I always had an interest in science, particularly biology, and in people. Nursing seemed like the perfect fit! Leaving high school, I went straight into nursing school. I got my first choice and I couldn’t have been happier.
That was until the reality of the job set in.
Nursing is hard. Harder than medicine.
It’s emotionally and physically exhausting on a level medics often can’t understand. Imagine spending 13 hours 3 – 4 times per week with your patients – not leaving for pages, not doing ward rounds – but attending to every call bell they press, every meal they need, every bathroom visit. As medics we can breeze in and breeze out.
We prescribe laxatives, but we’re not the ones cleaning diarrhea off the bed. We ask nurses to get a stool sample for culture, but we’re not the ones scraping it out of the commode. We’re not the ones chasing a confused wandering patient down the corridor – knowing they are a falls risk and it’ll be our fault if anything happens to them.
Quite early on in my nursing career I realized it wasn’t for me… and it wasn’t the pay grade that made me want to pursue medicine.
First and foremost, I changed careers because of my pursuit for knowledge. My nursing education focused on communication and the practicality of patient needs – when I wanted to know the why and how. I wanted to know the ins and outs of the physiology and pathology, I wanted to have a deeper understanding of how the human body works and how it often failed.
Secondly, I’ll admit I wanted the respect. As a nurse it’s not uncommon for you to inform a patient of something – only for them to want to speak to a doctor to be told the exact. same. thing. Nurses don’t have the final say on treatment plans and often, they have more experience than junior doctors but are not listened to.
The transition has not been an easy one.
Firstly, my nursing colleagues didn’t understand my career change. They were whispers of how of I must look down on nurses and how I thought I was better than nursing. The reality is, nursing is better than me. I wasn’t cut out for the emotional demands of the job, to be always on the ward de-escalating crisis situations, dealing with aggressive patients, angry families, the death of a patient you had cared for.
Doctors have a certain distance, a professional boundary. Perhaps because they are not the ones providing personal cares, they are not the ones who are at the bedside 24 hours a day. Put simply the relationship patients have with doctors is entirely different to the ones they have with nurses. A doctor can be the most empathetic and caring person, but the reality of their job is they are not with the patient every minute of a day.
The point of this post is to try and see it from both sides. Nursing is hard work and so is being a doctor – but in different ways. Respecting each other ultimately benefits not only the working relationship, but also the patient – and that’s who it’s really about.
Any med student who thinks they are ‘better than’ nurses, will have a harsh awakening when they are your life your first week on call after graduating med school. Any nurse who thinks doctors don’t care, haven’t seen their demanding patient lists and the reality is that they’d love to spend time talking to patients but simply can’t. While there is a hierarchy within any hospital – Attending, Resident, Intern, Med student…there shouldn’t be a hierarchy between doctors and nurses.
We are colleagues and we have the same common goal of patient care. We just have different priorities and different ways of doing things. So if you’ve read this post and can take one thing away from it, it’s that our jobs may be different but we both deeply care about the same thing – patients.
@StudentMed_Life is a medical student on twitter sharing humor and hilarious memes, as well as more personal experiences in medicine.
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