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7 Things Nurses Say All Doctors Should Know About the Nursing Profession

In an ideal world, doctors and nurses would all have trusting, respectful working relationships, but sadly that’s not the case. Doctors sometimes have a chip on their shoulder and talk down to nurses, treating them as lesser members of the team. Nurses can understandably develop resentment over this behavior, fracturing work relationships and creating tension. In many cases, doctors’ behavior stems from misconceptions about the nursing profession, so we’ve rounded up seven things that nurses wish doctors knew about their work:

  1. Relationships with nurses impact patient care.

Just like a feud between two siblings can affect the whole family, so can conflict with a nurse spread out across the unit—and sometimes to patients. If you don’t get along with your nurses, that tension doesn’t just mean that you’re both in for a long, frustrating shift every time you’re scheduled together. You don’t want to create a situation where nurses are reluctant to call you for clarification on an order or changes in a patient’s condition. This fear and lack of trust can lead to actions that will directly impact a patient’s well-being and safety.

  1. They’re an integral part of the care team.

Can you imagine a world where there were no nurses, only doctors? We don’t want to. Both nurses and doctors play different yet vital roles on the patient care team, and the group wouldn’t function without both of them (and of course all the other medical professionals who help care for patients). A hospital as we know it would simply fall apart without nurses there to turn patients, change their sheets, administer their medications, bring them a cup of water and otherwise take care of moment-to-moment tasks. While these things may seem small, they can hugely improve patients’ psychological well-being and perception of quality of care, which can in turn contribute to physical healing.

  1. They have a lot of knowledge to contribute.

Many doctors argue that they have more schooling than nurses (which isn’t always true if the nurse has pursued advanced degrees). But just because doctors get to wear a white coat doesn’t automatically make them smarter or better. Nurses bring a lot of hands-on experience to the table and they can be an excellent resource. No humans, including doctors, are perfect. We all overlook things sometimes, which is why working in a team is so important. Especially if you’re a resident or new physician, listening to nurses with years of experience will be an educational experience. Even if you’re an experienced doctor yourself, giving nurses an ear and creating a space where they feel open to respectfully offer suggestions will benefit everyone involved.

  1. The empathy can be draining.

Both doctors and nurses (and other medical professionals) are at risk for compassion fatigue and burnout given the emotionally taxing nature of their jobs. But since nurses spend so much facetime with patients and sometimes build up a relationship over time, their emotional reserves can drain much faster. Depending on their specialty, doctors often get to maintain some kind of distance from the patient to help preserve objectivity and reduce nerves. But nurses are there all day, every day, interacting with patients and providing critical care. Taking care of emotionally draining tasks, such as managing upset family members or talking to a patient after a frightening diagnosis, are all in the line of duty.

  1. They can make your job easier.

Because of their close work with patients, nurses know who’s the most urgent case and who can wait (even though they’re loudly complaining). Not only will this make your shift go easier, it will also improve the outcomes of patient care. Many patients will also tell nurses information that they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable confessing to a doctor, such as embarrassing symptoms or underlying family/personal issues that could impact how they’re feeling. This helps nurses identify potential patient problems that they can pass along to doctors so patients don’t have to do it themselves, further improving quality of care.

  1. They’re not just your helpers.

That being said, nurses aren’t just there to assist doctors. Their first objective is to uphold the patient’s well-being and safety in all ways possible (or at least, it should be their first objective). If you treat them right, nurses make excellent partners and teammates, but they are not here simply to run around at your beck and call. If you find yourself asking nurses to do tasks because you don’t have the time—but think they do—check yourself. Consider why you think your time is more valuable than nurses’ and why you feel justified in treating them that way.

  1. They deserve your respect.

Just because nurses wear scrubs and doctors wear white coats doesn’t mean you can treat one group well but not the other. Every nurse has at least one story about a doctor who acted condescending towards them or otherwise didn’t treat them with respect. Sadly, it’s a common epidemic among doctors. While nurses may have come to expect it, that doesn’t make it acceptable workplace behavior.

Most doctors would not stand for being disrespected by colleagues, much less a nurse, and yet nurses put up with it all the time. The Golden Rule has just as much relevance to the hospital as it does to a playground: Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you wouldn’t treat a fellow doctor the way you’d treat a nurse, it’s time to reexamine your behavior and start treating nurses with the respect they deserve.

Nurses and doctors are complementary and irreplaceable members of the patient care team. The more doctors learn and understand about the nursing profession, the better the whole team will function. While there’s no way to capture everything important about nursing in a single article, these seven must-know facts are a great place for doctors to start.

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