Lightly seasoned or highly spiced? A nurse-watcher’s guide


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How can you tell a newbie nurse from a seasoned professional? Appearances can be similar, and feeding ranges tend to overlap. Nursing theorists divide nurses into categories from novice to expert, but these theorists overlook such identifying characteristics as plumage, calls and agonal displays. Here’s a nurse-watcher’s field guide—get your binoculars!


Type 1 – Newbie Nurse:
Plumage is bright and unwrinkled. Look for telltale signs of recently purchased scrubs, such as packing creases and ironing marks. Stethoscopes are clean and labeled. Flight tends to be fast, yet wavering, with much swooping and doubling back for things forgotten in the utility room. Call is a brisk, piping “Can I help you? Can I help you?” Agonal display is rare, but involves the slapping of the hand against the forehead, usually on the way home from work. Feeding times and migratory patterns are not well established for this stage.

Type 2 – Cheerful Competent:
The Cheerful Competent is, physically, little different from the Newbie. Plumage may be slightly duller, while pockets have begun to sprout loose threads and stretch marks. Flight, while still disorganized, is straighter and more direct. Call is lower-pitched, a lingering “Lift help lift help lift help too-woo.” Migratory routes are well established, with coffee machines visited three to four times a day. Agonal display is the rubbing of feet, but this is rarely done where even the most dedicated observer can see.

Type 3 – Midcareer Muddle:
Midcareer Muddles have reached the stage in the nursing life cycle when nesting and feeding patterns may change radically. Plumage color can switch among various shades of blue or tan without warning. Dark marks appear on the face, below a slightly duller eye. Flight is straight and soaring, with an in-flight call of “WhatdidIdooooo WhatdidIdooo.” Midcareer Muddles often congregate at local watering holes in the company of other Muddles.

Type 4 – Exhausted Expert:
The end stage of the life cycle of the nurse can be quite drawn out, with little difference apparent between light and dark morphs. Dark marks under the eye become more pronounced, plumage is in varying shades of the dominant color, and crests and mating display become much more subdued. The Expert is difficult to spot outside of captivity, as plumage may be shed at any time for something more comfortable and less hospital-smelling. Migratory patterns are regular, as are feeding patterns. The observer is warned that severe injuries have been reported to nurse-watchers in the field who have inadvertently stepped between an Expert and a source of food or a bathroom. Call, at rest, is an upward-inflected “What the heck what the heck what the heck.” The prudent nurse-watcher is reminded to use caution in observing this species. Behavior can be unpredictable, especially at the end of a shift. Remain concealed, and carry granola bars in case of the need for a quick getaway.

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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