A nurse in Australia is speaking out on social media after an acquaintance dismissed her as “just a nurse.” Caitlin Brassington wrote an emotional post on Instagram and Facebook next to a photo of herself in scrubs in which she says she’s heard that comment “many, many times” in the past 18 years as a nurse—and it finally got to her.
“I have helped babies into the world, many of whom needed assistance to take their first breath, and yet I am just a nurse," she wrote in a post that’s been liked more than 3,600 times on Facebook. "I have held patients' hands and ensured their dignity while they take their last breath, and yet I am just a nurse. I have counseled grieving parents after the loss of a child, and yet I am just a nurse. I have performed CPR on patients and brought them back to life, and yet I am just a nurse."
Brassington also points out that she acts as the eyes, ears, and hands of medical officers, and misses Christmas Days and her children’s birthdays to care for people. “I have the experience and knowledge that has saved people's lives,” she concluded. “So, if I am just a nurse, then I am ridiculously proud to be one!”
Commenters applauded her remarks and shared their own stories of nursing. “I too used to nurse,” one wrote. “You have summed up what we do except taking verbal and physical abuse while having to turn the other cheek. Nobody to dry your tears or understand them. As you said, just a nurse.” Another said, “As nurses we don't do what we do for thanks or praise, but when you get it, it's lovely to be appreciated.”
Kathryn A. Boling, M.D., a primary care physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center who used to be a nurse, tells SELF that nurses are a vital part of the medical profession. In a hospital setting “they’re with you all the time—there’s a real intimacy,” she says. “They may wash your body, sit and talk to you when you’re upset about something, and make sure you’re OK.” They’re often the first people to notice if a patient is unwell and needs extra care, she points out.
Homayoon Sanati, M.D., a medical oncologist and medical director of the MemorialCare Breast Center at California’s Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, agrees. “A medical team is very large and they are part of the puzzle,” he tells SELF. “They do a lot of the work that is often unrecognized.” When patients are admitted to a hospital, nurses often start IV treatments, get vital signs, and stabilize the patient, he says. And, he points out, while nurses get orders from doctors, the actual treatment is often carried out by nurses. “They’re a very, very important part of the care,” he says.
Nurses also serve people in many different settings, Sanati notes—they can be inpatient or outpatient, work in ICUs, manage medical floors in a hospital, do end-of-life care, home visits, and see their own patients as nurse practitioners. “Really, they are the front-line of our medical care,” he says.
Nurse practitioners, who are qualified to treat patients without the direct supervision of a doctor, advocate for individuals and often allow them to get medicine at reduced rate, Patrick Hawkins, a nurse practitioner at Michigan State University College of Nursing, tells SELF. Hawkins has been instrumental in providing care during the Flint water crisis, and says a team of nurses put health services into motion for the community. We brought together non-profit and government agencies and conveyed action—the importance of doing it now,” he said. “Nurses advocate, collaborate, and coordinate care.”
Boling says it would be “terrible” if nurses didn’t exist. “Who would take care of patients in the hospital?” she said. “Doctors cannot be sitting by every patient’s bedsite. Without nurses, you’d have people dying right and left.”
Hawkins agrees. “It is not that I am ‘just’ a nurse—I am a nurse and there is a big difference,” he says.