What Do Nurses Really Do

What Do Nurses Really Do

One of the most common misperceptions about nursing is that “all we do is clean up bedpans.” While that may be ONE thing that we do, we do a lot more to direct patient care. When there’s a change in conditions (sudden onset of chest pain, trouble breathing, pain, vital sign changes, etc), we are the ones who see it first and decide the next best thing to do. When we see a treatment not working for patients, we are the ones who speak up to change the course of treatment. We make sure there’s no further complications associated with lying in bed for a long period of time (DVT, confusion, constipation, bed sores/pressure ulcers, falls, etc). Clinically, we should be at the top of our game. Below is a list of what nurses really do.

  • Nurses catch and prevent the medication error that would have killed you.
  • Nurses catch and stop the infection that would have killed you.
  • Nurses diagnose an ICU patient’s wide complex tachycardia, call a code, and defibrillate–saving the patient’s life.
  • Nurses triage ED patients based on their own expert evaluation of how sick the patients are–saving patients’ lives.
  • Nurses give powerful medications and vaccinations–saving patients’ lives.
  • Nurses are the care givers most likely to be there when patients are screaming, crying, laughing, or dying.
  • Nurses manage that violent, intoxicated patient alone until security gets there–if security gets there.
  • Nurses are the hospital caregivers most likely to be assaulted.
  • Nurses persuade that psychiatric patient to stick with the program.
  • Nurses persuade a poor young mother to save her baby’s life through prenatal visits and breastfeeding.
  • Nurses provide adequate pain medication for terminal patients and the opportunity to die at home.
  • Nurses provide expert support in your final hour.
  • Nurses teach you how to avoid getting AIDS, and how to live with it if you do.
  • Nurses subtly show the sickest patients that it’s worth trying, perhaps by discussing Harry Potter with the young leukemia patient, or watching a few minutes of the news with that despondent, elderly post-op patient.
  • Nursing students spend years in demanding science programs that test their sanity and cause some to quit or fail.
  • Nursing scholars struggle to get grants, publish groundbreaking research and get tenure.
  • Nurses serve as the chief executive officers of large hospitals.
  • Nurses spearhead efforts to help your teenage son not start smoking.
  • Nurses deliver babies in U.S. teaching hospitals and mountain villages in Bolivia.
  • Nurses provide much, if not most, of the health care given by aid groups with names like Doctors Without Borders.
  • Nurses explain what that physician was trying to communicate–saving countless lives.
  • Nurses, as commissioned officers, manage complex military care operations around the world.
  • Nurses found and run new health systems for underserved urban and rural communities–saving countless lives.
  • Nurses confront disruptive physician behavior, life-threatening nurse short-staffing, and bitter class divisions and horizontal violence within their own profession.
  • Nurses go on strike.
  • Burned-out nurses explode and quit.
  • Nurses train and mentor nursing students and new nurses.
  • Nurses kick intoxicated surgeons out of the OR and fight to have surgeons who are dangerous removed permanently.
  • Nurses refuse to give drugs that will hurt that fetus, or any other patient.
  • Nurses risk their careers to blow the whistle on deadly incompetence.
  • Nurses make mistakes and kill people, especially when they are understaffed or exhausted.
  • Nurses regularly have intense interactions with physicians about patient care. For instance, nurses may identify symptoms physicians have overlooked, and they may struggle to convince physicians that those symptoms exist.
  • What is Nursing?

    I was browsing the net and stumbled upon the website called the Truth About Nursing. The purpose is to teach the difference between the mass portrayal of nursing (especially through TV shows) and what nursing really is. Their definition and their description of what nurses do everyday is pretty good and accurate.

    What is Nursing?

