Just a nurse.. this phrase can certainly stir up a lot of feelings! For me though, they are not always bad.
In the hospital system where I am currently employed, nurses are empowered to get things started for patients. There are standing protocols approved by our ED physicians that allow us to preorder treatment we know a patient will need based on their chief complaint and presenting symptoms – which ultimately expedites their care. For example, a patient with chest pain will (obviously) get an EKG ASAP – but our protocol also allows us to give aspirin, draw labs, and sent the patient for a chest xray all before an ER provider lays eyes on them. This is especially helpful when the providers are backed up or we have a long wait – a patient may be ready for admission when the physician is first evaluating them! I am a huge fan of our standing protocols, because it makes me feel like I am actually doing something for the patient instead of just waiting for orders. Sure, other treatments and diagnostics will be added after the provider’s evaluation, but getting what I can started helps everyone in the big picture.
Sometimes however, being just a nurse can be discouraging. One instance of this for me is when patients are difficult or truly need more than nurses can “preorder.” The best example of this is pain medication. When a patient is truly writhing in pain, of course I will be an advocate and try to get a provider in to see the patient quickly (and start their IV so they are ready for meds!). However I must admit, sometimes I use the phrase “just a nurse” as a cop out. My go to phrase lately has been, “I’m sorry – I am just a nurse and that is out of my scope of practice” or “I am not licensed to order medications.” Sure, sometimes this makes me feel helpless – but other times I am thankful that I do not have to battle the patient over what or how many pain medications they will be receiving during their ER visit.
Other times, I stop and think of all the amazing things we DO do as nurses. We hold patient’s hand as they are taking their last breaths, get that amazing 24g IV in a finger vein, distract children when they are sick or scary procedures are going on… we are badass! According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year (2017) there were over 2.9 MILLION registered nurses employed in the USA. And nurses have been be ranked the #1 most trusted profession for 16 years in a row – that is pretty incredible. We are not just nurses – we are comforters, caregivers, educators, problem solvers and we take on so many other roles.
I am just a nurse – and damn proud of it!