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“Are You My Nurse?” The Importance of Claiming Professional Identity


This post is from CHMP Graduate Fellow, Amanda Anderson, RN’s blog, This Nurse Wonders. More frequently than not, Amanda writes toward her simple goal, “I want nurses to start talking.” Here, she muses on the importance of using titles in health care.

By neglecting to title ourselves, we allow others to paint us as whatever stereotype is the most convenient, or the most useful. Work by Richard Prince, Registered Nurse. 2002.

By neglecting to title ourselves, we allow others to paint us as whatever stereotype is the most convenient, or the most useful. Work by Richard Prince, Registered Nurse. 2002.

In their book, From Silence to VoiceBernice Buresh and Suzanne Gordon discuss the silence of the nursing profession in the media. Chapter after chapter, they expose how reluctant we are to share with the public the details of our job, how we hide behind the stereotypes and discriminations of our profession, and, most importantly, what we lose because of this silence.

I’ve picked it up again, after my first read years ago. It’s funny, to see the notes I scribbled in the margins then. Lots of ?!?!? and WHY DO WE DO THIS?! It’s not so funny, seven years later, to realize how much remains unchanged.

Over the weekend, on a bus ride back from a quick DC trip to see my sister, I read the chapter entitled, “Presenting Yourself As A Nurse.” I remember reading this so long ago, thinking their recommendation to introduce myself as “Nurse Anderson,” while expecting other providers to address me as such, seemed kind of dated. Do I want to be called Nurse Anderson by interns who are now, a growing handful of years younger than me? Kind of feels like being called “ma’am” by a stranger in the grocery store.

But they make a good point: the discrepancy between doctor’s and nurses title usage – doctor’s always introduce themselves as such, while nurses are often the mysteriously untitled profession – solidifies physician-identity in the mind of the patient and, ultimately, the public. Sure, when chatting at the nurses station, first-name basis between providers is fine, but in introductions to patients or family, first-name-only-nurses surrender their professional identity.

I floated to endoscopy yesterday. Assigned to man the recovery room with two other nurses, I pondered this identity challenge, and decided to conduct some experiments. As sleepy patients wheeled in from their various procedures, I’d give them a little shake, and with Buresh and Gordon in my brain, I’d say, “Hello! I’m Amanda, I’m a nurse,” to their crusty-eyed, confused gaze. Just coming out of twilight anesthesia, many marveled at the simplicity of my greeting, and its ability to provide them with much needed context. Not one of them asked me where they were, or who I was, and honestly, it felt good to title myself openly.

I used my new, identity-charged greeting all shift – when I called the pharmacy for medications, I said, “Hi! I’m Amanda, I’m a nurse calling from endoscopy.” When I phoned the operator to connect me to another unit, “Hi! I’m Amanda, I’m a nurse,” came easily, and I was shocked at how clearly it was received, and how many clarifications it saved me.

While I fluidly added my title to my introductions, making them direct and clear, I was amazed at how muddled and ambiguous my co-nurse’s greetings sounded in contrast. Smiling down at her sleepy patients, she said, time and time again: “Hello! I’ll be taking care of you.” Huh? Where am I? Who are you? Were the most common responses.

I’ll admit, I’ve said this phrase countless times. But hearing it in the shadow of Buresh & Gordon’s recommendations, made me wonder why we nurses think it’s acceptable – are we ashamed to call ourselves “nurse,” or do we just not recognize how important our title is?

In an era where nurses no longer have a recognizable image, where we all work in different capacities and at different levels, and where our education and practice is frequently called into question, it is becoming clearer and clearer how closely-linked the act of verbal title distinction is to our professional success. By neglecting to state who we are – the nurse – we give up control of our identity, our rights to our work, our voice as a profession; our silent namelessness allows us to become whatever stereotype is the most convenient, or the most useful.

My titling experiment cemented itself into forever-practice around three pm, when I prepared to call report on a patient who was returning to her bed on the floor. I asked the patient if she knew her nurse’s name, to speed up the phoning process. She told me it was Samantha, who I requested when I phoned the unit. “Oh, Samantha is the nurse’s aide, I’m Jane. I’m the nurse.” Damn.

All that work, all that time, all that expertise, all that knowledge, and the patient still has no clue who we are. A simple switch of the tongue might be a start to something big, nurses. While I may not introduce myself as Nurse Anderson just yet, I’ll definitely be seasoning my communications with my title from here on out.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. rockinrobin43 #

    The hospital I retired from in 2008, after working there for 25 years, started using a simple blue ‘RN’ tag attached to the photo ID which includes only the first name of an employee. This is an ideal solution for staff concerned about stalking or other identity issues.
    It still bothers me when a doctor’s office receptionist answers the phone “Dr. ___’s office this is his nurse __insert name__”. Or when visiting my own FPMD’s office clinic, the receptionist tells me the ‘Nurse’ will be right with me to take my lab work, vitals, etc. and that ‘nurse’ is a phlebotomist, medical assistant or CNA. I always ask – and then remind them that using the noun ‘nurse’ is against the law, because only someone licensed as a ‘nurse’ may use that term:
    NP, RN, LPN, LVN.

    July 21, 2014
  2. Karen Koziol #

    It is 40 years since I became a nurse.
    I always introduce myself as Nurse Koziol

    July 21, 2014
  3. As a nurse practitioner, I always introduce myself as Hi, I’m Karen, I’m the nurse practitioner (I’m the only one in our office). I also always refer to my medical assistant as my “MA”. She is not my ‘nurse’ as the patient’s all call her. Ironically, we do have an LPN who mans the phones. She is known to pts and staff as “Nurse Axxxx”. It seems so old-fashioned at this point.

    As nurses we definitely have to educate people to the fact that not everyone who is not the doctor is a nurse!

    July 21, 2014
  4. You are right on target. I dislike nurses just giving their first names with no designations. No wonder the public mistakes other health car workers for nurses. I would like to see nurses give their full names followed by their title.

    July 21, 2014

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