Tuesday, February 01, 2022

For Nurses, "Just" is a Four-Letter Word

If you're a nurse, when was the last time you said, "Oh, I'm just a nurse" or "I'm not really an expert--I'm just a nurse"? If you stop to think about it, what are you really saying when you deny your expertise? Words are powerful, and the words we use to describe ourselves can have far-reaching effects -- for others, and within our own psyches.

For a number of years, I've used the soapbox of this blog to cajole nurses to embrace their nurse identity while also embracing their individual and collective value as skilled clinicians.

Like I've said before, nurses have been voted the most trusted professionals in the United States every year for good reason, and that's because, whether we feel like experts or not, the general public views us as honest and knowledgeable professionals with whom they trust their lives--and the lives of their loved ones.
Sadly, many nurses simply don't feel like experts, and the common use of the above-mentioned phrase -- "I'm just a nurse" -- demonstrates for us the fact that nurses suffer from collective low self-esteem. 

While some nurses are clearly more expert than others (or more educated, experienced, or specialized in their practice), every nurse is an expert in some way, shape or form. Having survived nursing school, learned how to be a nurse, developed specialized assessment skills and been issued a license to practice, you deserve to call yourself an expert.

Face it, you're a nurse and you're an expert when it comes to being a nurse. And in the eyes of the general public, you're part of a special breed whom they see as either angels, saints or some other superlative creature.

Of course, your nursing career itself is a creature that will only continue to grow and evolve, and that ongoing evolution is a wonderful thing. Nurses are required to participate in continuing education in order to maintain and renew their license, but many nurses also seek out education and specialization because they're professionals who want to always be learning something new, increasing their level of knowledge, skill and expertise--and that's a wonderful thing.

When I coach nurses, I try to instill in my clients the undeniable fact that they are indeed experts. I also make the demand that they never again say "I'm just a nurse." Using that small "four-letter word" --just -- is an affront to who you are and what you do. In this context, "just" is a diminishing term, a word whose purpose is to relieve you of authority, intelligence, and your undeniable importance.

You are not "just" a nurse. You're a nurse, and nurses can be described as both the lifeblood and the backbone of the entire healthcare industry. Take away nurses, and the system as a whole would cease to function.

We're not simple handmaidens to the all-knowing physicians (like it was in the bad old days). We're skilled in the art and science of nursing, and this art/science is made more powerful by decades of research, practice, theory, skill-building and knowledge accumulation.

You are not "just" a nurse. You are a nurse. Period. And you deserve to erase that one particular four-letter word from your nursing vocabulary.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at NurseKeith.com.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, BlackDoctor.org, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, NursingCE.com, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. 

Living in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, Keith shares a magical life with his partner, Shada McKenzie, a gifted, empathic, and highly skilled traditional astrologer and reader of the tarot. They regularly cavort with their remarkably adorable animal companions, George, Buck, and Lorca. You can find George the Cat on Instagram by using the hashtag #georgethecatsantafe. You can find Buck and Lorca wherever tasty treats and fun walks can be found. 

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