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Nursing vs. Medicine (and why we should stop comparing them)


Did you see what I did there? This has to be an age old debate: should I be a doctor or a nurse? I would like to put this discussion to rest, and not because I think there is an answer, but because I don’t think there can be a comparison. Note: there will be no shade thrown at physicians in this post. While, yes, some of them can be grumpy when you call them at 0200h for a sedative order, for the most part, they’re alright.

Nursing is not a runner-up prize

We’ve all been there. We went to school or worked with someone who became a nurse because they eventually wanted to go in to medicine. And for some insanely ridiculous reason, that hurts. Nurses aren’t known to embrace a colleagues choice to become a physician. It feels like a betrayal, like he or she is turning their back on our beautiful profession. But I think the reason that we feel this particular sting is due to the fact that nursing is constantly compared to medicine. We, as nurses, need to be confident in the fact that what we do for a living is not a runner-up prize. That, for the vast majority of us, nursing is something we chose because we saw in other nurses qualities that we admire, or that we saw in ourselves. For example, I am scared of blood and dead bodies. But when my grandmother was dying on a palliative care unit I saw in those nurses compassion and a comfortable response to death that I knew I had too. It was because of that experience I decided to become a nurse, and throw reckless caution to the wind and deal with basically nothing but blood and dead bodies. That was a choice I made for myself, and one so many of us have made over and over. We didn’t just land in this career because there was “nothing better”. Which leads me to my next point…

Nursing is equal to medicine (just…different)

Nursing is not seen as a profession unto itself. Yes, we can’t do our jobs without physicians, but physicians also can’t do their jobs without us! But because we take our orders from doctors, the general public (and sometimes even those very physicians) don’t understand what sets nurses apart from other professionals. As Sana Goldberg said in her TedxHarvard College talk What if you became a nurse?

 “I think we are perceived as cleaning up dung at the base of the medical hierarchy…but nurses are not accessories, they are fully realized masters of their own fate who came to a choice about their career like anyone else…nurses will tell you they want to work with people, not for them or above them”

Nurses have their own unique and invaluable place within health care. Nursing may be seen as less important than medicine when it comes to day to day results, but it is the personal touch of a nurse that can be the biggest takeaway message a patient receives after an interaction with the health care system. And that is not a responsibility we should take lightly. We are essential, and need to see the value in ourselves and ensure our equal representation in the health care team.

Happiness is a confident nurse

No nurse will ever be happy if he/she spends their time comparing themselves to somebody else. I mean, this is just good life advice, let alone career advice (you’re welcome). Nurses need to embrace our unique position and focus on promoting our profession within the health care system. It can be hard dealing with public and private perception of our role when it doesn’t truly represent us, but we need to hold fast to the principles of our profession: compassion, empathy, and knowledge. When we grow in these areas, so too will our confidence and we will get a seat at the table. This way, everyone knows exactly who we are and will stop needlessly comparing us and start watching what we can do.

Have you ever been asked why you didn’t choose medicine over nursing? Or, did you choose nursing over medicine?

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One Comment

  • Thomas

    I get asked all the time why I didn’t go to med school. My favorite is “are you planning on going back to school to be a doctor.” It’s unfortunate so many people don’t know the difference between nurses and doctors and the value nurses bring.

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