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I have been a nurse for over 40 years.  I have witnessed many changes in the profession.  One of the changes that is very welcome is the general public’s perception of nurses.
When I entered school in 1973, as a male nurse I constantly got the question from many friends and family, “Will you go on to be a doctor later?”  I always said, “No, my goal is to be a nurse, I do not want to be a doctor.”
My perception then was that nursing was not a profession that was highly regarded. I am very glad to say that the perception has changed immensely in my many years of nursing.
I believe the public has become more educated on what nurses do and what our responsibilities are.  I think some of that change has been because of the modeling care nurses provide in the course of doing their job.
Families of patients watch us closely and I know for a fact that they have high regard for us as we go about our daily duties.
Nurses are highly educated prior to entering the profession.  We go to college and have many hours of clinical experience.
After graduation we are required to maintain our skill levels through continuing education courses essential to maintaining our license.  Depending on what specialty you are in there are multiple certifications to maintain as well.
At one time in my career I was a medevac nurse on a helicopter.  I had to maintain four separate certifications in order to keep my job.  I was also required to do a skills lab yearly.  This was over and above the 40 hours I worked.
Today many nurses work independently as well when they become nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists.  This usually requires a masters’ in nursing. Today nurses are part of the team, more so than anytime before.  We are the eyes and ears of the doctors as we go about our duties.  Nurses are the ones that will alert doctors to changes in patients’ condition and suggest treatment.  We have nursing care plans for all of our patients that direct our care.  We are advocates for our patients as well.  Many times patients and families are lost in the medial maze.  Nurse can advocate for the patient to ensure they get the proper care they need.  We can suggest referrals to different specialties that the medical team may be overlooking.  Nursing advocacy is a behind the scenes role that many of the public do not see.
I like to say  “Once a nurse always a nurse.”  We are constantly on duty.  I live on a street where there are many elderly people.  I have become the neighborhood “go to” nurse in times of need for many of my neighbors.  I have rendered care in multiple locations in my career just by being at the right place at the right time.
I took care of a woman on board a flight once that fainted.  I have been witness to someone having a seizure in a restaurant and rendered care.  I have been on a bike trail and cared for a gentleman that crashed.  I have cared for several motorcycle crash victims, one just last week in Spain where I was traveling.
Nurses are the general public and will usually come forward in time of need. When I do so, I just say I’m a nurse, and suddenly I’m in charge until the medics arrive. Everyone is usually relieved that someone else has taken over.
While we are doing all of this I believe the general public sees us and regards us better for what we do.  I am sure it helps them to understand what the role of the nurse is.
The nursing profession has evolved immensely since I graduated in 1976.  I am glad to see the public’s perception has also evolved.  This will be an ongoing process as the role of nursing continues to expand.
Wendell A.