An open letter to the #NursesUnite movement

I’ve had this on my mind for quite some time, but am now able to put it into words. Since Joy Behar opened her mouth and let her ignorance towards the nursing profession spill out, my timeline has been flooded with Nursing Stethoscope Selfies and personal outrages against those comments.


An open letter to the #NursesUnite movement

An open letter in response to #NursesUnite:

It is amazing that you have finally found a cause to unite over (#nursesunite), however, I find it hard to jump on board this superficial bandwagon that actually serves the nursing profession no purpose whatsoever.

I have pondered over the last week why it is that so many nurses take such offense to the few words of an ignorant television host, being that Ms. Behar has zero impact or influence on the healthcare profession or the role of nursing, yet they do nothing to end the many real issues plaguing the nursing profession.

The only conclusion that I can come up with is that nurses feel that they can't do much to change the real problems in nursing, so they unite and attack over something that really makes no difference at all to us as a whole.

There are so many other REAL aspects of the nursing profession to unite over to influence change that will actually make a difference to nursing. There are many "dirty secrets" of nursing that go unspoken and ignored, many of which are cultivated by nurses themselves.

Bullying, horizontal violence, inadequate training, nurses "eating their young", 12+ hour shifts, no breaks, high acuities, too many patients per nurse, etc.

I went into nursing because I like to help people. I am empathetic. I am a quick thinker. I am smart. But that isn't actually what makes a nurse successful in this profession, as I have come to find out. As I have come to find out, nursing has less to do with how competent or compassionate you are, and more to do with how much you can, or are willing to, put up with. The nursing culture is full of "suck it ups" and "oh well, it is how it is."

What seems to make a nurse successful is the ability to withstand bullying, intimidation, being talked down to by supervisors, patients, family members, and doctors. The ability to get over inadequate training and support provided by management and your peers and to be okay with unsafe patio to nurse ratios. You'll feel more confident in time, it's just a part of nursing.

To be successful in nursing, you have to be okay with having zero time to take a break (even a bathroom break) and most times, taking your lunch sometimes 8 hours past your start time, or sometimes not even getting a lunch. You have to be okay with being dehydrated while hanging patient's IV bags and shaking from not being able to take a break and eat while you are checking diabetic's blood sugars and teaching the importance of proper urinary hygiene to avoid UTIs while you've been holding your own urine for the past 5 hours. Nurses are expected to just be okay with it. It's just a part of nursing, right?

You have to be okay with coming in early to "get familiar" with your patient load and not getting paid for that time. You have to be okay with staying well past your shift to give report on a regular basis, taking your total time on the clock (and off) well into 14-15 hours, which means that you are so tired driving home that you hope you make it there without crashing because your brain is tired mush. But long shifts are just a part of nursing.

You have to be okay with having to do more with less, even if it affects patient safety and outcomes. You have to be okay with doctors yelling at you and treating you like you're an incompetent idiot rather than a professional colleague in health care. You know that if you call a doctor to clarify orders or to update on your mutual patient, you may be met with disdain and sarcasm. But that's okay too, because it's just a part of nursing.

Nurses know this to be true. Nurses know these are the dirty secrets of nursing. Nurses know that bullying is rampant. Yet, the answer to this problem is "grow a thicker skin" or "you'll just get used to it".

Nurses know that understaffing is a given and that high acuity and high patient loads per nurse is more common than not. Nurses know this isn't safe, they know the care being given isn't what it should or could be, but they do not unite together against it and demand change.

Nurses know that there is often a lack of adequate training and preceptorship for new grads and new employees entering new specialty areas and that too many times nurses get thrown to the wolves and it's a sink or swim mentality. But, this is just a part of nursing we accept.

Nurses know this. They live it. They experience it. It is the culture of nursing. Yet, there is no call to end it. No hash tag. No selfies. No viral campaign on social media. No standing up to it. Just the continued mentality that these things are just a part of nursing that you have to accept or leave.

So, instead of uniting together against something or someone that has no impact on nursing, why not stand up and unite against the things that are killing the nursing profession and demand they change?


A disillusioned nurse

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roser13, ASN, RN

6,504 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg, Ortho, ASC. Has 17 years experience.

My thoughts exactly. I'd been having flitting thoughts about the hashtag all day, and how quickly nurses united online for such a tempest in a teapot. At least, it's a tempest in a teapot in comparison to the magnitude of the real issues that nurses face. Which issues you so effectively outlined.

Thank you for writing my article so much better than I could have.

RN403, BSN, RN

1 Article; 1,068 Posts

Right on. All of this had me thinking as well... I wonder what kind of changes we could make for ourselves and our patients if we all united and posted on social media for things such as staffing or other issues. We could at least bring notice to the obstacles and challenges we face.

This just proved that with union we can be heard and changes can be made.


247 Posts

Specializes in Med-Surg, OB, ICU, Public Health Nursing. Has 40 years experience.

