Top 10 Reasons Why Nurses Are Underappreciated

Updated on November 16, 2018
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Kelly is a nurse practitioner, a patient advocate, and a type 1 diabetic who empathizes with patients living with a chronic disease.

1. The Unseen

There are countless tasks a nurse does behind closed doors—beyond the charting, med passing, evaluation of vitals, heart rhythms, and physical assessments. Many times, the most important and compassionate acts go unseen by the public, physicians, and administrators.

There's the nurse who consoles a crying husband while taking care of his dying wife in the same room; the nurse who distracts that husband's young child with a coloring book while the mom sleeps, hooked up to tubes and machines in the ICU with a dire prognosis; or the nurse who takes time to sit and hold the hand of an elderly patient taking their last breaths but has no family to comfort her for those final moments.

There are countless stories mostly untold by nurses who perform these caring tasks on a day-to-day basis. Nurses demonstrate humility, compassion, and caring through these genuine acts of kindness.

Berenice Warner, Red Cross Hospital Field Director, Navy Regional Medical Center, holds a Vietnamese infant.
Berenice Warner, Red Cross Hospital Field Director, Navy Regional Medical Center, holds a Vietnamese infant. | Source

2. Nurses Are Just a Number

Nurses often feel like just a number due to the cost-cutting drive of their employers and the nurse-patient ratios that fail to address the complexity of patient care. Experienced nurses with long tenures are forced to retire early and typically without warning. Retirement parties are often non-existent for these nurses who have dedicated their lives to the field, only to be dismissed with a blink of an eye. The loss of such valued and experienced nurses is a common tragedy in hospitals around the country, due to their focus on cost rather than quality of nursing staff and overall patient care.

Nurse-patient ratios were enacted to address patient safety and adequate staffing in the hospital setting. Unfortunately, the patient's medical complexity, a nurse's experience, as well as the emotional and physical toll of caring for the patient, is not taken into consideration when setting these ratios. Patients are being admitted with increasingly complex conditions, while insurance companies push for their discharge home from the hospital faster than ever before. These ill patients are being stabilized quickly and pushed to medical units where nurses ratios are stretched between patients, weighing on the emotional and physical toll of the nursing staff. Nurses need to be valued for their experience, knowledge, and uniqueness rather than a number in a staffing book.

Nurse-patient ratios and cost cutting strategies make nurses feel more like a number than a valued staff member
Nurse-patient ratios and cost cutting strategies make nurses feel more like a number than a valued staff member | Source

3. The Bad Apple

Very rarely, there is a bad apple among the nursing workforce. Unfortunately, their impression on patients or their families is unforgettable. Often times, it is not necessarily an incompetent nurse, but a nurse whose personality did not agree with a patient or their family. In some cases, it is a well-intentioned nurse who accidentally administered the wrong medication that resulted in dire consequences. Occasionally, there are nurses who need to consider a different career pathway; especially when the emotional or physical toll is too much to bear. And then, there's the truly bad apple. There are horror stories about nurses who mistreat, abuse, or neglect their patients. These type of events should never happen, and every nurse should be aware of how to safely report any concerns about a colleague to their managers or administration without fear of punishment. Nursing is not for everyone and nurses should uphold their colleagues to the same set of standards that they set for themselves.

The Bad Apple
The Bad Apple | Source

4. The Doctor Gets All the Credit

That's right. The Doctors often receive all of the credit when a patient is successfully discharged from the hospital. While physicians are a fundamental component of a patient's medical treatment, it requires a multidisciplinary team for those patients to survive their hospital stay and successfully discharge home. While nurses revere experienced physicians with the upmost respect, they know to tread cautiously around the medical students touting their short white-coats.

Doctors would not survive without nurses and nurses cannot adequately care for their patients without Doctors. Nursing care is often an afterthought and overlooked by many. The vitals, head to toe assessments, pain management, assessment of labs, notifying the doctor when there is a concern or just a "gut feeling." Without nurses, many patients would not survive their infection, surgery or hospitalization altogether. So, next time you or your family member is discharged from the hospital, don't forget to give credit where credit is due.

The Doctor
The Doctor | Source

5. A Woman's World

Historically, nursing has been largely a female career. Thankfully, the stigma has started to change and more men are starting to enter the nursing world. However, the men that have chosen to take nursing as their career also face their own discrimination by patients, friends, and the public.

Many people still question the ability of a man to rise to the role of a nurturing, caring provider to his patients. There are still patients who refuse to allow a male nurse care for them and nurses have to make adjustments to their staff, even if the patient's beliefs are unfounded.

Due to these various inequalities, male nurses are leaving their nursing career faster than their female counterparts. Hopefully, one day nurses will no longer be evaluated by their gender, but by their competence and ability to care for their patients.

Good Samaritan
Good Samaritan | Source

6. Recognized for Their Mistakes

On a day-to-day basis, nurses are being reprimanded for human error, many of them inevitable in this type of career. There are even more nurses who are making great "saves" during their shift, whether that be catching the wrong medication ordered by a provider, questioning a specialist if a painful procedure is appropriate without proper analgesia, or endlessly paging a physician when they get that gut feeling that something is wrong with their patient. Most of these "saves" go unheard and unnoticed. Their is no auditor for these types of good deeds. For that reason, nurses feel that they are in a constant state of punishment—being recognized for their mistakes, rather than being rewarded for their role as a valuable nurse.

