40 Honest Truths Nurses Wish You Knew
These little-known secrets could save your life.
While doctors, surgeons, and medical specialists are all critical in keeping you healthy, there's one group of people you'll probably interact with more than all of them combined: nurses.
Whether you're visiting your doctor for a checkup or have found yourself in the hospital for an extended stay, nurses are the ones who will monitor your care and attend to your needs. To help you understand everything that goes on behind the scenes with these hard-working professionals, we asked veteran nurses about the things they wish their patients knew. Read on to find out some of the most important things they wish they could tell you.
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In the ER, you're seen in order of how sick you are.
In an emergency room or urgent care center, you might find yourself waiting longer than expected, says ER nurse Lauren Mochizuki, RN, BSN. However, there's a reason for that.
"In any urgent care or emergency room setting, patients are seen based on how sick they are, not in order of what time they arrived," she explains. "In other words, the patient that is suffering from a heart attack or neurological deficits will be seen before a patient with a broken arm or a cough."
Nurses often feel undervalued.
"Being a nurse is a thankless job," says Mochizuki. "We do it because we love what we do." However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't express your gratitude if a nurse goes out of their way to treat you well.
Mochizuki says that when someone does come back to say "thank you," it means a lot because it makes her feel like she's made a positive, lasting difference.
The wrong medication can get called into the pharmacy.
According to Amelia Roberts, RN, BSN, sometimes, the wrong medication is called into the pharmacy. Therefore, it's up to the patient to make sure everything looks A-OK before taking their prescription home.
"Always double-check the bottles while at the pharmacy and question anything that is unfamiliar," Roberts says.
We appreciate when we're treated with kindness and respect.
Nurses take their jobs seriously because lives literally depend on their care. And given how much time and effort they put into their practice, you should make sure to be respectful whenever you're in contact with a nurse, says Mochizuki.
Going to the bathroom is sometimes a luxury.
"I hold off going to the bathroom as much as humanly possible," notes Bonnie Emery, RN, BSN, a retired nurse. Indeed, many of the nurses we spoke to mentioned that using the restroom is a luxury, one that's extremely hard to fit into a typical shift.
Use the call light—but only when truly needed.
A call light is a real asset for patients, especially for those who have mobility issues or don't have any family with them in the room to help them out. However, excessive call light usage is not fun for nurses, seeing as they already have a lot on their plate. "I will gladly answer your call light, but not to shut the door two inches or turn on the TV," says Emery.
Hospitals are cold for a reason.
Don't complain about the temperature of your hospital room. As one nurse in New Orleans explained in The Journal of Nursing, "it's cold for a reason—to kill bacteria. It can't survive in cold temperatures."
Our work environment can impact our patients' health.
The way a nurse is treated by their colleagues and bosses can impact not just their emotions, but also the care that you receive.
One 2019 study published in Penn Nursing found that a better working environment for nurses was associated with lower odds of a wide range of negative outcomes, including everything from nurse job dissatisfaction to patient mortality.
You need to report medical events and medications to your primary doctor.
While your hospital might use the same online patient portal system as your primary doctor, this isn't always the case. That's why it's vital to let your primary care practitioner know of any hospitalizations, medical events, and medication changes, says Roberts. "You are your best advocate," she says.
We often sacrifice our family time for work.
Hospitals never close—and because of this, nurses are required to be present around the clock. A nurse's shift can run for 12 hours or more, says Shantay Carter, RN, BSN, founder of Women of Integrity, Inc., which means that family time for an RN can be hard to come by (or has to be scheduled way in advance).
Every patient is a priority.
The amount of patients a nurse is responsible for can vary from day to day, and sometimes the sheer number can seem overwhelming. However, that won't impact the care you receive, says Carter.
"Even when our patient load can is tough, we treat every [single one] as a priority," she explains. "We embody compassion and empathy, which allows us to care for you for 12 hours."
Positive, healthy habits should be your priority.
James Cobb, RN, MSN, founder of The Dream Recovery System, notes that a lot of nurses wish their patients knew how to build positive habits for themselves.
"A good core of daily positive habits could impact their lives incredibly," he explains. "Habits of getting regular exercise. Habits of limiting yourself to just one soda or beer. The reason why this is so powerful is that a habit takes a lot less willpower to maintain than an action that's not a habit. There's not as much thought going into it. It's automatic."
We love patients who care about their care.
Marlon Saria, PhD, RN, an advanced practice nurse researcher at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, admits that he does sometimes play favorites—though not in the way you might think.
"My favorite patients are those who are involved and engaged with their care," he says. "I like patients who ask me what medications I am giving them. I like patients who can tell me the name, dose, and side effects of the drug they will be receiving."
And we encourage you to ask questions!
