14 unbelievable Things You Didn’t Know About Nurses
Ability to lift patients twice their size. Bladders of steel to survive beyond-busy shifts. Laser-beam focus to juggle multiple patients. Lightning-quick response to emergencies and unexpected contingencies. Future vision to foresee patients’ needs after discharge.
Nurses possess all these powers and more. They’re nurturing and caring, of course – but now check out some lesser-known facts about nurses.
1. Nurses speak up.
Advocating for patients is a core value for nurses. If doctors’ orders don’t seem right, nurses question them. If nurses realize patients are being discharged too soon, they speak up. As nurses spend the most time with hospital patients, by far, their word carries weight. “The nurses have the video camera; the doctors have the snapshot,” says Jill Arzouman, president of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses.
With hospital stays shrinking and patients sent home sicker, Arzouman says, nurses are thinking about your discharge from the moment you’re admitted and coordinating with other providers to ensure you’ll have resources when you get home.
2. Nurses provide care to all.
The “unlovely and unlovable” are entitled to care, even if – especially if – they’re incarcerated, says correctional nurse Lorry Schoenly. Since 1976, the Supreme Court has deemed that prisoners have a constitutional right to health care, and nurses like Schoenly make sure they get it. “It’s safer to work as a nurse in a prison than a nurse in an emergency room,” she says. “The bad guys wear color-coded clothes.” Correctional nurses practice autonomously, dealing with health issues from metal-shop eye injuries to diabetes management. Patients are appreciative, Schoenly says: “Many of them are so happy to get services behind bars.”
3. More men are choosing nursing.
Men make up nearly 10 percent of today’s RN workforce – triple the rate from 1970. Patients and co-workers benefit with men on staff. A male patient might prefer having a male clinician perform certain procedures, for instance. And when it comes to lifting heavier patients, a strong colleague can come in handy. Today’s society is starting to value nursing more.
4. Travel nurses hit the ground running.
Tracia Hayes, a travel nurse with travel nursing company Medical Solutions, adapts quickly. Currently based in Ventura, California, and working in labor and delivery, she does short-term stints with short-staffed hospitals. Whereas a permanent nurse hire may receive several weeks of hospital orientation, Hayes says, that’s not the case for travel nurses: “Most people don’t know we have four or five days of orientation to function independently,” she says. Hayes enjoys the challenge, though, and the overall variety nursing offers, whether it’s working in the hospital or community, traveling to new places or teaching upcoming students.
5. Home is where the nurse is.
Home care management helps fill a growing void: older parents in their 80s who want to stay at home – but their children live far away. Nurses accompany seniors to doctor office visits, keep their medications straight and coordinate local services – to help them live independently and safely.
6. Nurses look different these days.
The face of the nursing profession is changing representing men and women, people of all races and ethnicities and a wider age span: Nurses are working well beyond their 50s – some are still working in their late 70s.
7. Hospitals can be hazardous.
Nurses are on the front lines of patient care. They see patients with highly infectious conditions before they’re placed in isolation. Needle sticks, chemical exposures and body fluid splashes are on-the-job hazards.
Sometimes, patients are violent. “There are some patients – both male and female – that get physical with nurses whether it be due to confusion, psychiatric disorders” or other causes, Germinario says. He’s had to intervene with patients trying to strike colleagues. A study of more than 7,000 emergency room nurses found 12 percent experienced physical violence within a seven-day work period, according to the Emergency Nurses Association.
8. Nurses flock to many arenas.
Unexpected roles can attract nurses. Inventive nurses create virtual health care environments like Second Life to practice and teach response scenarios. They devise health care games and apps. Nurses work for government agencies and lobby for policy changes. They crop up in arenas from transplant to hospice to lactation counseling to the military. The list is so long.
9. Tech savvy is mandatory.
ICU respirators. Intra-aortic balloon pumps for heart patients. Chemotherapy, transfusions and research drugs. Hemodialysis machines for kidney patients. Nurses perform an endless array of challenging health care procedures that require technical and technological expertise.
Nurses have become more jacks-of-all-trades with nurses troubleshooting complex medical equipment at the bedside. Computer issues? If it’s 3 a.m. on night shift, you’re your own IT expert.
10. Nurses keep their cool.
When patients suffer setbacks, nurses may feel upset but not show it – time to regroup is a luxury they don’t have. If nurses are not crying with you, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. With multiple patients, nurses may set emotional boundaries to keep on functioning.
11. Even nurses have limits.
It could be the unflappable ER nurse who calmly juggles three new patients with acute chest pains, narcotic overdose and profuse bleeding – but inwardly quails when a tiny sick newborn needs an IV line started. Or the experienced medical-surgical nurse who can’t abide one specific odor.
For some nurses, it’s vomit; for others, sputum; for some, it’s postmortem care. Every nurse has that one thing they can’t deal with. They rely on their co-workers to help them out when they are faced with a situation that they can’t stomach.
12. ‘Nurse Jackie’ is not a role model.
Like many nurses, Geneviève Clavreul – a retired director of nursing, health care management consultant and writer – takes issue with how the profession is portrayed on TV. There was “House,” for instance – the hospital series where nurses barely existed. Now there’s “Nurse Jackie,” which Clavreul calls a guilty pleasure. The lead character played by Edie Falco is outspoken and compelling. But she’s also a morally challenged, prescription drug abuser who’s not above diverting patients’ narcotics for her own use.
Even when TV shows do put nurses in a positive light – as hardworking and compassionate – they may fail to capture their subtle attributes, such as decisiveness and critical thinking skills.
13. Bedside nursing is tough work.
More than 52 percent of nurses experience chronic back pain, according to the American Nurses Association. It’s not hard to understand why. Nurses routinely transfer weak or immobile patients from bed to stretcher or wheelchair to bathroom. A 125-pound nurse may be moving patients three times her size. While nurses are trained in body mechanics, that’s not enough to prevent injuries, according to the ANA. And with obesity on the rise, larger patients add to the physical strain on health care workers.
14. Patients come first.
“If I haven’t eaten in six hours and you need pain medication, I will get [that] for you before I nourish myself,” Kleber says. If a patient puts on a call light to be taken to the bathroom, she says, that trumps the nurse’s own need for a break, no matter how many hours it’s been: “We will always put your needs first.”