The nursing “trade”

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Yep, you read that right. The nursing trade. I recently read an article that posed the question : Is nursing considered a career or a trade? So, you know me. Let’s ‘Google’ some terms.


  • an occupation that requires some particular kind of skilled work.(Wikipedia)


  • an individual’s “course or progress through life (or a distinct portion of life)”. It is usually considered to pertain to remunerative work (and sometimes also formal education).(Wikipedia)

If we look at the terms ‘literally’, the only difference I see between the two seems to be Wikipedia’s side note of having formal education (which we as nurses of course possess). Our formal education is arguably the ‘weakness’ of this debate. Depending on what your job ‘title’ or nursing occupation is, will determine the length and just how ‘formal’ your education is.

I don’t mean to offend anyone or degrade anyone’s education, knowledge, or skill but there is of course major differences between an LPN, (bachelor’s prepared) RN, advanced practice nurses (CRNA, CRNP, etc.), and DNP’s. Each of those positions and ‘occupations’ are directly correlated to a higher education.

The irony of it all, is I just had this conversation with some fellow nurses on Twitter this past weekend. There was a brief conversation about continuing education, history of nursing, differences in state practices and other notable concerns.

There seems to be 2 ‘schools’ (yes, pun intended) of thought in regards to higher education (and continuing education) for nurses. You are either for or against it. There is no gray area. You have supporters of advancing the nursing profession, and those who believe things are fine the way they are.

I myself am a huge promoter of higher education and continuing education (of course, I already posted a blog about this earlier). What I want to know is how can we separate ourselves from being referred to as a ‘trade’?

I don’t know about you (once again I apologize if I offend anyone), but I am not just a ‘skilled craftsman’, nor am I simply a ‘skilled laborer’. I am an educated professional that actively contributes to my patient’s care through the application of critical thinking, heightened awareness, and a complex knowledge base (just to name a few). I not only possess these traits and others, but due to the environment I work in, I am continually challenged to question, reevaluate and re-think how things are done so that I can enhance and improve the care I deliver to the ever-changing population of patients I care for.

Does this sound like a ‘trade’ to you??

I look forward to your thoughts on THIS one!

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13 Responses to The nursing “trade”

  1. ada

    i also consider myself a professional. nurses interact in a unique and special way with people in their most difficult times. patients share with me things or thoughts that they may not share with anyone else.

  2. Sean, I haven’t ever heard anyone consider nursing a “trade”. We don’t really use that term much in the south.

    Whether it’s true or not, it seems to have union connotations-and we don’t have many unions here.

    As to education. I think everyone should be encouraged to continue to learn in whatever capacity they choose to work.

    If you aren’t continuing your education-you are out-dated quickly in health care.

    As to the debate about Associates in Nursing-I will leave that to you guys to fight over. It would be a lose/lose for me to attempt to weigh in…..:)

  3. Jennifer

    I believe nursing, for most people anyway, is a career. I have chosen this profession as my life’s work. Of course, it requires skilled work, but it also requires more than trade school. Unless of course you are an LPN, no offense, LPNs are valuable also. You can tell the difference in nurses who believe it is their life’s work and those who believe it is a job and are in it because “it’s good money”. I think nursing school also weeds out a lot of those. As my Advanced Med/Surg textbook said, there are competent nurses and expert nurses. The competent nurse might focus on the basic and routine needs of the patient, whereas an expert nurse is able to anticipate patient/family changes and needs, varying his/her caring approach to meet their needs.

  4. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ ada I could not agree more.

    @ Dr. Dean I never thought of the ‘union’ presence in all of this. A very good point doc! Thanks. Yes, the ADN, BSN, etc debate will continue.

    @ Jennifer You hit the nail on the head with the difference between a competent and expert nurse. Well said.

  5. I don’t think nursing is a trade because I feel that people who have trades make things. I think that nursing is a calling. Nurses are professional caregivers on many levels, including diagnostically, and we are trained to detect the nuances of health changes.

