4 Words That Should Make All Nurses Mad

By Donald Wood ARNP, CRNA on Fri, Aug 23, 2013

nurses wordsI’m just a nurse.

I hear this statement time and again. It is hard to keep from getting mad at the person who spoke it. Though I try to be a person who is aware of and in control of his emotions, those four words seem to grate on me like fingernails being drawn across a chalkboard. I want to ask all the nurses who ever uttered those words when they lost sight of their nursing career and the immense impact it has on so many people. When did they relinquish their respect for their profession and themselves? When did they lose sight of their immense body of knowledge and their power to improve the lives of people?

I know that the great majorities of people in the world are very humble. Almost to a fault, they downplay their role in most any activity they participate in. Ask the person who takes heroic measures, at great risk to themselves, to save the life of another. The usual response is something along the lines of “I just did what anyone else would do.” We tend to minimize the importance of our actions even when we go into a situation that places us into grave peril in order to help a total stranger. I understand humility, but it is not wrong to acknowledge your achievements either. 

In my nursing job, I always introduce myself to patients and family with my name and what I do.

“My name is Don Wood. I am a nurse anesthetist with the anesthesia department and will be taking care of you today in surgery.” I am very careful to pronounce the words “nurse anesthetist” clearly for several reasons.

The first reason is to let the patient know that I am not an anesthesiologist. I believe all patients should know the nurse taking care of them. With the similarity (actually identical) of the service that nurse and physician anesthesia providers give, it is easy for the “you are a male therefore you are a doctor” misunderstanding to arise. The second reason is that I am proud that I am a nurse. Though all anesthesia providers accomplish the same task, I feel that the nurse anesthetist brings something extra for the patient. We tend to view the patient in a much more nursing holistic manner and address more than just the physical illness and disease. 

As nurses, we accomplish great deeds for our patients. From offering a patient level explanation of a medical procedure to restarting a stopped heart, we make a difference every single day. When my daughter was in high school, she often watched the TV show ER. After one particular episode, she announced to my wife and I that she was going to go to medical school and become a doctor. I have no problem with that at all. She followed that statement by saying that it must feel great to save someone’s life. I looked at my wife (also a nurse), and we smiled at each other. I said, “Yes, it is a great feeling.” 

I am always amazed to read the many nursing stories about constantly making a difference. Maybe they saved a life by administering a vaccination to a child. Perhaps they reviewed a medication order and catched a possible drug interaction or allergy that the other provider missed. Maybe they told their neighbor that a colonoscopy is not as bad as they think and screening for colorectal cancer does save lives. The list goes on and on. You may not think you were doing anything significant today, but the nursing care you provided might have its effect days or months from now.

So the next time you are feeling frustrated, overworked and tired, before you utter those four words that make my blood boil, think about the many things you have done as a nurse.

As nurses, we have taken the steps to learn a great deal of specialized knowledge. We have learned skills that, when used correctly, have a large capacity to improve the health of others. Our nursing touch brings comfort, hope and understanding to people who yearn for it. I am a nurse. We are all nurses!

P.S. My daughter never did become a physician. She pursued a nursing career. She is now a nurse practitioner working with an emergency medicine group in Florida - saving and touching lives every day.



32 COMMENTS

Anonymous 11 months ago
Proud to be a nurse!
Great profession!
Great job!....

Anonymous 3 years ago
What a terrific article! I agree.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Well said!! I have been a nurse for 33 years. I am very PROUD of that title!! I work in the ED setting. While many of the reasons that people come to see me are not actually emergencies, they are to them!! I take great pride in being able to help them through their own private "emergent situation", no matter how big or small that may be!!

Anonymous 3 years ago
I said those words recently. A patient was confused and scared about their edema that was not responding to Lasix alone. I explained that his albumin and total protein were low and told him how albumin acts like a sponge to pull the water out of places like his feet and ankles. When he and his family were both looking at me like, "Well, go get the albumin.." I confess I said, "Well, I'm only a nurse and the doctor would have to order that for you, but I will mention it to him." Of course when I politely stated, "The patient is very anxious about his edema and I did notice that his albumin was quite low. Would he benefit from receiving some albumin along with the Lasix that is already ordered?" the doctor sent me away without an order for albumin. So sometimes you really are made to feel powerless.

