Nurses are the reason doctors look good

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a lot of revelations in my professional life, but there is one that still affects me emotionally to this day, and it’s about nurses.

I had been a PICU doctor for a number of years, and I was rounding on all the patients in the PICU with the rest of the team. The background sounds consisted of the usual beeps, alarms, and humming from the patient’s monitors and machines. I believe it was winter, and the unit was full (of course). The kids in the PICU ranged in diagnoses from sepsis (blood infection), apnea (stopped breathing), suicide attempt, pneumonia, etc. to a number of other problems.

One patient, “John,” was a 16-year-old car accident victim who had suffered a severe brain injury and multiple broken bones. He had previously been a healthy, strong “macho man.” He was comatose and on a ventilator. He had multiple IVs and drugs to keep his blood pressure up, had a feeding tube in his nose, a catheter in his bladder, and a drain in his skull to decrease the pressure in his brain as a result of swelling.

His muscular appearance contrasted with the fact that he was wearing a brief (diaper), as he had no control over his own bodily functions.

I was just outside his room, as our team was discussing another patient. The nurse from John’s room came out to ask me a number of questions that couldn’t wait. She stood in the doorway of his room as she spoke to me, wearing her scrubs and tennis shoes, a mask and rubber gloves. She, in a very highly intelligent and summarized manner, updated me on John’s most serious and pressing problems, and her suggestions to help him. After our brief conversation, she said, “Sorry, but I have to get back to what I was doing.” I realized that she had been right in the middle of cleaning up this young man’s large bowel movement.

I watched her gently care for him, and listened to her soothingly reassure him that everything was going to be all right. I was overwhelmingly overcome with deep admiration and respect.

Nursing does not teach one to become compassionate, humble and generous of spirit. Those that already possess those characteristics choose to become nurses.

Nurses are the core of medicine. They are the compassion of the art. Nurses are the reason we doctors look good.

Michael D. Pappas is a pediatrician and can be reached at Children’s Intensive Caring.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • NewMexicoRam

    We all have a job to do in healthcare. Let’s honor everyone involved, not isolate groups.
    Is there really a need for this?

    • T H

      Speaking as an MD and son to a long-time CCRN who saw how she was treated by some MDs…. and how some are still treated today…

      Yes, there is still a need for this.

      • NewMexicoRam

        That’s bad.
        But I have worked in healthcare for nearly 30 years, in a variety of areas, and thank goodness, I have never seen poor treatment towards anyone.
        One exception. I’ve seen plenty of resident physicians be mistreated by nurses and by attending physicians.

        • Lisa

          If you have never seen poor treatment towards anyone in healthcare, with the one exception you noted, you are very fortunate. Or perhaps you are not really paying attention to how people other than doctors are treated. I’ve seen poor treatment across the spectrum.

          • NewMexicoRam

            “not paying attention.”
            Sorry, I don’t think that’s right.

  • RenegadeRN

    Yes, everyone involved is important, but try doing without nurses for even 1 hour! Really think about it- ONE hour in a hospital without all the key players….which one is indispensable?
    Not to take anything away from docs, but you see the patient for maybe 15 minutes in a 24 hr period. If you write an order that is incorrect for some reason, it’s my butt if I don’t catch it and carry out that order as written. Most providers don’t realize that.

    Thank you for a thoughtfully written article.

    • NewMexicoRam

      And, likewise, try going without doctors for one hour.
      Like I said, enough of this. Let’s move forward in unison.

      • Kristy Sokoloski

        Good point, which goes to the fact that each one is necessary. Unfortunately we are going in a direction where each side seems to think they are more important than the other. Which brings up the question as it relates to various doctors do we really need all the specialists that are out there in Medicine? You have those that say no we don’t because this should be something that should be handled by Primary Care but due to the constraints that are out there for the job of the Primary Care Physician the specialists will say yes. The specialists will say yes they are needed not only because of the time that makes it impossible for Primary Care Physicians to take care of all their patients, but also because nowadays so many people have very complicated medical histories. So because these people have very complicated medical histories then the specialists in the various diseases are needed to take care of the people. We live in a Society now where Medicine has gone and gotten very specialized. New medical specialties are being created faster than I can blink. How come there isn’t more fighting between specialists and PCPs as to the roles that they play in caring for the people? I ask this because I haven’t seen a whole lot of it.

  • John C. Key MD

    Like NMRam, I really get tired of reading this sort of fluff. I have always enjoyed a good relationship with nurses–office, ICU, and otherwise. They have made me look good; they have made me look bad. Just as with physicians, there are good ones and bad ones. All play an important role, no group superior to another when all do their jobs properly. Let’s cut the “holier than thou” routine and let everyone execute their responsibilities with grace and skill. Besides, we are always hearing about the “Team Concept” for the 21st century, so it is unseemly to laud one team member above all others.

  • QQQ

    Uh-oh! Another Doctors vs Nurses article!

  • David Gelber MD

    I agree. I wrote something similar a few years ago.

    http://www.heardintheor.blogspot.com/2010/08/dont-think.html

  • Alene Nitzky

    I appreciate the sentiments and the intention behind this post. Thank you Mike. That said, nurses are not angels, they have the propensity to mistreat each other (eating their young) as well as patients, residents, and physicians. Nurses are human, like everybody else. All deserve respect where it is due, and need to be held accountable for their actions. Nurses, physicians, surgeons, administrators, all. No one should be placed on a pedestal. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to hear some praise of each other every so often! We in health care forget to express our appreciation of each others’ roles and duties.

  • Dee Coyle Tocci

    Thank you for your kind recognition of what nurses do without expectation of that recognition. I’m so disheartened that others feel this is fluff, or worse yet, have chosen to use this as a forum to rail against NPs and write a conservative mini diatribe. If we took the time to appreciate one another a little more rather than perpetuationg negativity, perhaps we could get together and move medicine and healthcare forward into our uncertain future.