Put Your Power to Work as a Nurse

Nurses have a lot of power and potential to influence people, and most of it goes untapped. Much of it is unevenly distributed, with most of our ranks slogging through the daily grind with the “keep ’em alive until 7:05” mantra so that we can go home and sleep until our next shift, and with a tiny sliver of our peers making up the vocal group that advocates for policy and legal changes. But even those of us walking the daily grind can make a huge difference.

butterfliesNurses do not realize the potential power they wield, as evidenced by the often-uttered, “I’m just a nurse.” This phrase makes me come unglued. Just a nurse? No, no, no! Say, “I’m a nurse!” Puff your chest out a little, and let your pride shine through.

You, as a nurse, have enormous power. Much of it is probably lying in waste, just waiting for you to look around and see it.

How many stories have you heard people tell about this wonderful nurse who helped them or their child or their parent through a long and horrible illness? Now, how many have you heard about physicians? Physicians have a different power. I’m going to go “separate and possibly equal” here, because how do you place appropriate weight on each profession’s influence? Without the brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, the 6-year-old might not end up with a functional transplanted heart. Without the brilliant pediatric nurse, though, the 6-year-old might come out of surgery badly, experience a dismal and painful postoperative course, and go on to live a childhood of depression about feeling different and having to take constant medication, etc.

Does anyone still doubt that patient attitudes affect patient outcomes? Nurses don’t. Patients don’t. (More to the point, my grandmother doesn’t, and she knows everything.) Nurses also provide life-changing and even life-saving education and attitude adjustments. Please, do not take this post as a disparagement of physicians. We would have nothing to educate about without them. However, I think nurses forget how vital these tasks are and how enormous their effect can be.

My dad, for example, has idiopathic hypertension. He has had it for years. He has never felt a single symptom, so like many many others, he has been only relatively medication compliant. Now he has serious kidney issues. “Why?” he wondered. “What would cause that?” This was after a visit to a brilliant nephrologist. I spent 3 minutes or so explaining the effects of high blood pressure on the kidney’s filtration device, and he said, “Well, why didn’t anyone just say that? All they do is write prescriptions and say it’s important to take them.”

I don’t know why they didn’t. I assumed “they” had, so I didn’t either. This is the type of power nurses have that we are not using. By educating, by validating, by empathizing, we can truly change the course of a patient’s life and/or illness. We can support patients and their families while they make difficult decisions, we can educate, we can spend the time to understand why patients are not doing what they must do to stay healthy and then help them find alternatives.

We can ensure we double- and triple-check orders to make sure everything we think should be treated is being treated and, if it isn’t, ask the provider about it. We can catch errors that, left unchecked, may become disasters. We can suggest options the provider may have simply forgotten or overlooked (they are affected by fatigue and bad days just like anyone else).

Never, ever say that you are “just a nurse.” Get out of bed saying “I’m a NURSE!” and go to work with your invisible cape flying behind you, ready to put your nursing power to use!

About Megen Duffy

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Megen Duffy, RN, BA, BSN, CEN, is a practicing nurse, blogger, and contributing editor for the American Journal of Nursing. Megen has practiced in a variety of settings from emergency rooms to prisons.