I'm Just Doing My Job...

There are some times in your career that you are really put under the microscope; why you do what you do every day. Sometimes the reasons that we look more closely at our practice is because of questions from unlikely sources, that aren't in the field. That happened to me recently and it really has made me think about responding to the 'thank you' from a patient with the phrase, "I'm just doing my job."


We may be just doing our jobs...but not everyone can do what we do. And, honestly, there are times that I don't even know how I do what I do; I may not understand why or how, but I know the end result is giving the best care I can, and that is why Nurses Rock!

That's something that nurses say all the time when we are thanked for doing what we do at work, whether it is showing patience when teaching someone about their disease process or a new medication, assisting someone to walk for the first time post-operatively, or working hard actively saving a patient's life. When a family member of a patient, or a patient, thanks us I hear people say (and I've said it myself), "I'm just doing my job...." I actually do feel that way, but for me, being a nurse is a really caring profession: no matter what the task is, I do put everything I have into it to help my patients, so I do feel like whatever I am thanked for, it is just part of my job, and it is hard to put your actual feelings into words sometimes.

I had a situation recently that has really made me think a lot about my practice and how I teach newer nurses. However, it has come from an unexpected place: a 7 year-old doing her Girl Scout project.

I was approached by a co-worker and asked if I would be amenable to an interview with her daughter for Girl Scouts, who needed to complete a project on Emergency Responses; that was a no-brainer, obviously I would be happy to be a part of that! So we set a date and a time to have the discussion, the date went into my Outlook calendar, and I was ready. My coworker did email me to let me know that her daughter was stuck on carbon monoxide poisoning as her emergency, but it could be anybody's guess what she actually would ask during our interview. I know that I am a nerd, but I did think about studying up on carbon monoxide poisoning...I thought about boning up a bit since it had been a while since I had a patient with it, but I resisted because I felt like my off the cuff knowledge was (hopefully) at least at a first/second grade level of knowledge, and if not, I need some major study time!

At the set time, the phone rang, and as I heard that sweet little voice of the little girl, who could not have been more polite, I was ready to go! I was asked why Carbon Monoxide poisoning could be so scary, and we talked about how sick you can get without even knowing you are being poisoned and how important having working carbon monoxide detectors are. We spoke about local fire departments assistance with checking the detectors and smoke/fire detectors for households if you need assistance. I threw in a little information about how dogs can be really good sensors for carbon monoxide and can save people from poisoning, and I think I wowed her with the fact that my dog actually helped to save a friend of mine from carbon monoxide poisoning. She was quite impressed by that and we got a little off-track talking about my dogs, but when she got back on track, she got into the hard hitting questions:

"How many people's lives have you saved?"

Hmmm. I honestly have no idea. I have been a nurse for over 12 years and worked with all sorts of patients that have been very ill, and I have given CPR in public to people who have needed it. I don't know how many lives I have saved.

"Do you have any idea?"

I can't even think of a number, I'm sorry. I would guess over 100?

This is where I started to get a little unraveled; that was something I never really thought about: how many lives have I had an impact on or saved? Does any nurse ever think about that? It was a little overwhelming to think about at the moment, so I put it back in my head, and trudged on with the interview.

"What does it feel like to save someone's life?"

After I save someone, I usually feel really good. I feel happy for the patient and for their families that all of the doctors and nurses I work with were able to save their loved one.

"That's good, but I mean what do you feel like when you are in the middle of saving them?"

Um. I feel....uh, I don't know. That's a really good question. I just do what I do, I am just doing my job and I help them with whatever they need. I don't really think about my own feelings because I am so focused on the person that needs me.

"Ok. Thanks! Keep saving lives!"

We hung up the phone and I couldn't believe that a 7 year-old stumped me! And I knew I was going to be made fun of at work (and I was correct!) But moreover, how could I not know how I feel when I am working on saving someone? Even when I think about it now, I don't know what I am thinking...I am just doing. I am doing not only what I am trained to do, but it is almost as if on autopilot, just doing what my patient needs at that moment. Is it the adrenaline rush? Is it the team of doctors and nurses I am working with? What makes me not 'feel' while I am helping a patient who is fighting for their life?