    Nurses save and improve lives as front line members of the health care delivery team. They independently assess and monitor patients, and taking a holistic approach, determine what patients need to attain and preserve their health. Nurses then provide care and, if needed, alert other health care professionals to assist. For instance, emergency department nurses triage all incoming patients, deciding which are the sickest and in what order they require the attention of other health care professionals. Thus, nurses coordinate care delivery by physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, physical therapists and others. Nurses assess whether care is successful. If not, they create a different plan of action.

    One of the most important roles of the nurse is to be a patient advocate–to protect the interests of patients when the patients themselves cannot because of illness or inadequate health knowledge.

    Nurses are patient educators, responsible for explaining procedures and treatments. For instance, nurses teach patients and their families how to eat in a healthier way, take medicines, change wound dressings, and use health care equipment.

    Nurses empower patients, guiding them toward healthy behaviors and support them in time of need. When patients are able, nurses encourage and teach them how to care for themselves. Nurses provide physical care only when patients cannot do so for themselves.

    As patients near the end of their lives, nurses provide dignity in death by advocating for sufficient pain medication and the opportunity to die at home to allow them to spend meaningful time with family members in their final days.

    Hospital nurses are responsible for discharge planning, deciding together with other health professionals when patients can go home, and helping patients adapt to their conditions and work toward full recovery.

    Nurses, especially those working in community settings, work to prevent illness through education and community programs designed to decrease transmittable illnesses, violence, obesity and tobacco use, and provide maternal-child education–to prevent some of the leading health problems of our time.

    Some nurses are independent scholars whose work is at the forefront of health care research. Many nurses obtain Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in nursing, then work as scholars, educators, health policy makers, managers, advanced practitioners such as Clinical Nurse Specialists or Nurse Practitioners, or sit on Boards of Directors.

    First paid vacation!

    I scheduled my first vacation as a new nurse.

    Granted, it’s a week trip back to my hometown in Michigan (nothing too glamorous, just time with the family), but I’m getting paid for it. Sweet!

    Timeline from starting at the hospital:
    Mid January 2013: Date of Hire
    Beginning of July: Accrued 2 weeks of vacation time (6 days). By end of this year, it’ll be a total of 4 weeks (12 days).
    End of July: Requested for 2 days off
    3 Days later: Approved request (only 2 people can take vacation on a shift at a time)

    It’s like what my critical care professor said. After you start work, you’ll put in 6 months where you’re a little nervous about going to work. Then around 8 months in, you go on vacation. 1 year later, you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come since the beginning. So far, she’s pretty accurate. 🙂

    One of the great things about working here is a work-life balance and the 4 weeks of vacation time that I get after coming off probation. 🙂

    I’ll never look at antibiotics the same way again

    I heard it again. Another code. This time, it was for a patient getting this specific IV antibiotics for the first time. She went into a full on allergic reaction, or anaphylactic shock. I ran over, “Jessica, get the ambu bag!” This will force air into her lungs. Already compressions were started.

    “Get a 1000cc bag of normal saline!” She had low blood pressure because her heart rhythm went into v-tach and her pulse is through the roof.

    Her airway was swollen so respiratory therapists were there to make sure the airway remained open. She was eventually stabilized and sent up to ICU.

    Lesson Learned
    For first dose antibiotics and blood and any medication…
    Always inform your patients of possible allergic reactions and to alert you if they develop these symptoms: difficulty breathing, itchy, redness, chest tightness, swelling.

    If they do, always STOP giving the medication (or blood, especially if IV) immediately and give Benadryl, an antihistamine that stops the allergic reaction.

    Then DOCUMENT it in the allergy section so that it won’t ever happen again.

    Remember, the first time exposure to a medication typically has a mild reaction. But after the first time, your body has built antibodies to react to the allergen. The subsequent exposure will tend to have a more severe reaction.

