A nurse first

By Claire Bethel |

She apparently hit a hot button.

A nurse first

She took a nonscientific poll on Twitter and received more responses than expected. Are you a nurse with an advanced degree? How would you respond to the author’s question?

 I recently polled my nursing colleagues on #NurseTwitter: Would/do you still call yourself a nurse if you have DNP, PhD, MSN, CNS, CNM, CRNA, NP, etc., behind your name?

Tweet by Claire BethelI was certain the question would garner only a few responses at most, but the post began trending and quickly gained 375 votes and more than 60 comments in just 24 hours. This was apparently a hot topic and not as cut and dried as one might think.

Before I share the results, let me be clear: The poll was in no way scientific. A majority (93%) of those responding said yes, although they have an advanced degree, they still call themselves nurses. Many indicated they were proud of their nursing foundation and said that nursing informs every aspect of their current role. A small number of respondents (7%) said no, they do not call themselves nurses now that they have an advanced degree.

Some people wondered why I even asked the question. Why wouldn’t someone with an advanced nursing degree call him- or herself a nurse?

I have been told that, because I am an educator and no longer practice at the bedside, I am not a “real nurse.” I’ve encountered nurse researchers and nurse educators, for example, who no longer call themselves nurses. And several of my colleagues have told me about nurses with advanced degrees who, for various reasons, no longer identify as nurses. I wanted to understand why. Hence, my poll.

To my surprise, several people with advanced nursing degrees were willing to share their reasons for no longer calling themselves nurses. Some felt that doing so contributed to role confusion. It’s true that in the clinical setting, we absolutely must delineate our roles for patients and colleagues alike. However, whether in a social or academic setting, I think nurses with advanced degrees should identify as nurses first.

Some explained that they had simply worked too hard for their advanced nursing degrees to still call themselves nurses. To this I say, nothing about the higher degree is minimized by identifying as a nurse. Whether we are practitioners, specialists, anesthetists, educators, or researchers, our educational preparation as nurses uniquely shapes our worldview.

Nurse leaders with advanced degrees should take pride in their nursing roots. When given the opportunity, we should tell others how our nursing background informs our current roles and how it is integral and foundational to our work. We owe it to our profession. We must own our identity as nurses. RNL

Claire Bethel, MSN, RN-BC, is a clinical instructor (graduate teaching assistant) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, USA, where she is a nursing PhD student. Her focus is health systems and informatics.

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