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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