Do you consider yourself to be “just” a nurse? Do you minimize the impact that you have on the lives of your patients? Are you shy to acknowledge your successes and quick to dwell on your weaknesses? Nurses are notorious for not giving themselves enough credit – how does this impact individual nurses and the profession as a whole?
“Just a nurse”
If we could count the number of times nurses have said, “I’m just a nurse” in the course of a conversation, we’d likely lose count and throw up our hands in exasperation. This common misspoken phrase undercuts nursing’s importance and weakens nurses’ individual sense of personal power.
Back in the day, nurses responded to doctors’ demands and ran to fetch whatever the doctor asked for. In years past, nurses responded to many demands – running to fetch whatever was needed or asked of them, and work was more task-based. The profession as a whole has certainly been elevated to a more advanced level.
We have gained a significant measure of autonomy and individuated practice. Through the development and application of nursing science and nursing theory, the nurse has a body of knowledge and literature that rivals any other profession.
In more than 20 states in the country, as well as the District of Columbia, advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) now practice autonomously without a supervising physician. With a dire shortage of primary care physicians, nurse practitioners are stepping up to the plate and filling the gap in primary care for millions of Americans.
Being “just” a nurse is no longer a viable way to describe nurses’ impact on society. LPNs, RNs, APRNs and other nursing professionals influence patients’ lives in significant ways – the profession needs to own and celebrate that influence.
Your inner nurse critic
If you’re an RN, you are integral to the healthcare system. Your work is vital in home health, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, physician offices, and other crucial environments. RNs can sometimes be considered junior by those with more education, but they are primarily responsible for providing the skilled, experienced patient care that drives the satisfaction outcomes all are thankful for.
Your contributions as a nurse are important to recognize. Whether you’re a CNA or a nurse with a DNP, you need to feel your worth, verbalize your value, and recognize that you have something important to give as a member of a powerful profession.
Silencing your inner critic is essential to your professional identity. Your critic will try to prevent you from seeking another nursing degree. That critic will say, “You can’t get a master’s or DNP – you’re just a nurse.” This voice must be put in its place and silenced for the good of your self-confidence, self-esteem, and career development.
Own your importance
Nurses need to take ownership of their value and what they bring to the table. That ownership is like putting a stake in the ground and saying, “I am valuable.”
Pursuing an advanced nursing degree is one way to own your value – it makes a statement that you are worthy of spending the time and money to advance your skill set. This isn’t necessary to be a valuable nurse, but it is one definite way to increase your earning potential, professional standing, and marketability in a changing healthcare ecosystem.
Another way to take ownership of your nursing identity is to remove “just” from any description of your career. Saying that you are “just a nurse” demeans the hard work you’ve put in to become the nurse you are. Remove that four-letter word from your vocabulary and you’ll be better off.
Nurses of all stripes are the very mitochondria of the healthcare system, and we need to feel our importance deep in our bones. We carry patient care on our shoulders, contribute to decision-making, and engage in scientific inquiry that moves our profession forward.
Nurses are clinicians, researchers, and educators, and we are the most trusted professionals in the United States year after year. If we were “just” nurses, the public would not place such deep trust in us. We’ve earned that trust – now it’s your turn to internalize that trust and learn to value who you are, what you know, and the skill and expertise that you bring to the table.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, consultant, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at NurseKeith.com.
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