Friday, October 18, 2013

So, you're not a real nurse then, right?

Ah yes, the unequivocal definition of a nurse: at the bedside, giving medications, spiking IV bags, emptying bedpans, answering call lights, running from room to room in orthopedic nursing shoes. There are no variations of this definition, right?


The field of nursing is vast and varied. There are so many dimensions of the profession, even a nurse cannot comprehend the options available to them (here is just one list of the types of nursing, thank you Wikipedia!). When I entered into the field, I was just as guilty of this false generalization of what a nurse is and should be. If you aren't working at the bedside, you aren't a real nurse. This assumption is as outdated as the white dress and cap that adorned the nurses of previous generations. Once I began working in a specialty that was far from bedside nursing, I quickly ditched the traditional view of a real nurse and realized that nursing can be anywhere, anytime, and come in any form.

I now work doing telephone triage, never seeing the patients I care for. I listen to their symptoms, sometimes hear them cry and scream, advise them what they should do, educate them on their disease processes, counsel them on their medications, and sometimes guide them through crisis. My shift can include anything and everything; I never know what will be on the other end of the phone when I answer, Telephone nurse advisor, how can I help you? I have fielded phone calls from suicidal patients, a mother of a homicidal 6 year-old, patients experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, a screaming mother who just saw her child run over by an ATV, teenagers who have "lost" their condom places, women miscarrying sometimes their fourth or fifth pregnancy, children with fevers and a cough, and so on.

I was recently asked this question by a friend of a friend, after explaining the type of nursing I do: So, you're not a real nurse then, right? Does my job make me less of a nurse because I'm not laying my hands on the patients I treat? Because I now lack a physical and visual presence in the patient's life? Is the quality improvement nurse, who spends hours checking statistics and collecting data to ensure safe and effective care, any less of a nurse to the patients he/she is protecting? What about the nurse managers who pour over policies, procedures, staff schedules, attend countless meeting and wade through administrative B.S. to make the working lives of their nurses easier so care of the patients can be done smoothly? The clinical trials nurse who helps coordinate the paperwork and navigates the red tape for hundreds, sometimes thousands of patients in potentially life saving drug trials, what about them?

Society has clung to the outdated vision of a nurse. It is time to relinquish the grasp on what was and embrace what is: nurses do exist beyond the bedside.

Secretly, I hope the person who made that ridiculous statement to me calls the nurse advisor line sometime for advice and gets me, the apparent "non-nurse". But that's the sassy side of me talking.

1 comment:

  1. I have had more contact with "telephone nurses" at gundersen then "real ones" at the actual hospital....and sometimes the "telephone nurses" are the ones who tell me the most important information about what is going on with our girls or myself and how to deal with whatever is going on at home or if we need to come into the hospital. You are always the ones we turn to first which in my book says you are definitely as important as the ones in the clinic or hospital....!!!!!!!!! Don't let that question get you down. Its just that people are ignorant of all of your schooling you have gone through to become the great and wonderful nurse that you are. DOn't let them make you feel bad....instead feel bad for them for being so uneducated about your education!!!! Love you Chels!!!