A Letter From A Nurse

“Come walk in our shoes for a 12-hour shift. Come see the joy, the tragedy, the comedy, the 100 ways we are pulled and pushed, then rate my “pleasant greeting”, “answers call light in a timely fashion”, “states name of patients.”

Use the bathroom now, because you might not get the chance again until your shift ends. Wear comfortable shoes. Don’t worry if they’re clean. They’ll end up with blood and vomit on them.

We are the patient’s advocate, the doctors’ eyes and ears, and everyone’s scapegoat. We can page your doctor but we can’t make that doctor magically appear. We check your stitches, wipe your blood, drain your pus and empty your bedpan.

Nursing is a tough job, but we’re tougher. We’ve been yelled at by administrators, supervisors, and doctors. We’ve been kicked, slapped, punched, spat on, and sexually harassed by patients in various states of delirium, mental illness, arrogance, and intoxication.

We’ve even had chairs and food trays thrown at us. I tried to look at our nurse-staff ratios from a patient’s perspective many times but they don’t seem to see that we work mandatory overtime, weekends and holidays. We eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with coworkers.

We deal with families who ignore visiting hours, bring food to patients on restricted diets and insist on staying the night even though it’s not a private room. We deal with the Florida son who orders us around to show a parent he’s neglected for years that he cares.

We cannot be at your side every waking minute. We have 10 other patients. We cannot answer 5 call lights at once. We can’t stop doing CPR on a patient because you ran out of tissues. We carry out and administer nursing interventions. We are not maids, beauticians, or cocktail waitresses.

We are professionals with college degrees. We are often highly specialized nurses in specific case management. We hate that we can’t spend more bedside time with you. Swearing at us will not make us move faster. Taking better care of your health would help. Quit smoking. Lose weight. Start exercising. Stop drinking.

How do we survive? We ignore the nasty comments, the demanding relatives, the crazy staffing grids. We count to 10 before speaking. We pray every morning for strength and wisdom, patience and empathy. Sure, not every good nurse is necessarily a good person, but we drive home tired and frustrated, telling ourselves over and over, “I’m not the nurse I want to be, but I’m the best nurse the hospital staffing allows me to be.” We fall asleep praying for the ones who won’t survive the night.

There is no finish line, ever. Nursing is demanding, fulfilling, and we can’t imagine doing anything else. Nothing beats washing blood and glass off a car crash survivor, stabilizing a broken neck, saving a diabetic’s leg, keeping a cancer patient in remission. All these interventions! The day we send a patient home we relish the unbelievable resilience of the human body and spirit.

We did not become nurses for the hours, the salary, or the glamor of it all. We became nurses to make a difference.

We don’t ask for much. One sincere Thank You makes all the thankless hours worth it.”


Before this week, I really had never given much thought to this topic. I’ve read articles about it, I’m aware of the laws (it’s a felony to assault a healthcare worker), but this has never been a big issue in my nursing practice. You have to be emotionally strong! I work in a cardiovascular ICU, which means that most of our patients are post-surgical. When patients are taking swings at you, it’s usually because they’re coming out of anesthesia and, as frustrated as we are as nurses, we deal with it and let it roll off our backs. Sure, it’s not only the patients. You don’t want to know how many times I heard some doctor say things like “Are you new here, RN?” 

But, when you take care of a patient that is free of any anesthetics in his/her system, and they are not going through problems related to a medical condition (stroke, DTs, etc), there is no excuse for abusive behavior. These behaviors can range anywhere from ordering you around like a servant: “This water isn’t cold enough; get me a new cup now!”, to calling you a *insert swear words here*, to grabbing onto your hair and not letting go.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure which one of these scenarios bugs me the most. They all irk me, but in different ways. They are all so similar because they all cause me to lose instant respect for the patient. But in the end, we’re all adult here, aren’t we? I walk into my shift every morning with full expectations that I’m going to have a good day. Even when I get a report from the nurse who’s going off shift and he/she tells me “Oh, bed 36 is such a pain in the butt”, I still walk into room 36 with a smile on my face and a clean slate hoping for the best.

But when the patient does something disrespectful, all bets are off. I am still a high caliber nurse even when pushed to the brink. My patients are always well-taken care for, all of their basic needs are met, but it makes it harder to WANT to go into the room and check on the patient. Just thinking of the big picture will help. It makes it hard to WANT to get them a fresh cup of ice chips because you see the current cup is half melted or WANT to give them a lotion backrub because you know they’ve had to lay in bed for 6 hours straight after a procedure.

I do WANT to be a caring, thoughtful, hard-working nurse. Why are you making this so hard for me to do…