5 Reasons Nursing Deserves Way More Respect, Because Doctors Aren't The Only Ones Who Save Lives

Even though nurses represent the largest group of health care professionals in America — there are currently about three million registered nurses in the United States — they still don't get anywhere near the respect they deserve. Despite the fact that a nursing career requires skills, education, and intellect, many people still falsely believe that nurses are merely assistants to doctors — which couldn't be further from the truth. Incorrect and demeaning stereotypes about the role nurses play in the medical system abound.

While everyone has their own reason for becoming a nurse, there is one common thread among all nurses: they are real, skilled, and important medical professionals. Nurses must complete a nursing certification program, which may involve getting a bachelor's of science degree; nurse practitioners must have an advanced degree in nursing at minmum, but many go on to complete their PhD. But no matter their specific title, all nurses are typically more personally involved with their patients than most doctors; they also work long hours, and shoulder much of the responsibility for a patient's health outcome.

It’s time to pay homage to all those nurses out there who make going above and beyond for their patients just a regular part of their day's work. So in honor of National Nurses Week, which runs from May 6 to 12, here are five reasons we should all give nurses the same respect we give doctors.

1. Nurses Work Long Hours, Just Like Doctors

While doctors are notorious for working long, grueling shifts, they’re not the only ones in the healthcare industry logging back-breaking work hours. According to the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Nursing, 65 percent of nurses work 12 to 13 hour shifts several times a week — and many nurses say those shifts end up being closer to 14 hours in length. And that workload doesn’t even include “being on call” for emergency situations.

2. Nurses See Way More Patients Each Day Than Doctors Do

And when nurses are working the long hours mentioned above, they are also seeing more patients than the doctors they work with. A 2013 study found that specialty doctors see only 13 patients a day, while a 2012 study found that, on average, nurses see up to 15 patients day.

Nurse practitioners also shoulder an enormous share of patient responsibility — 69.5 percent of them see at least three or more patients every hour. That’s at least 36 patients in a 12-hour shift ― almost three times the amount of patients that a physician might see in their day.

3. Nurses Make A Huge Impact On Patient Health

Though you might believe that whether or not a patient recovers only has to do with the skill of the doctors treating them, that's not the whole picture. More than a few studies have found that positive health outcomes for patients are actually closely linked to the intervention of nurses. A 2008 Canadian study of 75 hospitals found that, over a 30 day period, the mortality rate dropped between four and 10 percent when the hospitals had more nurses on the floor.

In addition, a 2014 study found that in hospitals that increased their nursing staff by 10 percent, the patient mortality rate was lowered by 10.9 percent. The same study found that patients who experienced complications after serious surgery recovered better in a hospital with a strong nurse force.

4. Nurses Make Fewer Mistakes Than Doctors

This is, of course, not meant to belittle all the great work that doctors do. But statistically, nurses make fewer mistakes than doctors do while caring for their patients.

A 1999 study by Northern General Hospital in Sheffield found that while doctors made serious errors in 11 percent of their cases, nurses made mistakes in only nine percent of cases. Maybe that two percent doesn’t seem like a big deal to you — but considering that nurses guide much of the work that doctors do, odds are high that they prevent doctors from making many more mistakes, too.

5. Nurses Are Highly Educated

Although registered nurses only need their associate's degree to pass the National Council Licensure exam, most nurses go beyond that in their education. As of 2008, 36.8 percent nurses had bachelor's degrees, with others earning graduate degrees, as well.

Nurse practitioners need even more education and clinical experience than registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. After completing their bachelor's degree, they then must earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), although the latter isn't required.

Now, does that sounds like an assistant to you? Didn't think so.

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