  6. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ NP No argument from me. I couldn’t agree more.

  7. lizzy

    Exactly right, Sean. We are educated professionals. What i really object to at the moment (I know it sounds petty) it when people refer to nurses’ education as “training”. I’m pretty sure no one else spends 3 years at university to be “trained”, we go there to be educated and to learn. In my opinion, the training goes with the trades, and maybe with Certificate/Diploma qualified nurses.

  8. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ lizzy Yes, you are correct. Sometimes (more often than we like to admit) it has everything to do with the nomenclature. Unfortunately we do have extensive education, but we also have a lot of training (hands on techniques, etc). As always thanks for your input!

  9. Michelle Harris

    Sean, separating the “trade,” to nursing was a very easy option for England. All RNs are required to have a bachelor degree by 2013 in order to continue to work in the industry. However, higher education is free in that country as like most European countries. As other countries move forward to make nursing into a profession that is respected, the US continues to dally in the past. As you probably already know, most other countries require RNs to have bachelors degree.

    I can understand the concept of being looked at as just a trade worker-every day, I run across the RN who states, “oh you’re just an LVN.” Our own RNs look down at us, so why wouldn’t other professions do the same to RNs? Its a vicious circle. Personally (and this is only my belief-and no offense to those of you out there who don’t hold degrees like me), I believe that the LVN/LPN/RN (and yes, I’m talking about my own job title) option should be completely eliminated from the educational realm eventually, and offer only RN-BSN and up option. You can’t be a doctor without a doctorate degree or a teacher, psychologist, social worker, business administrator without a bachelor’s degree-so why would nursing be so special?-because we are still living in the 70s and we don’t like change? and yet we as nurses are demanding respect for our experience in the field. Change is happening globally, we must learn to adapt, even if we are comfortable in our own shoes or be left behind.

    And yes, I’ve heard the argument about-“well, degree nurses don’t have the experience or she doesn’t know what she’s doing as a nurse-blah, blah, blah.” Well, that may be true of some nurses, but not every degree nurse fits that shoe. It’s just like saying not every doctor knows what he/she’s is doing… Personally, I’ve met some degree nurses where I would have them at my bedside. Michelle LVN-RN BSN Student (graduation date 2011).

  10. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Michelle Thanks for your input, a lot to think about. Coming from a ‘diploma’ RN who now is a ‘degree’ RN, there is a lot to be said about attaining your BSN. Unfortunately I don’t think I’d ever say it makes you a ‘better’ nurse’. It does make you more equipped and of course more knowledgeable, with an emphasis on overall effectiveness as a nurse.
    I think mandating the degree is a great thing, it just has so many obstacles to get past right now with the state of the health care system and of course the growing nursing shortage.
    Many great points to think about! Thanks again!

  11. steph

    I think part of the reason that nursing is referred to as a trade is because there are three avenues to being a registered nurse. In most professions there are clear channels and educationals levels that must be reached in order to obtain the credentials needed to be considered a member of that profession. However, with nursing you can obtain a diplomia, which is like an apprenticeship program, an associates degree or, or a bachelors degree. I know this an old debate, but until we do away with the diplomia and associate degree programs for registered nurses, we are going to be considered a trade, not a profession. To be considered a professional, and to have a professional career, usually a bachelors degree is required, it should be the same for nurses.

  12. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ steph I think you hit the nail on the head. We have no unity with our education, no consistency with our basic entrance into the profession – therefore it leads to confusion and misinterpretation.

  13. Tiana Gumpert

    I never thought nursing was a trade, I always thought it was a considered a career because of the amount of knowledge you have to have. Especially if you want to advance in higher positions.

    I am not a nurse, but I want to be but I just moved somewhere where all the community colleges have waiting lists for nursing, and I don’t like institutes because they over charge you and you don’t get the education you need.