We asked Head Nurse Jo to give us the lowdown…and the highlights…of the people that you meet each day.
She advised us, “These are in no particular order.” So, draw whatever conclusions you wish! Without further ado, THE LIST.
Regardless of their specialty, these are the men and women who stride through the halls in professional dress (or, at the least, business casual). They look well rested and are generally fit and well nourished. After a few years’ experience, you’ll be able to differentiate psychiatry attendings (comfortable shoes, dangly necklaces) from orthopedic attendings (cowboy boots, bags of Cheetos in their pockets) from internal medicine attendings (silk ties, expensive heels). Please note that in teaching hospitals, these are the people with either no white coats at all or very long white coats, usually with frog closures rather than buttons.
These are the men and women who shamble through the halls, one step up from zombification. They look exhausted (and generally are) and as though they’ve been wearing the same scrubs for several days (and generally have been). After a few years’ experience, you’ll be able to differentiate neurosurgery residents (they get the in-jokes about Starfleet Academy) from urology residents (who have the grossest stories) and dermatology residents (the only rested ones in the bunch). Please note that in teaching hospitals, these are the people with mid-length white coats. The length of time each person has spent in residency can be determined by the following formula: The amount of stuff in the lab coat pockets is inversely proportional to the year rank of the person wearing the lab coat.
If she’s freshly scrubbed, extremely polite, not yet cynical, eager to see patients and thorough with her exams, she’s a medical student. Some still wear the so-called “short coat” (which looks like a white twill blazer), while others go undercover in business-casual wear. If a medical student is coatless, you can tell him from a physician by his age alone.
Nursing is still a female-dominated field—but if you see a woman in a hospital, don’t automatically assume that she’s a nurse. Only assume she’s a nurse if she has a no-nonsense expression, is walking fast and looking like she’d kill for a cup of tea, and says things once while expecting you to understand them. Some nurses wear scrubs and some wear civvies—but we all wear that facial expression. It’s impossible to describe, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll know it, even at the grocery store or in line at the bank.
See Medical Students, above, but subtract the business-casual clothing and add scrubs with a school patch on the shoulder. If he’s in civilian clothing, the easy way to tell a nursing student is by the hunched shoulder (from carrying a backpack full of patho books), the distracted expression (from running acid-base equations in his mind) and the stains down the front of his shirt (from trying to eat while doing six other things).
Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapies
I’m lumping physical, speech and occupational therapy all into one big group here. For those of you who don’t know the difference, physical works with legs and backs, occupational with hands and arms, and speech with speech, swallowing and higher cognitive functions. These are the people to see if you have questions about whether something is safe, be it walking a patient or letting them eat on their own. These are also the people to watch when it comes to moving patients or assisting folks with everything from walking to speaking. Move like a physical therapist and you will never hurt your back.
What’s the biggest difference between a respiratory therapist and a nurse? Nurses hate mucus and RTs can’t stand vomit.
Respiratory therapists are identifiable by the O2 saturation monitors dangling from strings around their necks and their really, really nice stethoscopes. They also tend to have the best coffee in the hospital, so if somebody looks relatively awake at the beginning of the shift, it’s most likely an RT or someone with access to their caffeine. They, like nurses and the therapies, wear scrubs. Unlike nursing and the therapies, their eyes do not bug out when confronted with a malfunctioning ventilator.
Generally, these are the best dressers in the entire hospital system. They’re also the people with the most overloaded clipboards and the deepest, broadest knowledge of differing insurance plans. One shoulder is higher than the other (from cradling the telephone receiver between ear and shoulder) and the right index finger is usually hyperdeveloped (from dialing the telephone).
Perhaps the most important, least visible group in the hospital, these are the people (usually in scrubs but sometimes in ill-designed uniforms) who keep the place clean and running smoothly and the building from falling down.
I cannot stress this enough: If you work in a hospital, get to know the people who change the lightbulbs, scrub the floors and fix the broken monitors. Nine out of 10 things that go wrong in a hospital are environment-related, and knowing who to call can make a huge difference in how well your day goes. Also, please remember to say please and thank you to the invisible, overworked, underpaid people who clean up after you and fix things you’ve broken. Without them, nobody else could do anything.
This encompasses everything from the lunch-line ladies who grill your burger to the registered dietitians who wield the magical calculators and figure out how fast to run your patient’s tube feeding. This is, again, a hugely valuable and mostly invisible service. If your patient doesn’t eat, he or she won’t heal. If a patient eats the wrong things in the wrong amounts, very bad things can happen. And again, it’s worth your while to learn who it is that’s writing diet modification suggestions in the chart. Eventually you’ll have a question about PKU or galactosemia or whether you can get extra green beans on a diabetic tray; it’s good to know who to ask.
Remember the people in the hospital gowns and sweats? The folks who walk the halls with varying degrees of speed and with varying levels of assistance? The ones in the bed and on the OR tables?
Some of them are marvelous people; some of them are complete jerks. Just being sick does not make a person a saint. Some of them we’ll all remember for years after they leave; others we’ll forget as soon as we punch out tonight. Some are challenging in less pleasant ways than others. They’re all ages, from newborn to over 100; they’re all colors and both sexes.
They’re each a person, an individual, who somebody loves or has loved. They’re all capable of hurting and being scared. They’re all able to heal, at least to some degree. And they’re all, separately and together, the reason the rest of us on this list show up to work.