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Nurses do that???? by Nickie Snyder RN

In order to effectively advocate for health issues and the nursing profession, the public needs to understand what nurses do. However many people still do not know the vast range of activities nurses perform.

This summer, many of us will gather with friends and family for BBQs. We will eat, talk, laugh and share. Inevitably, at some point the conversation will turn to work.  Many of you will make a comment about something you have done at work as a nurse and the inevitable response will be “nurses do that???”

Despite campaigns to raise the profile of nurses, I find many people still do not know what we do. Considering the wide scope of our practice, and the diversity of roles, this is understandable. Add on to that TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and it’s no wonder people are confused about what we do.

Here are a few things that have surprised my family and friends about RNs:

  • we can pronounce death (in certain circumstances)
  • we get to choose which medication to give (the concept of PRNs was quite fascinating) For the non-nurses: PRNs are a list of medications that have been ordered for the patient and are to be given “as needed”. These medications range from pain relief to medications to slow a patient’s racing heart.
  • not only that we can, but that we should question a physicians order if we are unclear or unsure if it is appropriate
  • that if I give an unsafe medication, I am liable for that, even if the physician ordered it

What are some things that have surprised your family and friends about your role as an RN?


Nickie Snyder is an ICU RN for Fraser Health and also helps with their new graduate nurse workshops. A dual Canadian/US citizen, Nickie lives in the US, works in Canada, completed her undergraduate degree in nursing in Canada and is currently enrolled in a combined Masters and Doctorate of Nursing Practice program at the University of Washington.  Nickie plans on becoming a Nurse Practitioner, and hopes to teach nursing as well. Dynamic, energetic, and passionate about nursing, Nickie loves to share about her experiences and advocate for the nursing profession. She is also a social media addict and can be found at www.twitter.com/missnickie

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Great question Nickie... I think one of the most diverse and valuable activities nurses do is 'assess' patients in their specific context or environment, using all the nursing knowledge and experience they can bring to that encounter. We assess people on the job and off. It's these same nursing 'ways of knowing' that our friends and families trust us to provide during camping trips and at baseball games when there is an emergency. One of my favorite RN work experiences was teaming up with a social worker and a city police officer to visit homeless people living with chronic mental and physical illnesses. We made regular 'rounds' of the inner city neighbourhoods to check on these folks wherever they called home - under bridges or in fabricated cardboard shelters behind strip malls. My role was to assess their health and general 'coping' status and offer assistance if they seemed unstable and heading for a hospital admission. Sometimes that meant dressing a foot ulcer or dispensing a medication, but more often 'help' looked like a few dollars, a sandwich, or information about a new community services. Those were some of the most unique (and rewarding) nurse-patient relationships I ever developed!


Thanks for the comment Barb! I love that you mention how we end up being the camp nurse on family trips as well! I've heard several times, "It's ok, we have a nurse with us"

I agree about the assessment piece as well. Even I was surprised how much assessment nurses do in the ICU. Although physicians assess patients initially and when there are major changes, the general day to day assessments are done by the nurses and then reported to the physicians and care team.


Here's another example for you:
At a CODE BLUE (or cardiac arrest), a Critical Care trained RN is responsible for all medications, their preparation, administration and recording of drugs and procedures while another RN is responsible for the crash cart monitor and defibrillator, its attachment, charging, preparation of the pads and defibrillation. Critical Care RNs are also able to independently defibrillate (shock) an adult patient at a CODE BLUE and if there is still no Dr. present after 2 minutes of CPR, the RN is able to defibrillate again.


Yes!!! Many of my friends have been surprised about this too!

Wanda Martin

The surprise for most people about my role as an RN is that I am working on a PhD.... I get the comments "so, you will be a Dr. Nurse?" Better still, I hope to be a public health "doctor nurse" who works in food security policy. RNs understand how policy affects health equity and we can help steer the ship.


I get the Dr. Nurse comments too! It becomes particularly confusing because when I finish my studies I will be an NP, able to see patients independently and prescribe medications, plus I will have the tittle of Dr. I try to explain to people that my title of Dr. is an academic title and that I will be an NP, not a physician.

Paddy Rodney

What a thoughtful discussion! I recall stopping to help at a traffic accident a few months ago--it was incredibly reassuring to find other nurses there who were also assisting the people who were injured. That identity of "I can help, I'm a nurse" is a powerful affirmation of what our profession can--and does--do!


Hi Nickie - I agree that it is so difficult to explain what nurses do because our roles and competencies are so vast across the domains of nursing practice. I have been fortunate to work in many various nursing capacities - some less traditional in terms of what people think nurses do and this is what may add to the confusion. For example, I have worked as a Forensic Nurse Examiner - conducting medico-legal examinations of patients who report sexual assault. I have also created a new nursing role as a Micropigmentation Clinician and performed tattooing on breast cancer survivors post breast reconstruction. I had the tattooing competency recognized as a nursing function with the College and created the role/ developed the competencies to augment the care I was providing as a Breast Health Patient Navigator (supporting women newly diagnosed with breast cancer/ concerns and their families to navigate the health care system etc). In my current role, which primarily falls under the administrative domain as a Regional Manager, I always define myself first as a nurse when people ask me what I do. I am proud of the diversity, knowledge, and caring that define nursing and because nursing options are so vast, I think we will continue to be challenged to explain what it means to be a nurse.


Hi Joanne - thank you for your excellent examples! It sounds like you have had some very interesting roles. This is truly one of my favorite things about nursing - the endless possibilities!


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