The No. 1 key to success as a nurse

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There is a lot of advice out there about how you should enter, develop and progress in nursing.

Do you get your feet wet by simply gaining some “field” experience before transferring to a specialty like Emergency, Critical Care, or the Operating Room?

What about pursuing an advanced degree? What are the qualities you should acquire and maintain to stay sharp? How do you avoid burnout? Where is the best place to work? What about workplace bullying? Nurses eat their young, right?

The list is long and the questions are never-ending  And, quite honestly, there is never a simple answer, or a single correct answer.

Over the years, I think I’ve finally figured it out: I found that “one thing” that matters. I found that “one thing” that can ensure you don’t get bogged down with the rhetoric and negativity. What is it?


Being honest is the key to success in this profession. And I’m talking global honesty across every facet of your job.

Be honest with your patients

  • If you don’t know something, admit it. It’s okay to share stories with them. It’s okay to be human. It’s nurses’ genuine nature that keeps patients voting us the most trusted profession every year.

Be honest with your coworkers

  • Don’t pull a fast one on the very people you’ll be relying on to pull you through that hellish shift. But don’t be a pushover. Be honest. Be genuine. You may be a little more vulnerable, but the reward you get always outweighs the risk.

Be honest with management

  • This goes hand-in-hand with coworker honesty. Take care of those who will take care of you. Even if it’s the worst boss in the world, hate and evil just beget more hate and evil. I truly believe that honesty always wins out.

Be honest with your physician partners

  • Respect has to be earned, not just expected. I have learned over the years to be honest about your skills, your knowledge and your performance with your physician partners–they will respect your honesty more than any lie you can tell. Don’t try to fool the very professionals who are your biggest supporters.

Be honest with yourself

  • Not happy with your job? Change it. Not happy with your position? Change it. Don’t let anyone convince you that your situation is not in your control. We work in the greatest profession I know. You have an unlimited number of opportunities–you just have to be enough of a forward-thinker to go find them.

Be honest. Now, remember, I never said being honest was easy. Just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t mean it’s popular. Be honest, but be strong. You will find that being honest is tough, so hang in there and don’t succumb to the pressure of dishonesty.

Do you agree?


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5 Responses to The No. 1 key to success as a nurse

  1. Granny RN

    Perhaps it is because of the area where I have lived and practiced for the past 30+ years, or perhaps because I have been ‘burned’ more times than I care to recall but, I have to disagree to some extent with the ‘open and honest’ philosophy-especially where Management is concerned.
    The last time I worked Acute Critical Care was in a large urban Catholic hospital which was no longer run by the Nuns but by Business people. What I witnessed with others (and what eventually happened with me) was an ‘under the radar’ system of getting rid of the older, experienced RNs. I watched managers who were alcoholics drinking at work and people who were just outright MEAN come up with ‘reasons’ to fire nurses who had been giving excellent, expert level care for years. People who had CCRN certifications, who taught classes, who were always Learning and Teaching. Nurses who had excellent rapport with the physicians and who had developed cohesive relationships with other disciplines and departments. Nurses who knew that Time is Tissue and who would take the initiative to do what was needed until the Neurosurgeon could get there-and the docs all appreciated and respected their actions and assessments. In other words: The BEST of the Best.
    One MD summed it up well: those who were in Management were jealous of such nurses and perceived them as a ‘threat’ that had to be removed. Also, it has been our observation that Women in high positions in organizations can be very aggressive, even vicious, toward other Women in the same organization. This has been observed in ALL industries from Aerospace to Zoology
    So, to paraphrase a famous quotation: ‘Verify BEFORE you Trust!.’

  2. Pbish

    Honesty with management=getting fired in my experience.

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  4. beebell2

    Another 30+ year veteran here – med surg. Since I am past retirement age & don’t need this job, I say what I think. I don’t get invited to any mgmt meetings. I don’t care. I get respect for the most part. I only work 1 shift a week overnight in charge. But you keep certain things to yourself, watch & learn & remember. You can learn a lot that way.

  5. jennyjean

    kindness, so many nurses forget that all patients need to be treated with respect and kindness