Sure Nurses Are Honest, But They’re Also Highly Skilled Professionals

By Peggy McDaniel, BSN, RN 

As you may have heard last November, in 2008 (for the seventh consecutive year) nurses topped Gallup’s Honesty and Ethics of Professions survey.

As a profession we are considered the most ethical and honest—but are we also considered intelligent and efficient? Does the patient in the bed realize her or his safety depends on your critical thinking skills, learned in nursing school and honed at the bedside?

Why are engineering and similar professions seen as the fields with all the thinkers? Why doesn’t the public understand what nurses really do?

Public perception is based on many factors. Some are within our control as nurses, and some are not. I find it amusing but also annoying when TV programs have doctors doing everything from IV med pushes to running patients through CT scanners. These depictions reinforce the idea that doctors know it all and do it all. This is far from the truth, as nurses well know—but what’s on TV must be real, right?

How about the new programs with nurses in lead roles? One (as has been noted before here and elsewhere) has a CNO doing bedside care. When was the last time you saw that happen in your hospital? Another portrays a nurse who has a drug habit but is full of compassion. These portrayals do nothing to promote nursing as a profession.

How can we counter such false advertising? I believe we can make a difference, one patient at a time. A recent article gives examples of how to help patients better understand our role in their care, from introducing yourself properly to wording responses in a way that lets patients know that we hold the keys to their care and well-being.

Comments such as “I have to call the doctor; I can’t make that decision” would be better stated as “I will consult with the doctor and we will determine the next step together.” Instead of saying “I’ll be taking care of you today,” say “I am your registered nurse and will be coordinating your care today.” Many different people in uniforms or scrubs wander in and out of patients’ rooms every shift. Let’s introduce ourselves along with our profession so that patients get a better idea of what we really do in the nursing profession.

(Peggy McDaniel is an infusion practice manager in San Diego)

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2016-11-21T13:22:48+00:00 September 2nd, 2009|career, nursing perspective|2 Comments
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. dl September 27, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    I’m a non-traditional nursing student, making a career change to nursing in my 30s. However, having spent countless hours at the bedside of a relative for which I was the primary caretaker until her final days, I can see how the public can be mislead about the role and competency of a nurse. Sitting bedside (probably the most common way the public interacts with nurses) you interact with nurses of varying certification levels, and possibly incorrectly assume they’re all RNs. I sat there wondering how, some caregivers who I assumed were nurses, without even a clear grasp of proper grammar, could be nurses? I realize how snooty that sounds (especially considering my grammar could use some brush up after all these years since college), but it concerned me that the same person using double negatives was tasked with keeping my beloved relative alive. It wasn’t until I looked into nursing school that I saw just how many different levels of nursing there are. Thinking back, I’m hoping the nurses with the poor communication skills were simply techs. I’ll never know, but what I do know is that it puts concern into the minds of patients. That concern can be carried over into thinking the nurses clearly don’t know that much. Now that I have educated myself, I know that’s not the case. Sadly, many others who haven’t been inspired to research nursing, do not. I know I’ll take heat for this post, but if we want to look at how to improve the public opinion of nursing (a goal of mine as well), there should be a greater emphasis on communication in the curriculum, and perhaps a clear way for patients to easily differentiate the various levels of nurses (from the CNA to the CRNA). Even as a patient, I recall a CRNA greeting me prior to my 8-hr operation and was nervous that a nurse would be overseeing my anaesthesia. Now that I have researched nursing, I know they are just as competent as their doctor counterparts. But, with the general public not have the same knowledge, I too wonder how I will one day gain the respect of my patients thinking that only the doctor has a head on his shoulders. Having been on both sides of the equation, I know I have a tough road before me, as all nurses do (but I say bring on the challenge). I look forward to hearing the suggestions of others…

  2. […] the public understand the knowledge and expertise that we base our actions upon? I wrote in a recent post about some things we can do every day. Check it out, and let’s take it one patient at a time. […]

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