6 things I wish people understood about nursing


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Nursing gets either a really good or a really bad rap, depending on whether you’re looking at Facebook memes or daytime talk shows. What nursing usually doesn’t get in the public eye is an understanding of what’s involved in the day-to-day work of being a nurse. Here’s what I wish people understood about nursing.

1. Just because I’m a nurse doesn’t mean I can give you your last hepatitis shot or get you antibiotics more cheaply, or give you meaningful medical advice. The first requires a doctor’s order. The second is just silly—what, am I on good terms with your pharmacist? The third is a breach of both my professional and ethical scopes. At most, I might recommend a good stool softener; I can’t go further than that.

2. I really and truly am a scientist. I’m, like, trained and stuff. Our practice is evidence-based—that goes back as far as ol’ Flossie Nightingale—and has a basis in rational science. I’m not a doctor’s handmaiden or helpmeet; I am, in fact, the doctor’s equal in a different field. She doesn’t know nursing and I don’t know medicine, so we work together as colleagues. We are interlocking gears in the machine that is Getting You Out of the Hospital Better Than When You Came In.

3. All you folks who see nurses “sitting on their rears” at work are only seeing part of the picture. Yes, we sit some, because we have to chart. And by “have to,” I mean “we will lose our jobs if our charting isn’t up to the ridiculously high standard we’re being held to by people who haven’t touched a patient in 20 years.” What you don’t see is the hours we spend in rooms, or running around trying to get supplies or fix something, or the time we spend interacting with doctors in order to get you the best care we can.

4. With the experience and perspective I’ve gained from 30-plus years in the working world in a variety of different fields, I can say that nursing management is by far the most deserving of the term “Manglement.” Nowhere else have I encountered such silly kowtowing to the ever-changing whims of a regulatory body that gets its authority through charging exorbitant fees for publicity. Nowhere else have I seen people who haven’t done the job in years—if ever—get promoted to positions of power. Nowhere else, except maybe in regional summer-stock theater, have I seen more drama queens bully their way to whatever they want. Things work in the hospital despite nursing management, not because of it.

5. The nurse you see at 5PM is the same nurse who’s been on shift since 6 or 7 that morning, probably for several days in a row. He or she has to maintain the same level of caution, critical thought, patience, and physical or mental strength for 12 hours at a stretch, for two or three days in a row, so nobody gets hurt. That’s what our jobs come down to: We sacrifice meal breaks and hold our bladders so that you and your family members are safe.

6. I love my job. I’m so happy I found this career; I feel like a fish in water, like I really belong in the hospital. That said, things still haunt me. I may not remember every name or face, but my patients become a part of me. Some memories are good, some bad. I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.

Agatha Lellis
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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