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Nursing is a proud profession, for good reason. Most people who enter the profession are intelligent and caring, and healthcare consumers consistently rate us the most ethical profession in an annual Gallop poll. The public trusts us-but do we fully deserve this high regard?
Educationally, we're a diverse group. Most consumers aren't aware that the nurse caring for them may not have a baccalaureate degree-a basic requirement for most other healthcare professions. Although we call ourselves professionals, we can't seem to agree on minimum educational requirements needed to practice nursing in today's highly technical healthcare environment.
Let's get our act together. It's time for nursing leaders to agree on an educational entry level into our profession. All nurses and programs could be grandfathered into the new future of our profession. Fairness to nurses can best be achieved by ending status barriers between practitioners based on educational differences. Physician assistant (PA) programs have moved to a master's entry level and have benefited greatly from this strategic planning. Not only have PAs gained professional respect and credibility, they also earn salaries that match or even exceed those of advanced practice nurses.
On an individual level, we also need to look and act like professionals. Many of us dress in scrubs or colorful clothing instead of wearing attire that lets patients identify their nurses at a glance. In many other countries, nurses have retained the traditional nursing uniforms that we've abandoned. Their patients know when the person at their bedside is a nurse, not a technician. As an attorney, I know that nurses often get blamed for errors when patients can't tell the difference between nurses and other healthcare workers who enter their room.
Finally, we need to step up as patient advocates rather than "going along to get along" with our coworkers. Too often, harried nurses create workarounds and other "common practices" that lead to substandard patient care. Know the policies and procedures your employer has created to maintain a safe standard of care, consistently follow them, and insist that your colleagues do too. Let's be patient advocates first, team players second.
I hope the tough love I've dished out here won't be taken as an attack on our profession, but rather as a challenge. We need to stop postponing the important educational entry level decisions and unify our profession. Individual nurses must assess their own level of professionalism and determine if they're satisfied with the way they represent nursing. I welcome your opinions and am willing to change mine if you can convince me that we look like the profession we need to be for our society today.
Penny Simpson Brooke, APRN, MS, JD
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