Saria also appreciates it when patients ask questions. "Not all patients will know their treatment plan. Not all patients will know everything they need to know about the treatment they will be receiving. In those cases, I like it when they ask me for more information," he says. "Nurses wear many hats: clinician, advocate, educator. As an educator, I know that I am doing my job if my patient can practice self-care. I know I will not be with them 24-7 so my job as an educator is critical, because I am giving them the tools they need to care for themselves."
Be wary of internet support groups.
Finding an online support group can be an excellent way to connect with other people who may be going through the same medical issues you are. However, Victoria Ruffing, RN-BC, director of patient education at the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, notes that these groups can often become a breeding ground for misinformation or "worst-case scenarios" and can help contribute to a negative headspace.
We genuinely care for our patients.
"I wish that my patients knew how much I (and my colleagues) care for them," says Saria. He notes that while a nurse's demeanor doesn't always seem outwardly warm, those are just masks that healthcare providers put on in order to protect both themselves and their patients. Behind the scenes, nurses get worried when stats start to slide downhill and shed tears when they learn a patient's cancer has returned.
End-of-life care is a true specialty among nurses.
Judy Flickinger, RN, author of Spirit Matters: How to Remain Fully Alive with a Life-Limiting Illness, notes that many people don't take into consideration what is often the most important part of end-of-life care: keeping a person's spirit alive and well.
"People need to be given hope that the end of their life doesn't have to be a miserable, sometimes terror-filled experience as so often happens when people aren't informed," she says. "As a retired hospice nurse, I know that patients' misconceptions, misinformation, and ignorance are causing unnecessary suffering, both physically and emotionally."
Hospitals are chronically understaffed.
The nursing industry, as a whole, has a severe staff shortage problem, says ER nurse Brittany DiNatale, RN, BSN. She notes that there are currently no recourses to remedy the situation, even though there is a direct correlation between staffing levels and patient safety.
Our profession has been voted the most trusted for well over a decade.
Don't be afraid to put your faith in your nurse's hands. For 17 straight years, the nursing profession has been rated the highest for both honesty and ethics by Gallup, outpacing medical doctors, pharmacists, high school teachers, police officers, and accountants.
When you're having a baby, your doctor will probably not stay there with you.
Some parents-to-be are upset when their carefully chosen obstetrician doesn't stay in the room for their entire labor. However, this is extremely common, says Shelly Lopez Gray, MSN, RNC, IBCLC. That's because providers have other patients to see and surgical schedules to adhere to. Instead, you'll have far more contact with your nursing team.
We're often caregivers for our families, too.
Nurses don't just care for the patients they're assigned to. Rather, as Saria notes, they're also often caring for an unwell family member such as an elderly parent or sick sibling. "I know how difficult it is for [a nurse] to care for a complete stranger while in the back of their mind they are worried about their loved ones," he shares.
We're on your side.
Hilary Erickson, RN, BSN, founder of Pulling Curls, notes that she really wishes people knew how much nurses are rooting for them. "I think Google has made people so weary of the medical establishment that they don't trust [nurses] to help guide them," she says.
We can—and do—obtain PhDs.
There are many different degrees and certifications that nurses must obtain before starting their job, ranging from a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification to a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification. However, nursing education doesn't have to stop after these requirements. Some people go on to get a master's degree or even a Ph.D., which is what Saria did.
"Many people still exclaim, 'You have a Ph.D.?' when they see my work badge," he says. "Like [in] any other field, nurses with Ph.D.s follow scientific methods to conduct research."
Becoming a nurse takes a lot of work, skill, and dedication.
Meika Mirabelli, JD, MSN, FNP-C, founder of Beauty in a White Coat, can vouch for the fact that becoming a nurse is no easy feat. She practiced law for several years before she made a career change to nurse practitioner—and she had no idea how much work being a nurse was until she actually was one.
"I feel nurses are often categorized as individuals who just take orders, push medications, and clean patients, but there is more to us than just that," she says. "We critically think, we save lives, and we care for patients and oftentimes their families. We provide knowledge and we are the patients' front line of care—the face they see for 24 hours a day."
There are five things we must get right when it comes to your medications.
Administering medications properly is one of the most crucial jobs a nurse attends to on a daily basis—and it's not always as simple as you might think. Susan J. Farese, RN, MSN, who has been an RN since 1978 and was an active duty military nurse for more than 12 years, explains that each nurse runs through a checklist before they administering anything.
That checklist is making sure they're administering the correct medication to the correct patient at the correct dose via the correct route (oral, intravenous, etc), and at the correct time."
You should bring hard copies of your records with you if you can.
Yes, modern doctor's offices and hospitals have easy access to online records. However, Roberts notes that sometimes it's best to carry a hard copy of your records if you want a new provider to look them over. Not only is it faster this way, but it also ensures that there aren't any hiccups when your new office goes searching for your old records.