    Nurse Gail – Travel Nursing

    I love the Internet because it allows you to connect with people that you may not have otherwise. Nurse Gail is a prime example! She went to University of Texas for nursing school and now is a travel nurse in NYC for 6 years. It has given her the opportunity to experience New York in a wide variety of settings and has challenged her everyday. We will both be attending NYU College of Nursing for our Master’s this fall so I’m very excited to meet her in person. 🙂

    Her blog discusses the challenges of NYC nurse working conditions, pros and cons of travel nursing, and nursing related issues. One I particularly liked discussed a journal article on the effects of aggression towards the nurse. Medical errors increase so the bottom line is to be nice to the nurse! I encourage you to check out her blog.

    Until next time,

    First Code – CPR or hospice care for terminal illness?


    This 90 something year old man was repeating, “I want to die” a couple days before. With stage 4 cancer (meaning, it spread from the source location), he should’ve been DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). But since he started to lose his mind (he couldn’t answer the 3 questions: name, location, and time), his family members began to make decisions for him (as a Heath Care Proxy). His family was in such denial that it was time for him to pass away. They believed he didn’t need morphine to ease his pain and should remain in full code in case his heart rhythm converted to v fib or v tach (at this point, you do CPR).

    Throughout the night, he kept moaning. But his family would only allow him to take Tylenol. Which honestly isn’t enough if you have overgrown cells invading essential organs. And these organs allow you to breathe and circulate blood throughout your body.

    After I had given out my morning meds and taken out a foley, I saw a nurse run. The next thing I heard was “999 on 1 West”. I saw 2 nurses with the crash cart wheel past me heading to a room in the next district over. When I saw them wheel the cart into that room, I knew it was him. The nurse there was already doing CPR compressions and someone else got the ambu bag ready. Though it felt like 5 minutes, about 30 seconds later, 2 critical care PAs, 3 critical care nurses, 2 MDs, respiratory therapist, nurse educator, patient care assistants, and all the nurses on the unit were there. The PAs took over the compressions. The pads were slapped on.

    The EKG monitor was still on, so I watched it go in and out of v fib and v tach. Nurses made the call out to the attending and the family to tell them to come in immediately. My nurse manager told me to go the next unit over to get the Line Cart. I learned fast that’s the cart with the equipment to do a central line. Inserting a central line would allow them to bolus (or “quickly give”) fluid directly to his heart to increase blood pressure. Without a properly beating heart, the body won’t have circulating blood.

    When I came back, I saw that he was also bleeding out from his rectum and abdomen. Cracked ribs and his tap sites from before may be the cause. Regardless, I primed the normal saline line to attach it to blood that we would give to him.

    More epinephrine was needed. More flushes. The nurse educator asked if I knew any of the nurses in the room so she can document everything that’s happening in the room. I gave some names and then let the nurse who was taking care of him take over.

    After the defibrillator delivered the shock, I heard that sound. That sound was an asystole sound. A solid beeeeeeeeeep. I looked at the EKG monitor and saw a solid line. He was gone. He got his wish.

    This happened in 17 minutes.


    If only he had been DNR and was comforted, he would’ve died more peacefully. He wouldn’t have bled, have cracked ribs, have something tied to keep his tongue down in case of intubation. He died suffering from pain and misery. It could’ve been in peace in his sleep.

    Family members may feel guilty if they decide to make their loved ones a DNR. They may feel that they aren’t doing the right thing and that they should do everything possible to save them. But in terminal cases, the focus should switch from treatment to comfort. This increases the quality of someone’s end-of-life care.

    In my mind, when I die, I would want to die in my sleep. Peacefully. No pain. Just as living is a part of life, death is too. And we should pass with dignity.

    Fried Bun With Condensed Milk in NYC!! Yum!

    Manna Cafe and the Fried Bun with Condensed Milk

    As a kid, I loved eating these fried buns with condensed milk! I only had it once or twice but I couldn’t forget the taste. After coming to NYC and its 3 Chinatowns, I knew I had to find it. The only places that serve it is at Hong Kong cafes! There are two locations to find this gem. And it’s only $3. Woot!