While it remains important to evaluate mistakes to prevent recurrence, good deeds should be consistently rewarded rather than dismissed. In turn, this will improve nursing retention, morale and overall improved quality of patient care.

Nurses often remember their mistakes more than their good deeds
Nurses often remember their mistakes more than their good deeds | Source

7. The Night Nurse

No one seems to like the poor night nurse. The nurse who sacrifices her family time and normal sleep cycle to take care of patients when every one else prefers to sleep. Patients report that the night nurse has a mysterious appearance, their face and name may be clouded by pain and sleeping medications. Other times, being labeled as mean or rude, waking the patient up at the worse of times overnight.

These poor "mean night nurses" get a bad rap as they are the ones that prevent patients from getting pneumonia, reduce the risk of falls, monitor the neurological status of brain injury patients, and ensure their patients do not become over-sedated with the number of medications required for pain control and insomnia at night. They also have to work with the skeleton crew, greatly fearing that any urgent call to the doctor will result in loud yelling and confusing orders. At the end of their shift, they are greeted by the daytime shift, who question what they accomplished overnight while their patients were sleeping.

Night nurses are crucial in helping patients survive their hospital stay and should deserve more recognition for their dedication to the career of nursing.

Good Night, Nurse
Good Night, Nurse | Source

8. The Emotional Toll

Nurses feel personally responsible for everything and anything that happens to their patient. They feel guilty when their elderly patient with a lifelong smoking history has a heart attack. They feel burdened when their severely malnourished and cancer-ridden patient develops a pressure ulcer during their hospital stay.

Some nurses are tormented by guilt, anxiety and depression about their clinical errors that have harmed patients; such as the case with ICU nurse who administered the wrong dose of calcium and ultimately took her own life, after being terminated for her error. These nurses are the "second victims" of medical mistakes. The first victim the patient, the one hurt or killed by a preventable error. The second victim is the one who has to live with the aftermath of making it; and in this case, the nurse.

There are no mental health days for nurses, sick days are limited, and nurses often get reprimanded if they exceed even a few days out of the year. Nurses are being burnt out from caring for critically and chronically ill patients and feel defeated when they fail to meet near-perfect expectations of their role. Employers need to recognize the human nature of providing healthcare and be able to provide the adequate resources for nurses to adequately cope with the stresses of such a psychologically demanding career.

The emotional toll of being a nurse often exceeds the physical.
The emotional toll of being a nurse often exceeds the physical. | Source

9. Nurses Eat Their Young

The veterans, the specialized nurses, the retiring generation. These are often the nurses who eat their young. Nursing is an interesting breed. Experienced nurses rarely accept new graduates with open arms. Nor are they eager to teach new nurses the ropes of caring for acutely ill patients. The field of nursing is one of the most trusted professions; yet many nurses do not trust their own initially.

Nurses prefer to evaluate knowledge, competence and honesty before having to discuss it first. Specialized nurses (ICU, ER, OR, etc.) will tell you that a new graduate does not belong in their field, citing the importance of obtaining general knowledge for a several years on a medical/surgical unit before seeking a specialty.

New nursing graduates seem to glow with a fiery passion once they enter the field, but are quickly burnt out by heavy workloads and dissatisfying relationship with fellow peers. Research has proven that nursing residency programs positively improve the development of skills, clinical judgement in addition to improving job satisfaction and nursing staff retention.

Source

10. Nursing Is a Job

Never tell a nurse that nursing is just their "job." It might be the most painful words for a nurse to hear. When one becomes a nurse, they take on a life long role to place others above themselves and provide compassionate care to help their patients recover their health and obtain a higher quality of life. Nursing is not a 9-to-5 job, nor is it a 7-to-7 job. It is a 24/7/365 profession.

Every single person a nurse encounters is a patient in their eyes. Family members are patients, neighbors are patients, even passerby's in the grocery store are our patients. Nurses strive to provide a helping hand and caring heart in every single step they take in life. Please remember, that nursing is not a job, it is a way of life.

© 2018 Kelly Wagner

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    • profile image

      J. Tukey DVM 

      7 days ago

      I have tried endlessly......to get recognition for a group of very dedicated very hard working nurses....who literally break their backs for patients and work around the clock in their rooms holding them together, listening to patients, holding hands, being compassionate .........in 25 years all i get is .......a blank wall.....

      i could not agree with your more to my dismay......and do not understand at all......people obviously have never been a patient......

      extremely frustrating....

    • profile image

      john Tukey DVM 

      7 days ago

      we have tried and tried to honor our nurses, make them feel appreciated respected and honored for their hard work compassion and dedication..its not personal personal but it is an attempt to acknowledge their incredibly hard work.most often we are told to go away...we not asking for relatiohshps but we know the hell and hard work most nurses go through....all we are trying to do is give them the support they deserve......and let them know their efforts are very much appreciated...…..to say the least.

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