In addition, the veteran nurses need to stop being so high and lofty about how "perfect" they are. Unless nurses begin to embrace the concept that we are a team, there are going to be a lot of "newer" nurses who lose heart. I've been a nurse for almost 3 years...long enough to know something, but not long enough to be treated with respect by other nurses. I'm so tired of being knit picked about all my weaknesses and shortcomings as a nurse. If you want to find a mistake or find a weak spot in any nurse, you CAN. We need to support each other. If you come on the shift and find something the prior nurse missed, thank the good Lord that you caught it and then do what is right for the patient and cover for your collegue's oversight. I recently missed an order for my patient...just missed it...couldn't really read the doctor handwriting and missed what the order really said. My charge nurse missed it too. And, the pharmacy missed it. But, that didn't stop the new shift's charge nurse from ripping me a new hole for being inept. C'mon...we've got to stop with all that. I already know I'm not super nurse. I know I mess up. But, you mess up too. Let's just cover for each other, and treat each other with more respect. Nurses have to be a team...if the ball gets past one person, help them out. Because nobody makes me feel more "small" about myself as nurse, than a self-righteous, disrespectful nurse who has been at it for 30 years.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Someone once commented that "nurses help doctors take care of patients." I responded, "No, doctors help nurses take care of patients."

Anonymous 3 years ago
What a beautiful article! As a graduate nurse, it is inspiring to see nurses who still love their professions. I want to follow in their footsteps, morph and mold myself until I am just as happy and just as in love with my profession as they are.

Anonymous 3 years ago
As soon as I read your title, I knew the quote you would speak of. How true it is that as a group we tend to minimize our emmense imapct on patients, co-workers and the systems in which we work.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Very inspiring! Thank you cery much. I am an
LVN, I hear - Im just an LVN too.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Donald you ROCK!!!

Anonymous 3 years ago
Unquestionably, Wood is an inspiration to all of us nurses, who strive for a better future in our beloved nursing career. Undoubtedly, I thoroughly enjoyed this article, thank you for sharing it with us...Aloha~

Anonymous 3 years ago
I admit I have said that. And usually it is after I say something, another person asks in response, "You must be a doctor." However, I say it in such a manner that most people do a double take and apologize for the insult.

Anonymous 3 years ago
As I was reading the title of your article, I guessed the four words right! It also makes my blood boil. As nurses we are rated at the most trusted profession, with good reason. We have are own place in the healthcare system and a very important one, and a place I am very proud to be a part of.

We make a

Anonymous 3 years ago
I was a critical care nurse for 20 years until I transitioned into case management on the outside. I believe the public perception of a nurse is distorted by the common practice in physician's office and in clinics of referring to unlicensed assistants as "the nurse", which i encounter daily, although a violation of public safely law in my state.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Thank you for expressing what most nurses agree with. I have been a nurse for 37 yrs. I have entertained doing something else (mostly because of managements) but when it comes down to it, I am a nurse, period. That's who I am. So very little has changed in nursing (other than technology) over these many years, except for one thing. People are coming into nursing because it is a quick two years to get a license and gives job security with decent benefits. Hard to find a job like that today. But, WANTING to take care of sick people doesn't enter into the picture. I can teach a nurse how to care for a patient, but, I cannot teach them how to care about a patient.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I have been a nurse for 37 years, I am a diploma nurse from a hospital based nursing school and can run circles around half the BSNs in the business. I am a nurse who has never forgotten why I went into this profession...to care and protect people who are sick and vulnerable. I have learned everything I know from other nurses who served as my mentors and Drs who recognized me as a part of their team and depended on my input to care for our patients. It doesn't matter how many degrees you possess, if you can't perform a basic nursing assessment, evaluate the needed care based on anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and human psychology and never question a doctor's order, you don't belong in the nursing profession. Nursing should re-evaluate what is necessary to provide safe, quality, caring, healing patient care and it's not covered in an English or History class. Until you have that experience, you should never move up in the ranks to lead other nurses.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Excellent article, I've been a nurse 23 yrs now and have never said those words!!

Anonymous 3 years ago
In my 30 years of nursing, I have found that by using the "just a nurse" phrase, I can accomplish objectives with physicians and lawyers that otherwise could not have been realized. I have to ask them to "educate" me so that I can manipulate the situation to accomplish what is best for my clients. We all get there, but it is amazing how often I have to use this approach, still, even after all this time. Doesn't matter if it is a female or male doctor or attorney. It is also amazing to me that so little has changed over 30 years in our profession as a whole. As long as we cannot define within our own profession, a minimum standard of a Bachelor's Degree for a Registered Nurse - we have to accept some of the responsibility for this situation. No other "profession" has done to themselves what nursing has - where are our nursing educators and leaders??? We have been talking about this since the 70's! The therapists have had this figured out for years - making artificial shortages and now defining the PhD as their education level.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I think the modifier "just" comes from a history of experiences that demean the power of nursing care, the important of nursing contributions to outcomes, and, of course, the lack of nursing revenue generation that our employers perceive. (I know that preventing complications generates revenue, but they do not.)

