What it’s Really Like to Be a Nurse – An Open Letter to Anyone Who Thinks it’s OK to Poke Fun at Our Profession

What it's really like to be a nurse - An open letter to anyone who thinks it's OK to poke fun at our profession
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With my profession, nursing, being in the news a lot recently, I’ve started to reflect on the past 4.5 years.  Four and a half years of learning, teaching, growing.  Four and a half years of wearing compression socks because I’m on my feet for sometimes 10+ hours in a day and if I don’t wear those socks I become swollen and get spider veins.  Four and a half years of comforting scared and sad parents watching their teeny tiny babies fight for their lives in a box.  Not being able to touch, or take them home. Four and a half years of learning how to speak to my superiors – physicians, charge nurses, nurse practitioners, and more.  Four and a half years of weekends, night shifts, and holidays that take away from spending time with my family.  And for what?


What Do Nurses Do?


Before I start… I want you to realize something.  Nursing, our profession as a whole is consistently voted on as the most honest and ethical profession.  Along with others in the medical profession, we hold our patient’s lives in our hands.  However, those who don’t know anything about the healthcare industry continually joke about our profession.  In 2015 two ladies of The View, Joy Behar and Michelle Collins, went on national television to make fun of Kelley Johnson; a nurse competing for Miss America.




What resulted was enraged nurses, sparking the #NursesUnite movement.  Advertisers such as Johnson & Johnson and Eggland’s Best pulled their advertisements from The View.  And nurses hardly received a heartfelt apology from Behar, “…there’s a woman wearing an outfit with a stethoscope, and I’m thinking is she in a costume? …I’m used to seeing them in gowns and bathing suits.”

However, what has occurred most recently is yet another woman speaking on behalf of nurses. Without having ANY experience in the medical field.  Most recently, Senator Walsh from Washington proposed a bill that would require nurses to switch from three 12-hour shifts a week to five eight-hour shifts a week.  Now, before you think… “That’s what the rest of the world does.”  I want you to think of this… does the rest of the world work holidays?  Night shifts?  Weekends?  Does the rest of the world deal with death on a regular basis?  Nursing is a unique profession and must not be tied to what society thinks of as a “standard workweek.”  We NEED those four days off to decompress.  To be able to transition from days to nights and back again.  We need those days off for continuing education credits that are mandatory in every state in order to keep our licenses.  We need those days off to prevent nurse burnout!  To travel, spend time with friends and family in the weeks we’re working on holidays and weekends.


In a Profession that is Already Hemorrhaging Nurses Due to Burn Out… Why are Those NOT Experienced in Our Field Trying to Change the Rules?


Now, lets put feelings aside and think rationally about this.  Why is it that nurses work 12-hour days three days a week? For shits and giggles?  No… we work 12-hour shifts for patient safety reasons.  Having two nurses in a 24-hour period, versus three allows us to notice slight changes in patient condition.  It allows us to get to know our patients better and for our patients to know us better.  Not to mention, with a nursing shortage already on the rise… forcing us to work eight-hour shifts will actually require the hiring of MORE nurses.  Utilizing three nurses per day versus two nurses per day will result in MORE of a shortage.  More of us being forced to work overtime.  Take on more patients.  Putting patient safety at risk.  Senator Walsh, if you were in the hospital… does this sound appealing to you?


If This Bill Passes, Washington is Projected to See a 60% Decrease in Nurses.  Do You Still Think This Bill is a Good Idea?


What perhaps, is more shocking, is that Senator Walsh doesn’t stop at trying to dictate how our profession should be run.  She takes it one step further.  When speaking on what we do during our breaks, she states, “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”  Senator Walsh… now not EVERY day is like this.  I do have really good days as a nurse, where I get my breaks, I can eat lunch, nobody in the unit dies, and I can use the bathroom as I please.  Also, on the very best days, I get to check my phone!  But humor me and go along with what a bad day looks like….

My alarm goes off at 5 am.  I get up, drink coffee, and spend time clearing my head before getting to the hospital to ensure that I’m in a good headspace before meeting my patients for the day.  I open the front doors to the hospital. Take the elevator up to the NICU and step onto the unit.  Now, before I step onto the unit I have absolutely NO idea what awaits me. Will it be a “good” day? Will one of my patients or one of my colleagues’ patients be circling the drain?  How many times will the emergency button being pressed?  How many babies will be admitted to the unit? How many crying parents will there be?

In this particular scenario, unfortunately, it is not a good day.  It is a very, very bad day.  We are understaffed and overworked today.  Instead of an appropriate nurse to patient ratio, ensuring safety for the patients… we have one, sometimes TWO extra patients. I quickly get a report and start reading over orders and notes to make sure that I have the entire patient picture before my day starts.

Fast forward… and it’s now noon.  I haven’t peed, I haven’t eaten, I haven’t drunk any water.  I’ve been on my feet, on the move, for the past five hours. I’ve been calming parents, relaying important information to my superiors, assessing, charting, and more. I’m delivering meds on time, mixing milk so my patients are fed, and more.  Senator Walsh… does that sound to you like I have time to “play cards”?

By the end of my shift, I have seemingly run all over the unit.  Answered call lights.  Silenced hundreds of alarms.  Rushed to patient beds to make sure that they were breathing.  And I have done so much more. I get home around 8 pm and although I’m home, mentally… I’m still in the hospital.  But, I would still like to go back one more time.  Back to Senator Walsh’s exact quote…


“They Probably Play Cards for a Considerable Amount of the Day”


IF and that is a BIG IF… IF I were to be playing cards… that would mean I was on break.  Let’s go back to that typical bad day I’m having at work.  I don’t even have time to empty my bladder, how in the world do you expect me to have a significant enough of a break to “play cards”? AND if I were to have a significant break… it is MY break.  Right?  I’ve earned that break.  It is the law that nurses do get a break during their 12-hour shift (that law being honored is a different story).  So if I were to receive my break like the law states, what is it to you what I do with my time?  What if I WANT to play cards instead of eating?  Does that make me any less of a nurse?


When it is Your Turn to be Admitted to the Hospital…


So to the ladies of The View, Senator Walsh, and anyone else who will inevitably poke fun at our profession and speak on behalf of us regardless of how little you know about what goes on during our shifts…. When the time comes for you to be admitted to the hospital; because the time will inevitably come.  We will treat you with the utmost respect and compassion. We won’t discriminate.  We won’t hate you.  We will do our absolute very best to care for you the way you deserve to be cared for.  We won’t let you see us sweat while juggling multiple patients and demands. We won’t tell you that we haven’t taken a break yet.  We will smile at you, reassure you, and comfort you.

We are, after all, the most honest and ethical profession.


If you have more questions on exactly what it is that nurses do, or what it’s like to be a nurse you might find these posts helpful…

Behind Closed Doors – What I Wish You Knew About the NICU

Being a NICU Nurse Has Taught Me

Nursing Has Allowed Me to


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What it's Really Like to Be a Nurse - An Open Letter to Anyone Who Thinks it's OK to Poke Fun at Our Profession


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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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  1. CBS1
    November 19, 2022 / 5:27 am

    As a retired NICU RN, I have worked years of 8 hour night shifts and years of 12 hour shifts. 8 hours of work is just fine. Take your own advice – how many 8 hour shifts have your worked Kylee?

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