My first true realization that people have no idea what nurses do came at a bar in Dallas. I was on a travel assignment in that city and went with a group of travel nurses out for a drink. One of the nurses in the group had chosen a travel assignment in Dallas because her boyfriend lived there; the boyfriend met us at the bar with some of his friends. When he introduced us he said something to the effect that we were all nurses and then asked his friends if they knew anything about nursing. “You can’t believe it,” he said incredulously, “they really work hard. You’d think they only hand out pills and give people bedpans, but they really have to know a lot. They even have to tell doctors what to do sometimes!” He said this with great enthusiasm and awe. It was obvious that he was proud of himself for having figured this out.
I don’t remember much else about that evening out. Oh, except for the fact that my roommate wore a corduroy skirt and a plaid sweater, and when she walked up to the bar, before she could order her white zinfandel, the bartender said “you must be the designated driver.”
Do people have any idea what nurses really do? I don’t think so. Even the patients we are taking care of only see what we physically do for them, they don’t see the “behind-the-scenes” work of constant communication with other members of the health care team, evaluating each medication, coordinating tests and procedures, or the critical thinking behind each step we take. Patients and families sometimes make comments about how busy we are and how hard we are working, but they most likely have no idea of what this work truly entails.
There are many nursing theorists who have described the work of nursing, but I have trouble understanding them so I don’t think it would be wise to share these theories with the public; I doubt it would lead to a better picture of what nurses do. Nursing is, I believe, an unexplainable phenomenon that is understood only by nurses doing nursing work.