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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