Are all nurses nice and doctors mean?

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The physician versus the advanced practice nurse…it’s mudslinging at its best these days. I’m reading a lot of bickering, backstabbing, finger pointing, blame placing and fear mongering between these two professional groups.

Are advanced practice nurses (APN) trying to replace physicians? Do APNs think they are equal to physicians?

An APN’s total amount of education and training is approximately 1/4 of a physician’s. If you’re kind enough to factor in the possible number of years of experience as a nurse, you could argue that number up to 1/2, but we’re talking advanced education and training, so years as a bedside nurse probably shouldn’t count.

Or should they?

I recently read an article by an anesthesiologist titled “Mean doctors and nice nurses: It’s time to change our brand.” The article’s introduction talked about how a patient thought her physician must have been a nurse prior to becoming a doctor simply because that physician was “nice.”


Why do patients find nurses “nice” and doctors “mean”? Do the sentiments in that article really mean that nurses market themselves better? Or is it something else?

Let’s be honest here: I have a bit of a biased opinion. I’m a nurse. I’m a nurse who will soon be filling the shoes of an advanced practice nurse. So, yeah, I’m a little biased (I thought I’d openly admit that to clear up any confusion).

Do I think nurses have a higher education or are “above” our physician partners in some way? No.

But I strongly believe that physicians doesn’t know everything, and they could learn a thing or two from our amazing culture of professionals. Here are five reasons we nurses are viewed as “nice” and the physician as “mean”:

We treat the whole person, not just the disease

Everyone loves to proclaim they are treating more than just the disease, but the truth is that nurses look at the entire patient. There is more to illness and the healing process than medications, external interventions and diagnoses. Emotional health and healing takes more than just a new prescription.

We know their name, not just their bed/room number

It’s Mr. or Mrs. Smith, not the lady in room 202. Not the diverticulosis by the door. We all can be overwhelmed with our patient load and patient census, but somehow nurses can figure out how to call a patient by their name.

We use proper personal communication etiquette

Nurses have this amazing ability to speak TO a person, not AT them. We speak with a person, not down at them. My advice? Grab a chair and converse with your patient at eye level. Standing while they lie in bed is just mean.

We make the time, even when we don’t have the time

Nurses are equally overwhelmed and overworked. Do you think we have acquired the Winnebago bladder by accident? We don’t have the time to sit with every one of our patients, either, but somehow we find those few extra minutes. Those 2-5 extra minutes mean the world to your patients.

We tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear

I’m not sure why, but nurses are perfectly OK with delivering the tough love that many non-compliant patients need. There is no doubt that we as nurses don’t have the hammer of a lawsuit hovering over us like our physician partners do, but we have to both figure out how to stop enabling those patients who need a good swift kick in the you-know-what.

I personally don’t believe that nurses are nice and doctors are mean. We nurses can’t shake the “doting handmaiden” stereotype, and doctors can’t seem to shake the overbearing mean patriarch image. I think we’re both ready for some change–how about you?

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