1. Bean, Kathy B. PhD, RN, CGRN, APRN, BC, Editor

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Nursing has struggled for many years to move from being seen as a technical occupation to that of a valued and respected profession. A profession is typically seen by society to be an occupation that requires extensive study. More than a job, a profession encompasses a specific body of knowledge and provides a service deemed crucial to society. Medicine, law, and engineering are examples of professions. Nursing leaders through the past several decades have worked hard to establish nursing as a profession by developing a science of nursing, raising the educational preparation of nurses, and articulating the art of nursing to society.

Figure. Kathy B. Bea... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Kathy B. Bean, PhD, RN, CGRN, APRN, BC, Editor

In many ways, these visionary and dedicated leaders have been successful. Nursing science is valued and respected beyond the discipline, with nurse scientists participating in multidisciplinary research teams around the world. More than 18% of nurses practicing in the United States choose to pursue additional education beyond their entry level into nursing practice. Our own organization, the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA), is highly esteemed and often sought by other professional organizations to participate in collaborative efforts at the national and international level. Still, I see evidence nurses do not truly see themselves as professionals or do not value the standard of professional. Why? Well, I'm about to step on a few toes!!


I recently was honored to attend the World Congress of Gastroenterology in Montreal, Canada. Nurses and physicians from around the world came together to focus on gastroenterology care. This was an opportunity for nurses to establish their professional identity with physician colleagues on a global perspective. On the first evening of the meeting, attendees were invited to a special "opening ceremony." I was frustrated to see that while the physician attendees dressed in "professional" attire (e.g., suits, sports coats, and career wear), most nursing colleagues attended the ceremony in casual wear such as jeans and tennis shoes. I heard several physician colleagues remark "Well, it's easy to spot the nurses." Ouch!! We weren't doing much to establish our professionalism.


At our own annual SGNA meeting, I've seen colleagues rush the vendor booths just to pick up a "cute" trinket to take back home. There is no obvious interest in the product the vendor is representing or how the product can improve patient care. Further still, a great deal of energy is often spent at the annual meeting on organizing dinner out with a favored vendor representative instead of taking advantage of the incredible networking and learning opportunities we are privileged to experience at SGNA's annual meeting. Why, then, should we be seen as professionals? There is nothing professional about these behaviors!!


You may chastise me, arguing nurses work hard and need time to relax and celebrate. I couldn't agree more. I'm one of those nurses!! But I believe fervently we must be astute to where and when we relax and with whom and how we publicly celebrate. If we really want more respect as a profession, including better pay and a sense of being appreciated for the knowledge and skills we possess, we must choose to act the part when and where it counts. That means dressing professionally at meetings (particularly interdisciplinary meetings) or interacting with our vendor colleagues to learn more about their products and how they can improve our delivery of nursing care, instead of merely wanting their marketing trinkets.


Think about this. Would you be impressed by a pharmaceutical representative who called on your office or department for the first time dressed in jeans and tennis shoes? What kind of "professional" impact would she make? Would you take her seriously or would she have to work hard to gain your respect and admiration? The pharmaceutical representative may be extremely talented and knowledgeable, but it would be hard for most of us to initially get past her lack of professional presentation. I believe the same goes for each of us. We must be cognizant of the image we are trying to portray, not just as a reflection on ourselves, but more importantly as a reflection on our profession. While nurses are so much more than what is seen on the outside, what is seen does make an impact on others. We may never have an opportunity for them to see or value the depth of our knowledge, skill, and compassion if they have already established preconceived ideas about who we are in the professional realm.


I love the nursing profession and the colleagues with whom I share the title of registered nurse. I have invested 24 years of time and energy into learning how to perfect my nursing art and science. I look for every opportunity to educate others about what I do as a nurse and to communicate the profession's need for bright, articulate, scholarly individuals to practice as nurses. I know many of you do the same. But I suggest we are fighting a losing battle if we are not perceived in every venue as professionals.


Before you disagree with me, I ask you to critically examine your professional behaviors. Are you communicating society's expectation of a professional outside your practice setting? Do others see you as a professional when you are representing nursing? Have you even given thought to how you personally are demonstrating (or not) the professionalism of nursing?


With the national nursing shortage and our intense focus on recruitment of the next generation of nurses, we must do all we can to establish our identity and worth as a profession. Around the world, nurses are fighting for their autonomy and place in the profession of nursing. Many are struggling to earn wages reflective of their level of expertise. Whenever and wherever we can, we have a responsibility to demonstrate nurses are professionals in every sense of the word-assuming we do sincerely want to be recognized and valued as professionals.