I don't know what the answer is. Maybe it is a combination of everything going on at that moment, but I do know that I am focused and I notice nothing that is going on with my own body; I don't feel hunger, thirst, the need to go to the bathroom. I put my patient first, before myself...we ALL do and that is why we are nurses. So I guess there is a little more to that statement than I ever realized: "I am just doing my job."

After this experience, I haven't said that again. When I am thanked for something at work, I don't brush it off, I say, "You're welcome." I do it to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and the personal struggles we deal with to put others before ourselves. And, I want to thank all of YOU for what you do every day!

Clinical Nurse Specialist, Emergency Cardiovascular Specialty: Surgery,Critical Care,Transplant,Neuro

16 Articles   67 Posts

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45 Posts

Yes, and sometimes as the patient when told the same thing, it makes what may have above-and-beyond for that nurse in that situation less than what it really was. A more honest reply might be, "I'm doing my best to give you good care, Mr. Jones; I'm glad it shows...", or if you have really wanted to show compassion or support or caring, you could say, "I'm so glad; it's my job to take good care of you, and your right to expect it, but I am glad you can feel how much I--we--care about your well-being, too." I think that keeps it on a professional level but lets the person know that the caring they sensed was real, not just a mistaken interpretation of standard, rote behavior or professional courtesy. It can be life-changing to have someone care when it really, really, matters, especially it seems no one else does. I've felt that on both sides of the bedrails. :-)

Specializes in Surgery,Critical Care,Transplant,Neuro.

You are totally right, and I forget sometimes what it is like on the other side of the exchange. I am trying to add more awareness of my interactions with patients...well, with everyone really :)


63 Posts

Everyone likes to be appreciated for the hard work they do, why should we be so different? When I have residents who thank me for something I respond with something like "Anytime" or just a plain "You're welcome." I don't feel the need to remind my residents that its my job to take care of them. But if your response is something that you are comfortable with saying, go for it.

Specializes in Surgery,Critical Care,Transplant,Neuro.
I don't feel the need to remind my residents that its my job to take care of them. But if your response is something that you are comfortable with saying, go for it.

I hope my intention came across correctly....I wasn't meaning that I am robotically responding that it's my job, I just meant that by saying that as a response, it's demeaning what we do as nurses because our "job" is one that is really caring and full of compassion, so as nurses we should take the thanks we are offered. You're completely correct that we should be appreciated for our hard work that is many times overlooked...and truly sometimes under appreciated :)


1 Post

I am fortunate enough to work for the VA after almost 24 years in the private sector. I thank each patient I come in contact with for their service and sacrifices they have made. It has been humbling and grounding experience & I feel that I have found my true vocation. I am serving those who have given so much, and have asked for nothing in return.

Specializes in Surgery,Critical Care,Transplant,Neuro.

I trained in a VA in Grad School and I LOVED the experience. That makes me really happy to hear, andrla!


67 Posts

In France, especially in the South, where I live and work, an often used expression to respond to a "thank you" is "with pleasure" ! So that is what I say, when patients express thanks : with pleasure. When it is a particularly unpleasant patient, I'm not always 100% earnest, but I am happy to do my work and find it rewarding, and I always insist it isn't a martyrdom to all the people (little old ladies are the worst offenders for this) who say that I am doing something "terribly hard, you must be so courageous".

I am a bit akward about the use of the verb "saving", in this context. Okay, performing CPR on someone who collapses in an out of hospital situation... But in the unit, we are a team, so I personally don't feel that I myself am saving anyone. We are performing medical techniques and nursing them, and hopefully, they will get better, but in the end, sometimes, despite all our best efforts, the patient doesn't pull through...


58 Posts

I hate the phrase, "I'm just doing my job." As a patient I would feel like you consider me as just another job to do, a task, a means to an end, and that's it.