At Barco’s Nightingales Foundation, we recently conducted the Letters Campaign, part of our advocacy on behalf of nurses and the profession of nursing. The program offers encouragement, support and wisdom to first year nursing students through letters written and shared by more experienced nursing professionals who have “‘been there, faced that.” The letters offer advice on succeeding and elevating the profession of nursing as students embrace their studies and begin to practice.
The response was amazing, and we are honored to be able to share the wisdom in these letters with all of you through  our next several blog posts. We hope you find them as moving as we do.
~Michael and Frida Donner
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An Open Letter to the Public: What Is Nursing?
It was during winter break of my freshman year that I broke the news to my parents: I was switching my major to nursing. My mother could not understand why I had “lost my ambition.” In her mind, being a doctor was much more indicative of success, and if I was going to put all my time and energy into being a nurse, why not “take a few more steps” to become a doctor? To put this into perspective, I was born and raised by two immigrants and refugees of the Vietnam War. They had struggled to make ends meet for most of my childhood, and it had been their plan that I was going to be more successful and wealthier than they ever were. In our culture, there is a certain prestige that comes with being a doctor. Particularly for immigrant families, being a doctor symbolizes the ultimate American Dream. To many people like my parents, it means you’ve made it, and that the sacrifices you have made for your children have all been worth it. In short, I broke my mother’s heart that day. Since then, I have graduated nursing school, passed my boards, went on to practice professionally as a registered nurse, and even participated in humanitarian work in third world countries. My parents are now incredibly supportive of what I do, realizing how important this profession is to me, and how passionate I am about it. They may not ever understand what my full scope of practice is, or that being a nurse is so drastically different from being a doctor, but they do understand that my job makes me happy.
I tell this story because it exemplifies the common misconception regarding nursing as a profession. I have gotten the “please fluff my pillows nurse” joke from friends and acquaintances more times than I can count. And while it can be a little frustrating sometimes, I think a lot of it just comes from a lack of awareness. Having television series like Grey’s Anatomy that portray doctors at the bedside warps the perception of nursing for the general public. You might have even heard about that recent controversy regarding how the women of The View angered nurses all over the country by calling Miss Colorado’s stethoscope a “doctor’s stethoscope,” among other insulting things. They did issue an apology afterwards, citing ignorance as the reason for their jokes.
In reality, nurses are the front lines of health care. We are the ones at the bedside, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are the ones who come to inherit a sort of “sixth sense,” or intuition, when something doesn’t seem right with one of our patients. In a world where doctors make the final decisions regarding your plan of care, we are your advocates. We serve honestly and with integrity. That is why nurses are consistently one of the top most trusted professions. We will not only save your life but we will also be your shoulder to cry on when you are feeling vulnerable and fearful. We not only know that you are taking blood pressure medications three times a day, but that you also prefer to take your pills after meals because they make you feel sick. Nurses are also highly educated individuals. Most places of employment require at least a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for a position, and the learning and education continue on throughout our professional careers. We have the opportunity to pursue second degrees in order to practice more autonomously. Nurses are not only knowledgeable in their areas of specialty but are also trained to master clinical skills. Nurses are an integral part of the interdisciplinary team. Nurses are advocates. We recognize that you have the final say in your plan of care, and that it is our professional and ethical duty to advocate for your rights. And lastly, nurses provide holistic care, because we understand that you are not just a medical diagnosis, but that you are also human.
I remind you to thank a nurse in your life. A little appreciation goes a long way. If a nurse has ever cared for you or a loved one, please raise awareness for the work that they do. As for the “you fluff pillows all day” joke, sure – I can certainly do that. But I can also provide you with competent and skillful care that might one day save your life. I will be your advocate, your friend, and a shoulder to lean on. We don’t love our jobs for the glory or credit, nor do we seek it out. But making a difference in the lives of others is so incredibly rewarding and it is at the core of what we do. Let a nurse know how she has made a difference in your life. I can guarantee that he/she will smile, accept your compliment graciously, and will come back to work the next day and do it all over again.
~Sandy C.