“Am I Still A Nurse?”
When nurses move from the bedside to another aspect of nursing–like informatics, management, or another type of nursing removed from “hands-on” care–some will ask the understandable question: “Am I still a nurse?”
The Expansion of Nursing
Nurses who work away from direct patient care can sometimes feel like they’re no longer nurses. They can also be treated differently by other nurses, as well. Statements like, “Oh, you work in IT? Is that really nursing?” or “I don’t think nurse managers know what we real nurses go through” can be very demoralizing and call a nurse’s own identity and professional self worth into question.
However, nursing has expanded over the decades, and most of us now understand that a nurse can fulfill myriad responsibilities and job descriptions even if she or he is not putting their hands directly on patients.
Back in the day, the nurse was simply a handmaiden to the physician–silent, non-professional and supportive in a subservient way. Now, nurses are empowered to work autonomously, backed up by decades of nursing research, science and professional development. Nurses bring art, science and a vast breadth and depth of knowledge to the table, whether they be clinicians, academicians or administrators.
It’s All Important
If a nurse transitions from bedside nursing to Informatics, for instance, he or she is assuming a very important position vis-a-vis patient care. Nurse informatacists monitor, plan, design, assess and evaluate the use of many technological tools upon which nurses and other health care professionals have become increasingly dependent in order to accomplish the crucial tasks that make up our day. Imagine if only non-nurses were involved in the design and assessment of bedside laptops, point of care devices, and other new technologies? Nurses are an important part of the informatics team, and we depend on them to help the designers and programmers to get it right!
In terms of nurse managers and administrators, I would assume that most nurses want their managers and supervisors to be nurses, and those administrative positions are often so busy that they preclude the ability of the nurse manager to keep up bedside work as well.
Other nurses also leave the bedside to assume important positions crucial to our profession and to the delivery of quality patient care, and they deserve our respect as much as other direct care nurses do.
Identity and Nursing
We nurses often identify strongly with our careers, and the fact of being a nurse can be central to our self worth (not to mention our worth in the eyes of others). That identity serves us in many ways, and when that identity is called into question, it can be a difficult moment in one’s career.
Difficulties and identity crises notwithstanding, it’s crucial for a nurse who works in a non-clinical position to internalize the belief that his or her contributions still matter, and that the identity of a nurse comes from the inside, not the outside. A nurse is a nurse if he or she believes in the truth of that notion.
Still A Nurse
Yes, a nurse who does non-clinical work is indeed still a nurse, and it’s up to him or her to self-define within the career changes that occur over time.
That said, having a grounding in clinical, hands-on care is important, and a non-clinical nurse who has considerable past clinical experience can engender more respect and trust from others who understandably want their non-clinical nursing colleagues to at least have walked in their shoes in a significant way at some point during their careers.
Yes, we are all nurses, and it takes all kinds to make up this growing and differentiating profession. Before you judge a non-clinical nurse as being less than a real nurse, assume the best and understand that most nurses come to those positions from varied and interesting nursing careers, and their current contributions to patient care and the nursing profession are significant and important.
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