As a nurse, I worked with my union. We were constantly trying to address many of these issues. Progress has been made, but you have to have a historical perspective. When I started working, there were no safety devices for needles, no universal precautions, no mechanical lifting devices, state staffing ratios, family medical leave, etc. We now have classes on bullying and how to combat it. In California there is a campaign to address workplace violence. I didn't feel helpless because I was always working on solutions.

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma. Has 18 years experience.
As a nurse, I worked with my union. We were constantly trying to address many of these issues. Progress has been made, but you have to have a historical perspective. When I started working, there were no safety devices for needles, no universal precautions, no mechanical lifting devices, state staffing ratios, family medical leave, etc. We now have classes on bullying and how to combat it. In California there is a campaign to address workplace violence. I didn't feel helpless because I was always working on solutions.

Interesting perspective. :yes:

I think there should be more nurses willing to fight and support nurse who have made strides in providing a culture of safety, nurse-driven policies, and ensuring nurses have a seat at the table.

Those who feel disillusioned about this profession have a responsibility to connect with those who have survived and thrived in this profession and have made policies and plans and continued to make changes and are doing the work in making changes in healthcare-we are out there!

Has 6 years experience.

Some of the "outrage" over this stupid talk show seems less than sincere ...almost like an excuse to post a "selfie" with a stethoscope and caption/message of self-importance. I don't care for the show, but I wouldn't get excited about anything any of the women on it say.

Specializes in Family Medicine. Has 13 years experience.

LOVE THIS. I totally agree!

Specializes in Emergency. Has 21 years experience.

I actually has "oh well, you'll just have to suck it up" said to me today when i had the unmitigated temerity to question how patients were being assigned.

OrganizedChaos, LVN

1 Article; 6,883 Posts

Specializes in M/S, LTC, Corrections, PDN & drug rehab. Has 10 years experience.

Why can so many nurses come together for what one stupid group of ladies said, but we can't come together when it matters? I don't understand. I'm over all this. Unless this is gonna change something, let's move on.

blondy2061h, MSN, RN

1 Article; 4,094 Posts

Specializes in Oncology. Has 15 years experience.

I don't suck it up. I take my breaks. I am no where to be found during my unpaid lunch. I tell the charge nurse I'm going on lunch and they see me again in a half hour. I pee and drink and eat. I eat quickly and sometimes while charting. I drink out of a water bottle on my COW while walking to my next patient's room. But I do it. I haven't had doctors talk down to me much, but when I have, I quickly correct them. I do the same with family members. "I'm happy to try and help you, but I need you to adjust your tone. People are trying to rest and heal here, so we don't allow yelling." People will only walk all over you as much as you let them. And I'm not considered a jerk for any of this, because I am nice and respectful to people, and help other nurses when I have time to.

Specializes in Education.

Playing with the other side of the fence, here.

There are those of us who don't have any recourse but to simply "suck it up." We don't like it, the door is there, but good luck finding someplace that doesn't have the same attitude without moving out of state. And when there is family involved, that suddenly becomes very difficult.

The average person doesn't see, hear, or even get some of the bigger issues that nurses face on a daily basis. Patient violence? Call security or the cops, that's what they're there for. Safe staffing? Lateral violence? Ratios? These are all topics that I have discussed with my non-healthcare family. My husband still doesn't get it, and I've had years to try and explain it all. The responses all boil down to the same thing: then why stay there? (Here, let me show you all the publications on these topics, family.)

Then, suddenly, somebody comes out onto the national stage, says her piece, and is skewered by a daytime talk show that is full of ignorance or trying to be funny. Possibly both. And "aha!" Said a nurse. "This could be the opening that we need to get our voices heard!" A hashtag is born, and, like everything else these days, takes on a life of its own...then has baby hashtags.

Less than a minute to take, post, and tag a selfie, so do it while a chart is loading. Does it do anything? Probably not, outside of making the poster feel involved. Feel heard, and maybe even feel valued beyond the fragile lip service that is so often all that is given from others.

I've listened to everything, several time over. And while I don't feel the same about the general topic of Alzheimer's patients, I really identify with the idea that I'm not "just a nurse."

There are several ways that I cam see this going. One, like most things, it will fizzle out. Two, it will become a new status quo. Or three, we can use the platform that has stayed to open up to us and claim it. Make it our own. Nurses are uniting, but over what? A piece of equipment? Or being given a chance to be heard without any apparent backlash?

TriciaJ, RN

4,301 Posts

Specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory. Has 42 years experience.

The reason TV shows like "The View" are even on the air is because people watch them and they sell advertising. There must be people who believe what those aging bimbos have to say on any topic. What they have provided us is an opportunity to unite in a very public way.

We know why we put up with horrible staffing ratios, no breaks and idiotic scripting: as individuals many of us are too timid to speak out. We don't want to go out on a limb and speak up in case it gets sawed out from under us. We don't trust one another to have our backs.

So, yes, there will be the self-righteous and self-aggrandizing selfies. But maybe a few stupid public remarks on a lame TV show will finally be the straws that break the camel's back. Maybe this starts the empowerment ball rolling...

I've been around too long to hold my breath. But it's still been interesting to watch.