What Does Professionalism in Nursing Really Mean?

Professionalism is a ubiquitous concept; you hear it in relation to how employees treat customers and other employees, and how supervisors and managers ought to treat employees. Yet it can be difficult to define objectively.

If we look at the root of the word – “profession” – we see that it is a code of how one should act in a place of work. A profession, after all, is a person’s chosen occupation for which they are paid. They are also expected to be well-trained and certified if required. In essence, professionalism dictates the behavior and values of the person in that profession.

For nurses, professionalism can be a bit tricky. There aren’t many occupations out there where you need to help your “customers” use the bathroom or take their blood. So how does a nurse approach professionalism within her scope of practice? Keep reading for a few key ingredients that go into creating professionalism for nurses.

The Right Attitude

For members of any profession, attitude is important, but for nurses, this is especially true. Because the work of a nurse is so difficult and demanding, it’s easy to get emotionally worn down. However, going into work each day with a positive attitude will help you build a foundation upon which you can add more elements of professionalism.

If you don’t understand what attitude has to do with professionalism, think of a coworker who s infamous for having a bad attitude. They might be constantly grumpy and complain far too often about parts of the job that they don’t really like. They aren’t necessarily in the wrong, though; no one really enjoys changing catheters or cleaning bedsores. But they seem to bring a cloud of negativity with them that can affect everyone around them. They might be great at their job and have the skills and knowledge to back them up, but they can quickly drain the morale of the team of nurses they work with, making work a place people dread going.

On the other hand, a nurse with a positive attitude will make the work seem less like drudgery. It won’t automatically be fun or enjoyable, but it won’t be miserable. Working with a nurse that has a positive attitude makes people around them happier. If you can smile, joke around, and have good conversations, the unpleasant work becomes less uncomfortable for everyone.

If you need some help getting your attitude in the right place to create a sense of professionalism, focus on gratitude. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude helps a person have a more positive outlook. Not only will you be focused on all the wonderful things you have, like a home, a family, a good job, and the opportunity to interact with people in need, but you’ll also be able to spread that positive around you, creating a wonderful cycle of optimism.


It would be wonderful if our appearance didn’t matter at all, but the truth is that it does. After all, our appearance is the first thing people notice about us, especially if we don’t actually meet the person. And like it or not, we all make snap judgments based on appearance.

For a nurse to have proper professionalism, being neat and clean is crucial for several reasons. First, it indicates that you place importance on your job and that you want to give the right impression. Second, it shows that you pay attention to details, which is a good sign for a nurse dealing with ill patients. Finally, being neat in your dress shows that you put high importance on cleanliness and tidiness. This is an attribute that is well-appreciated by patients since they rely on you to treat them hygienically. Seeing you put together and clean shows them that you will take the same care in treating them.

When you get ready for the day, make sure that your scrubs are clean. This might mean that you need to stock up since scrubs have a way of getting dirty each day. You should be well-groomed, too. If you wear makeup, don’t cake it on heavily, as this could lead others to believe your priorities are more on yourself than others. Make sure your hair is clean and style tidily, perhaps in a simple ponytail. For men, avoid heavy products and overly styled hair. If you wear jewelry, choose simple items that don’t draw too much attention.


This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of professionalism. As mentioned above, the work of a nurse is not glamorous. It often entails a lot of unpleasant tasks that you won’t particularly like doing. However, a willingness to help others, to set aside your own qualms in favor of the comfort of patients, will take you far.

When working with patients, your visible willingness will make a positive difference. Like your attitude, being willing to do dirty work will show others that you can be relied upon and that you put others before yourself. When you are dealing with coworkers, being willing to take up a task that needs to get done will show them that you are a team player. Supervisors and managers will appreciate you greatly as you show a willingness to help them out with whatever it is that they need done. This enthusiasm and cooperation will be the cherry on top of your professionalism sundae.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to advance in your career or even just have a better time at work, practicing the three key attributes of professionalism is a great first step. As you practice having a positive attitude, a clean appearance, and a willingness to help others, you will reveal yourself to be a crucial cog in the healthcare machine.

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