There's a reason we're always on the computer.
James Kurtz, RN, and Jessica Rothman, RN, BSN, nurses at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, have both dealt with patients who say they spend too much time messing around with a computer. However, Kurtz notes that "really we are documenting our nursing assessment, looking up lab values, and making sure we are up to date on our orders so that we are providing the best possible care to our patients."
Sleep in a hospital can be hard to come by.
If you're admitted to a hospital for inpatient care, it's likely that you won't get much sleep. And this isn't just due to being in an unfamiliar place in an unfamiliar bed, either. Rather, it's because "inpatients typically have their vital signs checked every four hours," Nancy Brook, RN, MSN, a nurse practitioner and educator at Stanford Hospital and Clinics, told The Journal of Nursing.
Hydration is vital before a blood draw.
It's hard to do much to prepare for a blood draw, but Abby Huff, RN, told ShareCare that one thing you can do is increase your water intake."If you're going to get your blood drawn, drink two or three glasses of water beforehand," she says. "If you're dehydrated, it's a lot harder for us to find a vein, which means more poking with the needle."
You should always tell us about any allergies.
People aren't always eager to share allergy information, perhaps because they feel the information is unimportant. However, Susan Roland, ANP, told ShareCare that it's crucial to share this information—no matter what.
"It's highly important to report any history of adverse reactions to medications or agents in the past," she says. "If penicillin made your face swell up and your breathing got funny six months ago, it's likely to do the same again. Please give your nurse this information along with any food allergy."
Don't forget to mention supplements, too.
If you're taking vitamins or other over-the-counter supplements, you have to tell your care providers that information, too. Though you might think that these "natural" pills can't impact your care, many of them can cause side effects or even interact with other drugs.
Feel free to check in with us even after your stay.
Once your hospital stay is over, you will probably continue to be impacted by the quality care your nurses gave you while you were there. It's a great idea to check in with them at a later date, even if it's just to say "hello" or "thank you." Brenda Staley, RN, told ShareCare that "nurses love it when patients come back when they are well just to say a quick hello. That's one of the greatest rewards for nurses: to see their patients doing well after caring for [them]."
Intensive care nurses aren't ignoring you—we're busy.
If you or a family member are in the ICU, you are probably going to expect more attention from the nursing staff due to a smaller patient load. However, sometimes the nurse is not right there at every moment, and there's a reason for that. "In the ICU, it's frustrating when patients say we're neglecting or ignoring them…when in reality if I'm not sitting outside my patient's room then I'm in another room helping with a patient who is crashing or coding," an ICU nurse told Healthy Way.
Please don't talk while your vital signs are being taken.
A nurse will be the one to take your pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and respiratory rate as part of a basic workup when you see a doctor. However, it can be hard to hear over the sound of a patient's voice rattling throughout their body, so it's best not to talk during these exams.
And please bathe before any surgical procedure.
While instructions can vary from surgeon to surgeon, most surgeons and nurses want (and appreciate) a patient that arrives for surgery freshly bathed, according to Medline Plus. And whether you bathe or not, avoid applying lotions, deodorant, perfume, makeup, aftershave, and powder before your surgery.
Utilize your caregiver's patient portal.
Many hospitals and doctor's offices now grant patients access to their own medical records online, usually via something called a "patient portal." Via the patient portal, you can view lab results, ask questions of your care provider, and even see your clinical notes. "These online portals are one of the best tools we have to empower you in your own care," Annette Hetzel, RN explained to CreakyJoints. "It can feel like one more thing to do but it's worth the extra few minutes."
Know that what you say will remain confidential.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that ensures that your personal medical information remains confidential. This means that even if you feel unsure about sharing certain health information, you needn't worry; not only have health professionals (likely) heard it before, but they're also required under federal law to not share that information unless you specifically allow them to.
WHO declared 2020 as the international year of the nurse and midwife.
To help recognize the work of nurses and midwives around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2020 the year of the nurse and the midwife—a year during which, thanks to the COVID pandemic, nurses were more essential than ever. This declaration outwardly acknowledged the essential duties of nurses and midwives, two professions that make up more than 50 percent of the health workforce in many countries.
Nursing is the nation's largest healthcare profession.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing is the nation's largest healthcare profession. From coast to coast, there are over 3.8 million RNs.
Nurses are more vulnerable to certain illnesses and injuries.
Nurses spend a lot of time walking, lifting, bending, stretching, and standing, and as such, they are at a greater risk of experiencing back injuries. They are also constantly in contact with people who have contagious illnesses, making them more likely to fall sick at any given time.
Because of these risk factors, nurses follow strict guidelines to minimize illness and injury, and they often undergo training to keep these protocols fresh in their minds.