. We’re fortunate to have him at AJN. I think you’ll find his postings interesting and informing.
    Diana Mason, RN

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