Skip to main content

Top 10 Reasons Why Nurses Are Underappreciated

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

1. The Unseen Tasks

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 who's taking her last breaths but has no family to comfort her in those final moments.

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

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 in 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 the 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, and the emotional and physical toll of caring for the patient are 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

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. Oftentimes, it is not necessarily an incompetent nurse but a nurse whose personality does not agree with a patient or their family. In some cases, it is a well-intentioned nurse who accidentally administers the wrong medication, which results in dire consequences. Occasionally, there are nurses who need to consider a different career path, 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 types 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.

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 be successfully discharged home. While nurses revere experienced physicians with the utmost 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. There are vitals, head-to-toe assessments, pain management, assessment of labs, and 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.

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 from 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 to 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 careers faster than their female counterparts. Hopefully, one day nurses will no longer be evaluated by their gender but rather by their competence and ability to care for their patients.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Healthproadvice

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. There 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 roles as valuable nurses.

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

7. The Night Nurse

No one seems to like the poor night nurse. The nurse sacrifices her family time and normal sleep cycle to take care of patients when everyone 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.

8. The Emotional Toll

Nurses feel personally responsible for everything and anything that happens to their patients. 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 of the 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 is 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, it's 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 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.

9. Nurses Eat Their Young

The veterans, the specialized nurses, and 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 initially trust their own.

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 several years in 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 relationships with fellow peers. Research has proven that nursing residency programs positively improve the development of skills and clinical judgement in addition to improving job satisfaction and nursing staff retention.

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 lifelong role of placing others above themselves and providing 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, and even passersby in the grocery store are our patients. Nurses strive to provide a helping hand and a caring heart in every single step they take in life. Please remember that nursing is not a job but rather a way of life.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2018 Kelly Wagner


J. Tukey DVM on December 04, 2018:

I have tried 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 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....

john Tukey DVM on December 04, 2018:

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...… say the least.

Related Articles