I used to say it all the time: “Just a nurse”. It came up when someone asked my opinion on a medical topic. Or, asked what I did for work. It was so second nature for me to undermine my skills.
This was particularly true when I was talking to other healthcare workers, like doctors or nurse practitioners. I told an emergency room doctor that, and she stopped me. She reminded me that I was the one on the floor doing the hands-on work, not her. I was taking care of the patients directly. She told me to never forget that and to be proud of being a nurse.
We are so much more than “just a nurse”. This feeling of hierarchy, especially in the healthcare industry, needs to be abolished. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t complete the complete residency program to become a doctor.
These are completely different specialties that deserve equal respect and recognition in the field. Each role serves an important function within the entire system. Nurses could not work without doctors and doctors could not work without nurses.
Why do we sell ourselves short?
Nurses, for the most part, are humble. We are the busy bees on the floor. We buzz from room to room carrying out orders. We do make important recommendations on care, but we aren’t usually thought of as key stakeholders. But this isn’t entirely accurate, because many hospitals are now recognizing
nursing as an important role that deserves a seat at the table.
It’s easy to focus on doctors and upper management as the people that matter. Nurses don’t write prescriptions. We don’t diagnose. But there is so much that we do.
We heal and encourage patients. We alert doctors to incredibly important changes in conditions. We do the physical work to help the person ambulate, shower, and use the restroom. We are the ones administering the medications.
It’s easy to focus on what we don’t do when we don’t have the longest degrees or the highest-paying position within the hospital. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t plan an incredibly important part of healthcare.
More Than Just a Nurse
We didn’t just walk off the street and into the hospital one day. We have extensive backgrounds in specialized areas that make us field experts. So why should we drop the “just” before the nurse?
Years of school
We take some of the most rigorous courses on campus. Not only are we in the classroom, but we physically go to clinicals, too. You’re studying for an exam, trying a new procedure in your clinical, and getting tested in your lab, all in the same week.
And some of us have advanced degrees. I went to school for 6 years to get my
Master’s Degree in Nursing Management. That’s about the same time as a Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner. A different role does not mean a less important role.
We still went through an incredibly rigorous credentialing program that gives us the right to practice in healthcare. Our industry has standards that we all have to meet before we can even touch a patient. Not every industry does that. I’ve never heard an engineer say “Just an engineer”. But, they don’t have a credentialing process, and some of them don’t have advanced degrees.
We don’t just have an educational background that’s incredibly robust. We have years of hands-on experience. I know nurses who have been in the field for 20 years and still use the “just a nurse” phrase.
If you’re doing something for 20 years, you are a person of value to our society, especially in that field. Most people will never see the medical conditions that we see. We know how to handle emergencies. We know how to handle moments that make other people freeze.
Our years spent at the bedside have allowed us that superhuman ability. To see a path when everyone else panics. To understand what needs to be done, and do it. To pick up on patterns no one else sees.
There is nothing small or diminutive about our work experience. Sometimes it’s not glorious, but it’s always useful. And it’s always important. Never forget your bedside experience and the unique insight it provides.
We Are Experts
I feel like this is not said enough: Nurses are experts in medicine. We are practicing medicine every single day. We are seeing symptoms, analyzing what they mean, reporting important findings, and then dispensing medications based on our observations and collaborations with others.
We are titans for our critical thinking. We see order when others see chaos. We see patterns when others see random symptoms. We are the glue that holds the healthcare system together.
Every text, every patient, every shift, has led you to where you are today: a field expert. No one will have the years of experience that you do. You can draw up past experiences, and apply them to current ones to help others in a way that is unique to you alone.
Every nurse is valid. This is true regardless of the acuity of the floor. This is true regardless of your specialty or how long you’ve been a nurse. We are deserving of our title, and we are deserving to be proud of our work.
Imposter syndrome is the most common mental roadblock I come across in nursing. As a health writer, I help nurses become writers and live the lives they deserve to have. I always get the same questions, though.
Can I write in other niches outside of my specialty?
What other degree do I need for this?
Am I qualified to do this?
I’m not a doctor, I’m just a nurse. Is this within my scope?
It breaks my heart that nurses don’t see their value. Of course, you can write outside of your specialty. We took a credentialing test that allows us to work in maternity, pediatrics, oncology, and geriatrics, right? Those are incredibly different subspecialties, but we were given the knowledge and the training to switch to other specialties. Writing is the same way.
Every single person that works in healthcare, whether they are an LPN or RN, can be a health writer. We just went over the many reasons you are a field expert.
No one will ask you for an additional degree. You’re perfect the way you are, and editors would love to have you. You are qualified, you are enough.
The scope has nothing to do with writing. Doctors aren’t the be-all and end-all of healthcare. I have nothing but incredible respect for doctors, but they don’t own a monopoly on all things health-related. You are allowed to teach others about healthcare through writing. If you are allowed to perform client education, why wouldn’t you be allowed to write that client education down as a blog post? It’s the same exact concept.
I hear the phrase “just a nurse” all the time, and I used to use it to describe what I did. But the phrase encourages imposter syndrome and does a disservice to our role. We are still valuable members of the healthcare team with extensive bedside experience and a robust educational background.
That makes us field experts. We can leverage that expertise to move to new areas of nursing, including health writing. Health writing is a lucrative option for any nurse looking for a change of scenery, but still wanting to keep their foot in the nursing world.
Are you looking for more tips? You can check out my course here.