Before entering nursing, I studied biochemistry at the bachelor and doctoral levels. However, I long ago gave up all pretensions about being a biochemist, not due to modesty, but lest I get “caught out” by a hard question. In the same vein, I have never heard fellow nurses, even though many have been in senior university positions and with significant exposure to other disciplines, claim that the exposure led them to consider themselves “almost a physicist,” “almost a philosopher” or “almost a mathematician.” So, what is it about nursing that leads people to say these things, and what should our response be?
My guess about why people in these positions say these things is that it is due to a subconscious—I am being generous—attitude of superiority about their chosen discipline whereby what they do is considered difficult, and nursing is considered easy. I can only guess further that their image of nurses is immobilised in stereotypes: feminine; middle class; not highly educated; and “caring.”
I would not wish to dress nursing up to be something it is not. Nursing is a practice-based discipline that lies at the crossroads of several disciplines that include life sciences, social sciences and medicine. Nursing, as a subject, may not grapple with the origins of the universe, solving the world economic crisis or designing iconic buildings. Nevertheless, we do deal with the origins of someone’s distress, finding a solution to that stress and helping rebuild people who may become iconic in their own right. And we don’t just do this once, but many times a day and hundreds of times a year.
We don’t do it alone; we work in partnership with many professions and have to know more about them than they ever seem to know about us. It may look easy but, reflecting on my own clinical practice many years ago and the kinds of problems I currently address in my research, it certainly doesn’t feel easy.
My response to statements such as the one at the top of this post used to be a polite laugh; followed by a stony face and then a grimace, with an inwardly expressed gratitude that the person found their métier elsewhere. I have, more recently, decided to return to smiling and inwardly expressing gratitude that, however easy it seems and however hard it actually is, I found my own métier.