Drive for Show, Putt for Dough: A Cliche With Some Truth for Nursing

By Clint Lange, BSN, RN, a MICU nurse at University Hospital, San Antonio, Texas.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Before becoming a registered nurse, I was a resident in the wonderful world of professional athletics, where cliches are fed to you almost as much as protein shakes and supplements.

I was a golfer, and golfers are the worst in terms of cliches. I sprained my eyes rolling them so much while listening to desperate golfers try to rationalize their poor performances or give themselves some hope. “I gave it 110%.” Ever take a math class? Because what you are saying isn’t possible. “It ain’t over till it’s over.” After that abysmal last hole, you are, in truth, officially mathematically eliminated from this tournament. For you, it’s over.

I’ll admit it, I’m cynical. I didn’t see the merit in cliches then and to a great extent I still don’t. But I have something else to admit; I’m kind of missing cliches. It seems one can’t quit them cold turkey without having withdrawal.

Or it could simply be that I played in a golf tournament recently for the first time in years, and I couldn’t help thinking about one of golf’s most-used phrases: Drive for show, putt for dough. It simply means that driving the ball is very flashy and fun to watch, but it is generally the guys or gals who are making putts who win the events and the most prize money. In the tournament, I drove it fine but didn’t make enough putts, thus finishing low in the prize money.

What’s alarming to me is that I’m finding it hard not to retrofit the aforementioned cliche into nursing, as I see many similarities. There are aspects of nursing that are flashy and make us seem better than our colleagues, while the other more mundane aspects that are more likely to be overlooked by our peers are really what make us successful and valuable nurses to our facilities—and more importantly, to our patients.

For the nongolfers, further explanation of components of the cliche is warranted. Driving is the first shot one takes on the longer golf holes using what is called a driver. The driver is the club in the golfer’s arsenal that they spent the most money on, produces the longest shot, loudest noise, and the most oohs and aahs from the gallery. There are even long drive contests where musclebound men get all medieval on the ball, to the delight of onlookers for prize money.

These are truly the “protein shake” professional golfers. In comparison, putting is anemic. It is in some cases a tap of the ball to finish out a hole. It doesn’t take much strength to do it, but each putt counts for as many strokes as a ball that was crushed 315 yards with a driver.

What it does take is repetition, discipline, and courage. We’ve all been exposed to “drive for show” nurses. These may be the ones who point out perceived flaws in care during bedside report in order to look good to the patient and family. These are also the ones who make the patient nice and pretty at the end of the shift while practically neglecting the patient for the previous 11 and a half hours. In the same vein, they are the ones who have checked the boxes for all of the duties that were completed on the task list while, in fact, not completing them.

The “drive for show” nurse also shows up in staff meetings as a proponent for teamwork and positivity on the unit, but is the model of hypocrisy when the superiors are away. Drive for show nurses are a challenge to work with and can be devastating to both the health of a unit as well as that of the patient.

“Putt for dough” nurses, on the other hand, are a delight to work with and are the mortar for the unit. These are the guys who label their IV lines to avoid errors and make life easier for anyone following them. They check for compatibilities of meds for their shift and provide that information to the successive shift’s nurse. She is the one who orders meds for the oncoming nurse when she knows pharmacy is having a bad day. He is the nurse that tells the patient and his family the best trait of the nurse that is about to replace him. This is the nurse that opens up a four-pack of sodium chloride for her Zosyn, puts three unencumbered units back in the Pyxis, and throws the trash away so three other nurses won’t have to bother with the wet mess. Have you ever wondered why it is always wet?

If you’ve ever played putt-putt, you know how difficult putting can be. It seems simple enough to swing the putter a few inches back and through to get the ball on a line, but it seldom happens.

Likewise, “putt for dough” nursing is difficult, tedious, and requires some extra work. Your superiors don’t always see it, but it goes a long way with your coworkers and patients.

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2016-11-21T13:02:52+00:00 March 13th, 2015|career, Nursing, nursing perspective|1 Comment

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One Comment

  1. Jacqueline Messier, RN April 16, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Dear Clint,
    Thank you for a wonderful article, it was quite fun to read, but more importantly it brings attention to the nurses who put forth that extra effort everyday. It is this “putting” effort that truly makes a difference and exemplifies what nursing work ethic & integrity is all about. As you indicate, integrity is not about what we do when others are watching but what we do when others aren’t watching, i.e., your “putters”. Using your golf experience as an analogy was an ingenious way to give insight to these deserving nurses, and your message was not lost on me. Thank you, once again, for a fantastic article!

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