advertise with us find a job post your topic join the community log in
Reality Unscripted
"I Am (Not) a Professional!"

Everyone wants to be treated with respect; nurses are no different. But we often exhibit behavior that undermines our professionalism. Over the years, I've developed a list of the 5 things that scream, "I am not a professional!"

1. Sharing too much of your own story. I've done this several times. Once when I was assisting my doc with a Pap smear, the patient mentioned she occasionally felt a hot, stabbing pain in her rectum. I jumped into the conversation, stating that I suffered from the same problem. (I had never told anyone about it and had never heard of anyone else having it.) The doc stopped the Pap, looked up at me and said, "Do you really?"

It was totally inappropriate of me to say anything in the middle of her exam. The focus immediately shifted from the patient to me. We walk a fine line between establishing a good rapport with patients and sharing too much of ourselves. Our goal should always be to keep the patient the center of our attention.

2. Dressing too cutesy. Scrubs have come a long way since I started nursing, but I'm not sure they've taken us in a professional direction. If you wear Betty Boop to work and expect people to give you respect, think again. New nurses establishing credibility should stay away from all the cutesy stuff out there. You need to feel and look confident. Even if you're on a Peds unit, resist the urge. It's just as important to gain the parents' confidence in your skills as it is to appear friendly to the kids. Hello Kitty will not do that for you.

3. Flirting. Okay, it happens, but if you do it regularly, your reputation will suffer. It shouldn't happen with the docs, other staff, the patient, the patient's family--anyone whom you encounter in your work setting. You may garner someone's attention but not his/her respect. When you're wearing your uniform, control your coy looks and banter.

4. Contributing to the anxiety. There will be lots of opportunities to blow it on this one. When a patient is upset and starts to rant, we sometimes add fuel to the fire instead of being a non-anxious presence. We escalate the situation rather than defuse it. I remember one phone conversation with a gentleman who wasn't getting what he wanted--his attitude was nasty. Instead of stepping back, I engaged. In the end, he called me an ax murderer, and I hung up on him. He may have been the ass, but it was my job to be the professional. I think he found a different doctor.

5. Disrespecting other professionals. Even if you disagree with a co-worker, you need to treat him/her respectfully. That seems pretty clear, but somehow, we all tend to fail at it now and then. As I tell my children, "I'm not concerned with how they are treating you; I'm concerned with how you are treating them."

Though your mistakes say, "I am not a professional," remember you are human. Try to learn from them and not repeat them. We all want to be treated like the nursing professionals we are. We just need to work a little harder at acting like one.

Now, what are some things you think make us look unprofessional?

Read more Reality Unscripted articles

12 Responses to ““I Am (Not) a Professional!””

  1. nursingaround Says:

    Have to confess, been guilty of pretty much all those crimes, at least in the early days. I think some of these things happen, especially in your first few years working as a nurse, because of inexperience. In fact some things almost need to happen so as you gain and learn from the experience.

    The best example I can think of are making a situation worse eg I remember a time a doctor said that something was not quite right on the x-ray, but wanted to check with his senior, which would be in about an hour’s time. The patient was desperate to find out if the hospital would allow him leave to go to his daughter’s wedding.

    They asked about the x-ray, and I tried to avoid giving a direct answer. They picked up on this and I ended up repeating the doctor’s words “something not quite right”

    As you can imagine, this created quite a problem, for them and for me. I was accused of holding back information etc etc.

    In the end the doctor came down with his senior and it was ok. I was in my first six months on the job. I definitely learned something useful that day, ie Keep my Big Mouth Shut.

  2. n00bienurse Says:

    You forgot something for the new nurse:

    The first time I started an IV, I got it in on the first try and immediately told my patient, “Congratulations! You’re my first IV insert!” The experienced nurse working with me said it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. She reminded me that showing your inexperience can make the patient doubt your clinical and professional abilities. If the patient doesn’t need to know, keep your big mouth shut.

    Also, I’ve found that the line, “You need to ask the doctor about that. That’s something I cannot answer…” is GOLDEN. We have our job and the doctor’s have theirs.

  3. Winnie Says:

    I can absolutely agree with the professional attire aspect. I am a new nursing student and have already noticed how some nurses go overboard with the patterns on their scrubs. No one would ever wear a business suit with hello kitty splattered all over it, and neither should nurses’ scrubs be as such. As there are rules for general professional dress, nurses should NOT be exceptions. Tacky and unprofessional nurse fashion just propagates the nurse stereotypes to the media/society and does the profession no justice at all.

  4. Tiffany Says:

    I completely disagree with the “cutesy uniform” aspect of this article. I’ve been a Peds RN for almost 4 years now, and have learned that the cartoon prints or cute prints allow the younger kids to feel more comfortable. How else would a toddler who’s absolutely frightened around anyone but mom and dad allow a nurse anywhere near him if he or she wasn’t wearing a Scooby doo top? Numerous times I’ve had kids who have been scared to death of me until they see Mr Potato head on my scrub top, they calm down.
    The rest of the article, I completely agree with though. Flirting, being disrespectful, and interjecting your own story while a physician is assessing the patient is completely uncalled for, and completely unprofessional.

