So, once again, nurses have been chosen as the number one trusted professionals in the United States. More than doctors, more than lawyers, more than bankers and police officers.
The annual Gallup poll of the most trusted professionals has revealed for 12 out of the last 13 years that nurses are trusted more than anyone else. The only time that nurses have been ousted from the top slot was following the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001 when firefighters held that illustrious spot in the public consciousness.
Many members of the public don’t necessarily understand all that nurses actually do, but it seems that most of us know that nurses are there to care for us, and while doctors may write prescriptions, order tests and perform procedures and surgeries, it’s usually the nurse that hands you the bed pan, explains your illness in clear and understandable language, takes your vital signs, and provides professional care that enables you to go home as quickly as possible, or remain at home with the proper home-based care.
Registered nurses cannot diagnose or treat illness on their own. They cannot order tests or prescribe medications. They may carry out the orders written or spoken by doctors, but nurses also have a body of “evidence-based” knowledge and practice from which they operate. Nursing is a scientifically-based profession that also boasts a fair amount of art that defines its identity, but it is generally the art—not the science—that the public sees. The public sees the nurse fluffing the pillow, looking deeply into a loved one’s eyes, or holding the hand of a dying friend. The public does not see the hours of study, the continuing education, and the rigorous training that makes a nurse become who he or she needs to be in order to deliver such professional and skilled care.
Nurse Practitioners (Masters-prepared specialists with the power to prescribe medications, diagnose illness, order tests and perform certain procedures) are another form of nurse with which more and more Americans are gaining comfort and familiarity. NPs can serve as Primary Care Providers (PCPs), and many Americans choose to have Nurse Practitioners serve as their personal PCP (albeit with a physician overseeing that care to some extent).
Yes, nurses are part of the American health care zeitgeist, and Americans trust nurses with their lives, day in and day out. Nurses are indeed professionals that can, by and large, be trusted. And understanding what a nurse can and cannot do is part of what being a savvy and informed consumer is all about.