Blame it on Hollywood: thanks to an endless stream of TV series and movies set in hospitals, most of us probably have the wrong idea about what nurses do and just how important they are to the medical field. They’re usually depicted as smart but somehow inferior to doctors, as if they didn’t have their own medical knowledge or years of experience to guide them through the days. But this, like a lot of other popular portrayals of nurses, is almost moronically lazy and misinformed. Nurses are integral members of a health care team. If you’ve ever come across any of the myths below, or even if you’ve perpetrated them, know that the truth is a lot more interesting than the fictions.
- All nurses are women: Not true. Admittedly, women outnumber men in the nursing field by a large margin — in the United States and Canada, only about 5-6% of nurses are men — but still, it’s wrong to say that there aren’t any men in the field. As a result of the gender imbalance, the profession is often perceived as an exclusively female one, which in America makes it a feminized one and therefore a less powerful or worthwhile one. Accordingly, portrayals of male nurses perpetuate the stereotype; a few years ago, on Scrubs, Rick Schroder played a nurse with the surname Flowers. Come on.
- Being a nurse isn’t as challenging as being a doctor: Are you serious? Being a nurse requires education, critical thinking skills, and serious amounts of medical training. Nurses perform research, participate in surgeries, administer medicine and treatments, and act as the glue that keeps the hospital running. The hours can be long, but the work can be extremely rewarding on personal and professional levels. What part of that doesn’t sound challenging?
- Nurses function as gofers for doctors: Again, a common misconception but a horribly wrong-headed one. Nurses often work in a capacity that sees them assisting doctors, but they’re anything but errand-runners. Nurses diagnose and treat patients, provide health care strategies for the infirm, and work to ensure people know how to take care of themselves. Nurses save lives, period. They apply medical knowledge in a host of areas to a steady stream of patients, and they do it every day. Helping out a doctor, even when it means retrieving something, doesn’t turn them into dull physical laborers in scrubs.
- Nursing is a dead-end job: The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs nursing as a hot field, with prospects for RNs listed as "excellent." Why? Well, baby boomers are getting old, and we’re also living longer in general, which means there’s going to be a glut of Americans putting a strain on the health care system. If you’ve got the training, you can likely find work, especially if you’re willing to relocate. What’s more, nurses with the right kind of training can further their careers in specialized fields (midwifery, elderly care), which opens doors to even more jobs and opportunities. In short, a smart nurse will succeed.
- Nurses are all the same: Even patients in hospitals are rarely aware of what nurses do. They see people in scrubs walk in and out, but that’s about it. It’s easy to start thinking that all nurses have the same duties, training, goals, and career paths. But think for a second about the fact that you see nurses in all parts of the hospital, no matter what department or specialty you’re visiting. That’s not an accident. Nurses working for ear, nose, and throat doctors have otolaryngological training; pediatric nurses have knowledge of and training with children; etc., etc. Being a nurse means committing to any one of dozens of specialties, and more if you change tracks.
- Nurses are people who couldn’t hack it in med school: One of the ugliest myths out there. It’s not unique in assigning weakness to a particular medical job that’s misunderstood; dentists deal with the same stuff. But nursing isn’t a fallback. It’s not an also-ran for people who wanted to be doctors. It’s not a consolation prize. It’s a conscious career choice made by people who want to work in health care, and it’s one that requires some real education. Many nurses hold bachelor’s degrees in their field, and some nurses even go on to attain higher medical degrees but remain devoted to nursing or working a nurse-like relationship. Nurses provide top-flight medical care for patients. They know what they’re doing.
- Nursing is grunt work: It’s true that nurses are often called upon to perform physically demanding tasks in the course of providing medical care to patients of all ages and shapes, but it’s incorrect to assume that all nursing boils down to a willingness to lift people, boxes, and bedpans. What’s more, nurses work in a variety of fields, whether in hospitals or other areas, and such tasks are only usually a fraction of what they deal with in a given day. This myth is related to the one that says nurses are merely hired hands or assistants meant to run errands, but it’s insidious enough to count as its own separate untruth because of how badly it misrepresents the scope of what nurses do.
- Nurses don’t get paid well: The federal government reports that median income for RNs in 2008 was $62,450, with earnings ranging from $43,000 to $92,000. That’s nothing to sneeze at, considering that some studies show that anyone earning more than $70k a year has already hit peak happiness in terms of salary. What’s more, many hospitals provide tuition reimbursement for classes designed to advance your degree, which helps save cash. Plus there’s access to entire fleets of medical professionals who know you personally. The medical benefits of being a nurse are definitely not to be overlooked. Between the perks and the salary, it’s a smart job choice.