    Manna Cafe (as pictured above!)– right off the 7 Train – Flushing Main St Stop
    135-05 40th Rd
    Flushing, NY 11354

    Cha Chan Tang — in Manhattan Chinatown
    45 Mott St
    (between Pell St & Bayard St)
    New York, NY 10013

    Monkey: Journey to the West Review


    When I saw in the New York Magazine that the Monkey King: Journey to the West was showing at the Lincoln Center Festival had rave reviews, I had to see it! I bought the cheapest tickets online ($25) and saw it yesterday.

    As a Chinese American, I heard about the story many times, but never knew the whole story. After watching the show, I finally get it.

    It drives home the message that

    no matter what, you can change it all around.

    You can become powerful but if reckless, eventually you’ll be put down.

    If you become obsessed with food, wine, and lust, eventually you’ll cause harm.

    But you can also commit to change and persist to be different– you believe things are equal, you develop your mind, and your mind is pure and calm.

    If you get the chance, go watch it! It’s the best show I’ve seen in New York.

    Education Day 2: Communication and Delegation

    Today was our second “Education” Day. The first Education Day that happened one month ago covered medication errors and IV insertion. Today, we talked about communication, delegation and the electronic health record.

    Communication among the nurses, patients, doctors, and ancillary staff are crucial for good patient outcomes. We communicate to convey  messages to other people. What do you think is the most important part about communication? Take a guess first!

    • Words
    • Body Language (facial expressions, hand gestures)
    • Paralinguistic (the tone; the way that the words are said)




    It’s body language, which accounts of 55%. Words account for 7% and paralinguistic accounts for 38%. Body language shows your attitude and shows how you feel.

    There are different ways to give and receive information. Even though we spend 7-12 years of our education on learning how to write and read, we spend less than 1-2 years of formal education on how to speak and listen. This is almost counterintuitive, considering that over half of our communication depends on LISTENING to each other.

    We broke out into 4 groups and discussed about traits of good listeners vs bad listeners.

    Good Listeners:

    • Eye contact
    • Gives feedback
    • Not rushed

    Bad Listeners:

    • Interrupts
    • Has a reply or rebuttal before letting the other person finish speaking

    Etc, etc, it can go on and on. To show that we care,

    1. Look at the patient in the eye (not at the WOW all the time; let the patient know you’ll ask a series of questions on the WOW so they know you’re not purposely trying to not give eye contact)
    2. Sit down next to the patient to show that you’re not rushed
    3. When they are concerned about something, ask them for more details (especially regarding pain!)


    As for delegation, it is something that new nurses struggle with. The most important takeaway messages I got was:

    • Be specific
      • Example: Take that patient for a walk vs
      • Take that patient for a walk for 80 feet. 1 assist with a walker and oxygen is needed at all times. It’s the first time the patient is getting up so take a pulse ox before and after he goes for the walk. When that’s completed, please tell me what happened.
    • Vital signs and I/O
      • “Please tell me any abnormal vital signs that you see. And for these specific patients (congestive heart failure, post-open heart patients, renal), please document intake and output.”
    • Change priorities as needed
      • Some ancillary staff may think that cleaning equipment or doing the bedtime bundle or whatever it is that they are doing is more important than a patient’s change in condition. Sometimes when you say, “please go do a fingerstick stat” or a “EKG stat” or something else that’s more urgent (such as compromised patient safety aka a patient getting out of bed without supervision especially if they want to use the bathroom or go for a walk but forget or don’t want to call you!), the PCA takes their time to do what you asked them to do.
      • It may help to say: “That isn’t important right now. Right now, it’s more important for you to take a set of vitals on this patient.”
    • If there is an isolated problem (they don’t know or just forgot), it is important to address it right away in private (never in front of the patient!!). Sandwich a compliment, criticism, and compliment. If it is a continuous problem (due to attitude or laziness), then still address it but also bring it up to management.
    • Give feedback. Everyone is valued and needed on the unit. Using their name and saying thanks goes a long way.