In Gallup polls from 1999 to 2013, the general public gave nursing the highest rating for honesty and ethical behavior than any other profession. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx#1) Despite these positive findings, television programs frequently portray nursing in a negative light or fail to show the valuable contributions of nurses. No wonder nursing is still a poorly understood profession. Without a positive role model in the media, the nursing team must dispel the unrealistic stereotypes and myths surrounding nursing.
Myth One: The word nurse can be used interchangeably for all members of the nursing team.
Truth: the word nurse refers to registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Nursing assistants (NAs) work with RNs and LPNs, but are not nurses. Each nursing team member requires a different educational preparation and performs diverse roles. Nursing assistants include certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and home health aides (HHAs.) Certified nursing assistants require at least 75 hours of classes and must pass a competency exam. To remain certified, CNAs need 12 hours of continuing education every year. Licensed practical nurses complete a one year program. Registered nurses choose a two-, three- or four-year program of study. Licensed practical nurses and RNs must pass an exam by the State Board of Nursing to become licensed to practice. Registered nurses who graduate with a four-year bachelor’s degree can pursue further education to earn a master’s or doctorate in nursing. Registered nurses may become nurse administrators, educators, researchers, or advanced practice nurses such as clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioner, nurse midwives or nurse anesthesiologists. The American Nurses’ Association grants qualified RNs national certification in cardiology, public health, gerontology, informatics, psychiatry, pediatrics, oncology, diabetes education administration and medical/surgical nursing.
Myth Two: Physicians supervise nurses.
Truth: Registered nurses supervise the nursing team. The top administrator of the nursing department of a facility is a RN called the director of nursing. The director of nursing is responsible for all nursing units 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The nurse managers who are also RNs supervise the nursing staff on a unit. A charge RN or LPN directs the LPNs and NAs at the bedside.
Myth three: Registered nurses are totally dependent on physicians.
Truth: Registered nurses independently diagnose and treat human responses to actual or potential health problems. They lead LPNs and NAs in a problem-solving method called the nursing process. The nursing process consists of five steps: assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation. Licensed practical nurses are responsible for making observations on patients’ health conditions to discuss with RNs. They look for needs or problems in the areas of oxygenation, nutrition, elimination, exercise and rest, safety and comfort, and psychosocial function. Registered nurses also collect this information and then analyze it to make nursing diagnoses. With input from the LPNs and NAs, RNs write nursing care plans with nursing interventions and goals for each patient. The entire nursing team is responsible for implementing and evaluating the nursing care plan.
Myth Four: Nursing is part of the medical profession.
Truth: Medicine and nursing are separate professions who work collaboratively to provide the highest quality health care. Physicians diagnose and treat medical problems. Registered nurses diagnose and treat nursing problems. Nursing can be defined as the use of clinical knowledge and judgment to help people to improve, maintain, or recover health and to cope with disease, disability and death to achieve the best possible quality of life. Nursing respects the dignity, autonomy and uniqueness of human beings and focuses on the whole person rather than on just the person’s disease or disability. Nursing involves developing trusting relationships with patients to uncover their physical and emotional needs and then finding creative ways to meet those needs. Nursing establishes partnerships with individuals and families to work together to increase their well being in all areas of their life. Members of the nursing ream act as caregivers, care coordinators, counselors, teachers, consultants, advocates and change agents.
The nursing team needs to continue to educate the public about how nursing professionals save lives and maintain the health of millions of Americans every day. But anyone can learn about the challenges facing nurse and nursing today by reading Suzanne Gordon’s book, Nursing Against the Odds, or by visiting The Truth About Nursing’s website, www.truthaboutnursing.org. Thank the RNs, LPNs and NAs you know for their skill and expertise that make nursing professionals indispensable to the health care system.