Nursing can be such an invisible career. In the hubbub of a medical emergency or the bland routine of preventive visits, patients and the rest of the medical personnel sometimes don't "see" the nurses working to provide timely and high-quality care. Oh, if they only knew.
Nurses have complex, demanding and sometimes even controversial job duties and work environments. And there are so many surprising aspects of the career. (Some of them surprise the nurses themselves because they're so caught up in delivering care, they don't have time to find out about all the cool nursing stuff that goes on.)
Would anyone understand if nurses did share the untold story of their work? Let's find out.
Here are seven myth busters and amazing facts about the profession, as revealed by studies and nurses themselves. See anyone you know?
1. Nurses are not evil.
It has to be said. Nurses are not intentionally causing pain. Registered nurse John Mayer sees so many patients who believe he is hurting them on purpose. "I'd like to assure patients that I'm following the doctor's orders and derive not even a soupçon of sadistic pleasure whatsoever from giving them injections, waking them, putting drops in their eyes, squeezing their lower extremities into compression stockings or troubling them with annoying trivia about the effects of sweets on their diabetes," said Mayer, who works at the medium-sized non-profit Serene Manor Medical Center in East Tennessee.
2. Nurses have a Code.
Ordinary people don't have to know how they would react when faced with, say, Ebola, abusive caregivers or the issue of individual dignity and autonomy that surround end-of-life morality. But nurses have The Code, which The American Nurses Association refers to as "the social contract that nurses have with the U.S. public." It's a quick summation of the "ethical values, obligations, and duties of every individual who enters the nursing profession." And it leaves little to chance, with the code providing the go-to stance on issues from biodefense to human trafficking to ethical climate and safety.
3. If you're a nurse, you belong.
The people who work as RNs and LPNs are a diverse group. For example, 9.9% of nurses self-identify as black or African American, according to Minority Nurse, while 8.3% are Asian, 4.8& Hispanic or Latino and 0.4% are Native Americans. And while men are in the minority, they make up 9.1% of the RN pool, and 7.6% of LPNs. But that diverse base doesn't mean patients and fellow medical professionals don't shun male nurses on occasion. "As a male nurse, another misconception that peeves me just a bit is a widespread assumption that I am, somehow, out of place," Mayer added. "I encountered this early on in nursing school when I began to realize that some––not all––of my female instructors resented me."
At the same time, Mayer would like people to know that men can be nurturing as nurses, even though "in our culture men are generally expected to be gruff and two-fisted (even when decent enough way down deep)."
4. Nurses have a higher incidence of breast cancer.
Not all nursing work involves higher cancer risk, but postmenopausal women who worked 30-plus years on rotating night shifts had "significantly elevated" risk of breast cancer, according to a 2003 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The theory behind this rests on melatonin production. The body ordinarily triggers melatonin secretion at night, when these nurses are at work. "Exposure to light at night suppresses the physiologic production of melatonin, a hormone that has antiproliferative effects on intestinal cancers," the study said.
5. We are family.
Nurses can be surly, cranky and downright bossy. But nurse practitioner Amanda Kelley Moorhouse would like everyone to know that nurses have your back. "For me, as a nurse and now as a practitioner, our patients become family," said Moorhouse, a 20-year nursing veteran who has worked as a nurse practitioner in a leading hospital in East Tennessee for the past 10 years. "There are some that you can just relate to and develop a close relationship with. We are very protective of our patients."
6. Nurses don't get enough sleep.
Americans are a sleep-deprived bunch, and nurses aren't immune the way you might think they'd be. According to Medscape, "nurses regularly shortchange themselves on sleep, getting by on an average of 6.8 hours of sleep on their work days instead of the commonly recommended 8 hours per 24-hour period. Ongoing sleep deprivation of as little as an hour a day can lead to a sleep debt over time that is not easily erased."
Certified family nurse practitioner Maritess Thomas-Ford can attest to this from personal experience. She's worked in the nursing field for more than 30 years, most recently at the Hampton, Georgia Eagles Landing Family Practice. While she sees a lot of insomnia and sleep apnea at her practice, she noted that she and the nurses she knows don't always do any better with their own sleep hygiene.
"These days I get more like six hours of sleep each night, but In my 20s I had two jobs and only slept 2-3 hours and got back to work the next day," she recalled. "When you're older, that can catch up with you."
7. But they will deal with it.
Thomas-Ford said the lack of sleep is like so many parts of nursing that the public may not be aware of: It's less than ideal, but nurses tend to be solution-oriented. "Life can not always be perfect," she added. "Our bodies, our minds are awesome and always find a way to adapt in bad situations. When you're a nurse, you will find a way to make it work."
The Federation of Male Nurses Facebook page ran a meme that said the same thing a bit more humorously. Below the photo of a cute, exhausted kid hugging a cat the caption read: "My brain on night shift: I am so tired. But if you try to die, I will save you in a hot second."
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