nurses wordsI’m just a nurse.

I hear this statement time and again. It is hard to keep from getting mad at the person who spoke it. Though I try to be a person who is aware of and in control of his emotions, those four words seem to grate on me like fingernails being drawn across a chalkboard. I want to ask all the nurses who ever uttered those words when they lost sight of their nursing career and the immense impact it has on so many people. When did they relinquish their respect for their profession and themselves? When did they lose sight of their immense body of knowledge and their power to improve the lives of people?

I know that the great majorities of people in the world are very humble. Almost to a fault, they downplay their role in most any activity they participate in. Ask the person who takes heroic measures, at great risk to themselves, to save the life of another. The usual response is something along the lines of “I just did what anyone else would do.” We tend to minimize the importance of our actions even when we go into a situation that places us into grave peril in order to help a total stranger. I understand humility, but it is not wrong to acknowledge your achievements either. 

In my nursing job, I always introduce myself to patients and family with my name and what I do.

“My name is Don Wood. I am a nurse anesthetist with the anesthesia department and will be taking care of you today in surgery.” I am very careful to pronounce the words “nurse anesthetist” clearly for several reasons.

The first reason is to let the patient know that I am not an anesthesiologist. I believe all patients should know the nurse taking care of them. With the similarity (actually identical) of the service that nurse and physician anesthesia providers give, it is easy for the “you are a male therefore you are a doctor” misunderstanding to arise. The second reason is that I am proud that I am a nurse. Though all anesthesia providers accomplish the same task, I feel that the nurse anesthetist brings something extra for the patient. We tend to view the patient in a much more nursing holistic manner and address more than just the physical illness and disease. 

As nurses, we accomplish great deeds for our patients. From offering a patient level explanation of a medical procedure to restarting a stopped heart, we make a difference every single day. When my daughter was in high school, she often watched the TV show ER. After one particular episode, she announced to my wife and I that she was going to go to medical school and become a doctor. I have no problem with that at all. She followed that statement by saying that it must feel great to save someone’s life. I looked at my wife (also a nurse), and we smiled at each other. I said, “Yes, it is a great feeling.” 

I am always amazed to read the many nursing stories about constantly making a difference. Maybe they saved a life by administering a vaccination to a child. Perhaps they reviewed a medication order and catched a possible drug interaction or allergy that the other provider missed. Maybe they told their neighbor that a colonoscopy is not as bad as they think and screening for colorectal cancer does save lives. The list goes on and on. You may not think you were doing anything significant today, but the nursing care you provided might have its effect days or months from now.

So the next time you are feeling frustrated, overworked and tired, before you utter those four words that make my blood boil, think about the many things you have done as a nurse.

As nurses, we have taken the steps to learn a great deal of specialized knowledge. We have learned skills that, when used correctly, have a large capacity to improve the health of others. Our nursing touch brings comfort, hope and understanding to people who yearn for it. I am a nurse. We are all nurses!

P.S. My daughter never did become a physician. She pursued a nursing career. She is now a nurse practitioner working with an emergency medicine group in Florida - saving and touching lives every day.