Expanding What It Means To Be A Nurse, The Nurse Keith Show, EPS 51

In the 21st century, there still seem to be pervasive myths about nursing and what nurses can and cannot do; even nurses appear to be somewhat blind to the depth and breadth of our profession. Let’s change the calculus of that situation, shall we?

Stop most anyone in the street and ask them what a nurse does, and they’ll probably tell you that a nurse takes care of sick people in a hospital. While it’s true that a large percentage of nurses do indeed work in hospitals, nurses are employed in a dizzying array of roles and facilities, including places outside of mainstream healthcare altogether.

expandMeanwhile, when I talk to nurses from around the country, even though some of them may feel burnt out from the intensity of acute care, they feel shy about trying anything new because they’re afraid their skills will get rusty or they won’t feel like a “real” nurse anymore.

Sure, if you move into telephonic case management, some of your so-called “hard” nursing skills are sure to get rusty, but can’t you get them back when you need them? Will you totally forget how to start at IV, and wouldn’t a quick refresher course get you back on track if and when you need it? Some nurses are so afraid of losing their skills, they hold themselves back from trying anything outside of their normal ken. You can stay in acute care forever, but if you’re burnt out and needing a new kind of challenge, it’s a calculated risk to do something where you may lose some skills and gain some new ones.

American Sentinel UniversityAs for the questions regarding what is “real” nursing and what isn’t, this is a cultural form of brainwashing and groupthink that keeps many nurses in jobs that they’re actually quite tired of.

  • What’s wrong with telephonic case management if you enjoy it?
  • If you’re a career coach and freelance writer like me, are you still a nurse?
  • Is a Congressperson who is also a nurse able to say that she’s a nurse even though she’s serving in Congress and not at the bedside ?
  • Is a nurse researcher in academia still a nurse?
  • Is a Chief Nursing Officer who no longer engages in direct patient care a nurse?

Nursing has long been defined by the delivery of direct patient care, and still is.

Direct patient care isn’t the only way to serve as a nurse.

Nursing has become a multifaceted profession that offers many paths to fulfillment, a fair number of which do not involve patient care in any way, shape, or form.

Nurse entrepreneurs are forging new paths for nurses, some of which we’ve never thought of before. There are nurse inventors, nurse filmmakers, Legal Nurse Consultants and expert witnesses, Nurse Life Care Planners, and nurse consultants. Many of them don’t work in clinical nursing anymore, but they are still nurses through and through.

So, what is nursing? Is it a set of skills? Is it a task-based system of patient care delivery? Or is it a multifaceted ocean of possibility, wherein some nurses do the classic work of direct patient, and others do something outside the lines?

We have an esteem problem. Nurses say, “Oh, I’m just a nurse“, or “I just have an ADN.” Meanwhile, school nurses feel questioned about whether what they do is “real nursing”; what could be more real than maintaining the health and well-being of children, some of whom have g-tubes, vents, and complicated medication regimens? I’ve heard acute care nurses put down school nurses, and I wonder if those ICU nurses would last a minute with an absurd number of children to care for on a daily basis in multiple schools.

We need to expand our vision and understanding of what a nurse truly is.

We need to accept that not all nurses work in hospitals, and as the population ages, we will indeed need more and more nurses in home health, hospice, and other ambulatory settings.

We certainly need OR nurses, ICU, and ER nurses who dedicate their lives to professional development and absolutely top-notch skills; however, we also need nurses who can deliver other types of care, some of which is just as specialized, but perhaps not as technical and exacting as the work performed in the ICU.

What would you like to do that’s outside of the box of what you think of as “real” nursing? Would you pass on a potential position because it might challenge your definition of what it means to be a nurse? Are you limiting yourself and your nursing career because of a narrow vision of what’s possible?

Nurses, it’s time to take off your blinders (“blinkers” for those of you in the U.K.), unyoke yourself from narrow, outmoded definitions of your “nurseness”, and embrace a future that is much more robust and varied than you’ve ever allowed for in the past.

The world is your oyster, nurses, and the possibilities are endless. Forget the narrow viewpoint of nurses and nursing; see nursing for what it is: an endlessly fascinating and expanding profession that offers more choices and paths than they ever made you aware of in school.

Unshackle yourself from limitation, nurses; expand your self-definition and allow for possibility to be your guide. A nursing career is only as limited as you allow it to be.


American Sentinel UniversityThis episode of The Nurse Keith Show is sponsored by the good folks at American Sentinel University. As a fully accredited online university, American Sentinel offers a variety of courses related to healthcare and nursing, including RN to BSN, and five MSN programs: Informatics, Case Management, Nursing Education, Nursing Management, and Infection Prevention and Control. They offer an RN to BSN/MSN, a program, as well as two tracks for those wishing to pursue a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. American Sentinel also offers a certificate in Prevention and Control that assists clinicians in acquiring the knowledge they need to develop best practices for infection prevention and control. Please visit AmericanSentinel.edu/NurseKeith for more information.


The Nurse Keith Show is adroitly edited and produced by James Larson of Prowess Production and Management, and social media and promotion are expertly handled by Mark Capispisan.

Please consider leaving a review of The Nurse Keith Show over on iTunes; this helps more nurses and healthcare professionals find the show and benefit from the information being shared. Just visit iTunes, click on the iTunes store, search for The Nurse Keith Show under podcasts, and leave a review, and voila. Thanks!

Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BCKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith is also the resident nursing career expert at Nurse.com.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and currently writes for MultiViews New Service, LPNtoBSNOnline.com, StaffGarden, and Working Nurse Magazine.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives.

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