Anonymous 3 years ago
I must be the pessimist here. . I have uttered those words because nursing is being under staffed and asked to work longer hours, doing double shifts, etc. We can't spend the time or do the things we want for our patients these days. It's all about the bottom dollar.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Donald...I have been a nurse for 31 years and yoes in some areas APN's are treated well but for the average nurse the dictates and politics of nursing esp among nurses is very much the same-repressive. So it is no wonder that many re interate the word " Just a nurse" because we are usually made to feel less than we are.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Nurses use those words sarcastically to mimic physicians who have degraded them with that very comment.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I am just a nurse. And have no problem with that. I don't need any validation to know what I do matters. I don't see a problem with being "just a nurse". Patients know our value and they are what matters.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I have always been proud to be an RN. But things that are happening in nursing now make me wonder about that and rethink how I feel about the profession as a whole. Everywhere these days we hear Go to nursing school, the jobs are there. I have been privledged to work with and know some most excellent nurses. But in the last 8 months I have had the experience of being on the other end with my husband. I have seen a myraid of inept, self-centered, poorly educated,gossipy, unfeeling, uncaring group of "nurses". I blame the nursing schools for this. They are giving degrees to people who clearly don't belong in the profession.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Wonderful article & so true! I was an LPN @19y/o in Critical Care & then became an RN-for a total of 33 yrs in nursing. I have always felt this way, but glad to see it in print. I have been a hospice nurse for 24yrs now. To the nurse wanting to provide hospice care in her facility; get the community/patients' docs on board. If they write an order for hospice, it is against the law for the patient/family not to have a choice & it can be reported!

Anonymous 3 years ago
I admit to using those words but only in a sarcastic way when I was trying to get a point across. I am NOT "just a nurse". Yes, I too feel irate when people say this.Helping others just plain feels good.

Anonymous 3 years ago


I am in a situation now in a LTC center where dying patients and their families are not given information about hospice care. I have watched several residents die with extreme anxiety and needless pain.I will never forget the look of fear on my resident's face as he struggled to breathe as he was dying of pneumonia. This type of elderly abuse should be a criminal offense with plenty of jail time for the administrators and managers responsible.When I have tried to intervene with a call to hospice, I was told by the DON that "We can take care of our dying patients better than a hospice agency."No one should have to die this way. No one. I have to stay here because of my financial obligations but if I could leave and still be okay, I would leave in a heartbeat.Nurses can and should make a difference. If you're not willing to stick your neck out for your dying patients, get out of the profession. You're a burden and not a help.



Anonymous 3 years ago


Donald this is an excellent article with a very positive strong VOICE for pro nursing! I believe the nursing field would change dramatically if there was more males in the nursing field. Some women are still trying to get their VOICES heard in society simply because the way some people think about select career fields especially if the career is an acceptable dominate female role. There is a vast difference how physicians and patients respond to the gender nurse. The male nurse at times are viewed as a doctor instead of a nurse. I welcome and recruit males and females to enter into the nursing career. Nursing is a called and rewarding adventure to help ourselves and others to a stable wellness and wholeness.



Anonymous 3 years ago
Might I suggest reading Suzanne Gordon's poem, "Just A Nurse"

Anonymous 3 years ago
I couldn't agree more. It is the doctors that could apologize. I'm sorry, I'm just a doctor. I don't know how to change bed linen with a patient in the bed. No, I've never helped a patient with a bed pan. No, I've never gone over a resident's head to prevent harm to my patient. No, I've never taken care of 2 patients in the ICU with a Swan, transduced central ventricular pressure, intra-aortic balloon pump, and CVVHD going at the same time. No, I'm just a doctor.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Donald...thank you. Wholeheartedly agree! I cringe when I hear RN's and even Advanced Practice Nurses say this.
Barbara C. Phillips, NP | www.NPBusiness.ORG

Anonymous 3 years ago
Donald,
What an inspiring article. I've been an RN for over 30 years and still love it. As one of the "older nurses", I've had to cut back on my patient care...but not on my passion.
There are so many things nurses can do with their knowledge and skills. In this era of cyberspace, we can reach out to patients, families and practitioners with knowledge and resources.
Once a nurse, always a nurse.
nursingcareerhub.com

Anonymous 3 years ago
Great story, Don. Thanks for sharing your wonderful professional accomplishments in nursing. You are an inspiration to many people. Best wishes! Jeanne Hopple, PhD, ARNP-BC, FNP-C, Ocala, FL