  5. nursingaround Says:

    Will anyone else confess like I have. Anyone???

  6. Ocala Says:

    One middle aged lpn on our derm staff that slays the entire staff with her special ways. She refuses to stifle her personality to become professional. Much of her time with patients involve her discusssing oh, Everything from her roots in Ohio to her expertise with animals, her entire life is a open book! (She needs to put a sock in her mouth) Women are irritated and men think she’s a flirt. Patients really don’t want to hear it.

  7. TheCannulator Says:

    What an amazing effort at preaching.

    First you argue we are human yet by being human we aren’t professional? Tripe.

    Patients want to see human. If it means dressing with scoobie doo scrubs then thats great.

    If someone is being an absolute a-hole thern sometimes a good serve back is worthy. You are not a punching bag just becasue of the title Nurse.

    Flirting-very much an interpretational scale.

    Sharing your own story-well yyurrocld be patient ayway. Your own rectum is of little consequence.

  8. eskellyrn Says:

    I too agree with everything in your post except the cutsie uniforms part. I work in the neonatal ICU part of a children’s hospital. We all see life and death every day. Wearing bright, colorful, printed uniforms helps the outlook of the nurses as well as our patients and parents. Believe it or not it’s a bright in some very gloomy situations.

  9. Pamela Says:

    I have to agree that bright colors and some printsa are acceptable. A recent survey of patients where I work showed that they like the bright colors and were depressed by the dark colors that the nurses wore. Although I myself like to tasteful patterns and bright colors I think that cartton prints are unacceptable and unprofessional. I have had patients tell that they think they look like pajamas and that they are unflattering. I work in palliative care and I think that wearing cartoon print scrub tops in this area is very unprofessional. Even when it comes to peds ,which I have also worked in, I never needed a cartoon on my scrubs to win a childs trust. I always used stickers and little toys to show that I was there friend and there to help them.

    I have also been told by many patients that they sure miss the whites and the caps. They say they have such a hard time distingushing who the nurses are and who the non-nursing staff are.

  10. crazychick02 Says:

    I agree will most of everything in the above posts. However, I’ve found that the prints on the scrubs say to a little kid or a scared patient that the nurse is very nice – not that I think that the nurse isn’t nice with a plain uniform. When I was younger, seeing the cute patterned uniforms helped me to feel more comfortable at the doctor, or at the hospital, especially when it was a scary situation. I work in a psych hospital, and sometimes I don’t even wear scrubs to work (We have that option.), because many psych patients find the nurse easier to approach, if they weat street clothes- professional of course- like no jeans, almost no jewelry, no printed t’shirts. I want my patients to feel comfortable with me, so I do with them what made me feel comfortable with nurses when I was sick. Plus, my patients are mentally retarded, so in a way, they are like kids.

  11. A Critical Care RN Says:

    I have a reputation for wearing bright scrubs at work. Mostly because every time I wear dark ones, bad things happen. I must agree with TheCannulator (catchy name by the way) regarding not being the patient’s or family’s punching bag. Yes, our many years of education tell us that being a good professional nurse requires good listening skills and non-confrontation with patients or doctors. The reality is that nurses need to stand up for themselves to be considered a professional career and not just a “oh you couldn’t get into medical school” profession which I’ve heard twice in the last week (where as I did get into medical school but I have long term commitment issues). If you can stand up to your cardiothoracic surgeon and tell her she’s not doing her job well while wearing Scooby Doo, then by all means I want you as my nurse. You can share as much as you need with your patient in order to make them feel comfortable and not embarrassed or anxious. Of course there’s the fine line between helping them and them becoming your psychiatrist, but it doesn’t make you less professional if done at the right time. I did have a coworker tell me from inside the patient’s isolation room “I got my first IV!” the other day to which I hit my head on the desk but luckily the guy was sedated.

    For the new grads out there: if someone asks you how long have you been a nurse (a disheartening question because you know that when you tell them 1 month, they’re not going to trust you), tell them: “I’m new to the unit/floor but the people I’m working with tonight have many years of experience and if you need anything that I cannot help you with, I’m sure I can find someone who can.”

  12. Pedi Nurse Says:

    Cutesy uniforms do not take away from your professionalism. I work on a Peds floor and we all wear an assortment of fun, age appropriate scrub patterns. We also have fun name/badge holders as well. The kids and parents love them. You can use the pattern as a distractionary tool to get assessments done or other tasks. The CNAs might wear fun pattern scrub tops as well, but we are defined by our badges with our names and titles. Nursing is a profession, but we can wear fun scrubs (like Hello Kitty or Spongebob or Scooby) for our patients as well. Lighten up!!

Leave a Reply

search realityrn

sign up for weekly cartoons, tips, and blog posts
first name
last name

Register to win a pair of RX Medical Silver Fox Crocs

Nursing Jobs