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Is nursing a profession or a job?

Is nursing a profession or a job?


Welcome to guest blogger Donna Cardillo!

Donna Cardillo, MA, RN

 I recently read an article on the web where the nurse author’s stated intent was to “enlighten” future and prospective nurses to the “harsh realities” of the profession. The piece listed things like the physicality of the job, the necessity of doing shift work, and a proclamation that nursing is not a profession but just a job. Holy encephalopathy, Batman! Are we still having this conversation?

I’m not going to bore you with definitions from Webster’s dictionary. Nor am I going to quote the many research papers on this subject from various scientific disciplines. I’m neither a nurse researcher nor a social scientist. I am, however a nurse who in her 35 years in the profession has a pretty good idea of what nursing is and what it isn’t. When you come right down to it, the following is all the evidence I or anyone else needs to put the issue to rest. So read on.  

Nurses have specialized education and training validated by “professional licensure” in each state. We have a code of ethics and established practice standards we are bound to adhere to, a violation of which can result in our license being revoked or sanctioned. We have our own body of ongoing research that shapes and governs our practice. Nurses work autonomously without our scope of practice. We formulate and carry out our own plan of care for clients (when applicable); we apply judgment, use of critical thinking skills, and make nursing diagnosis.

 Nurses use thier specialized knowledge, experience, and skill set to initiate life-saving measures, improve and promote the health and well-being of the planet, and ease pain, suffering, and loss. We are all united in that common mission—regardless of where we work, our position title, or whether we’re employed, unemployed, or self-employed.

 Nursing is my profession and my life’s work. I have had various employment/self-employment positions over the years since becoming a nurse. But regardless of what title I had at any given time, and whether directly or indirectly working with consumers of healthcare (and we are all consumers of healthcare) I have always been working within the profession of nursing. In each role I had the same mission, ideals, and ethical and practice standards, while being aware of my role and responsibility as a healthcare expert (every nurse is a healthcare expert in his or her own way) and provider of care in a very broad sense. Today, as a nurse entrepreneur, when people ask me what I do, I say, “I am a self-employed registered nurse who spends her time speaking and a writing. You might say I heal with words.”

 I am proud to be a member of the nursing profession for 35 years. I don’t want to discuss the issue anymore, I don’t want to debate or dispute it. I just want to keep on living it—to the best of my ability—always striving to raise the standards of my own practice and my profession as a whole for hopefully another 35 years…or more.

Donna Wilk Cardillo is the Career Guru for Nurses and “Dear Donna” columnist for Nursing Spectrum, NurseWeek, and www.nurse.com. Donna is also an ‘Expert’ Blogger at DoctorOz.com. She is author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, Your 1st Year as a Nurse, and A Daybook for Beginning Nurses. Ms. Cardillo is creator of the Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminar and home-study program. You can reach her at www.dcardillo.com.

The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

28 Comments. Leave new

  • I loved the selected for this topic. Nursing is not a job, it is neither a profession. It is all about caregiving.
    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article.

  • Thanks, this is exactly what I was looking for.

  • wow! this was very helpful thanks so much.

  • I believe nursing is getting there into being a profession with the amount of body knowledge being added every single day. Besides, qualifications and specialized practice have been updated and pursued. Yet, it is the nurses’ mindsets that need to change and prove that they have substantial knowledge and skills to perform autonomously but in many cases, they don’t.

  • I’m just 17 years old in the nursing profession. I have practised widely across five different specialty areas. I’ll be rounding off my MSN in a couple months. I think the main reason why professionalism is still a debate in nursing is the lack of uniformity in nursing education. Those with advanced degrees in nursing seem to be more confident and agreeable with the title professional. Upon till now, I’ve committed a total of 7 years to nursing education and still looking to do my DNP soon.I feel more confident more confident in my practice now than before.The other component is autonomy. It is hard not to feel less of a professional when another authority has to sometimes approve your action.I think going forward, diploma and ADN prepared nurses should take advantage of this “catch up period” to engage in further studies and take our profession to the next level.

  • Donna Wilkinson RN
    February 26, 2018 1:50 pm

    In 1994 I wrote My Nursing Philosophy. Then again today I had to write by Career Statement.
    It has not changed. Nursing is NOT a job, It is a PROFESSION.

  • I am appalled by the number of nurses that would say nursing is not a profession! Nurses have a specialized education, licensure, follow a separate code of ethics, and perform ongoing research to grow that profession. Though, most of us follow-through with physician orders, it does not mean that I can only work under physician orders. I can be a nurse with complete autonomy if that is the type of nursing I choose to do. I can solely be a nurse, without a physician or anyone else ordering me to do anything. I can use the nursing process to care for patients without the orders of a physician. I can make nursing diagnoses without the order or okay from a physician, and then create a nursing care plan that will allow me to monitor the progress of my patients. All of this can be done without any physician involvement. Passing medications, dressing wounds, starting IVs, and putting in foley catheters is just a tiny bit of what nurses actually do, and it is the rest of the things that are done minus the physician orders that make nursing a profession and not just a job.

  • ohreally@yahoo.com
    July 15, 2014 8:38 am

    We don’t formulate a “plan of care” and we don’t need a “nursing diagnosis.”
    That’s the damned truth.
    We use the medical diagnosis.
    We punch a clock.
    We are not independent and cannot schedule our own hours and see patients when we want to or see other patients before according to our own desires. We wipe the ass. We have no help. We are understaffed. We are sent home when we have one too many nurses.
    We are NOT professionals
    We are labour.

    • Nursing today is a mediocre. Its a battle between the Hospitals and Nurses !! PROFIT against Patients / Nurses Rights and Advocacy. Hospitals says its their Mission !??? Total LIE !!! Why ?? They understaff the floor, dont get enough help, insufficient supplies; then they Reprimand the poor nurses for patient satisfaction that is down !!?? Patient complain is the call lights not answered promply !!?? Duhhh !!! Its gonna be down because Management always cut on staffing !!

  • Love it!!!

  • Apryl Gleespen
    November 10, 2013 8:22 am

    Nurses are trained professionals. You’ve earned it! Toss those scrubs and get into Brenda June’s beautiful Shapes at brendajune.com Step away from the crowd; never let them tame you!

  • hello, do you have an article/journal which highlighting the nurse whether as occupation or profession from pavalko’s occupational-professional model?thank you

  • what is nurse?

  • I’ve been searching for a job for sometime now. Specifically one that will sponsor me for H1B working visa..
    before I continue, i am a RN, licensed at the state of New Mexico.
    Whe seeking help from an attorney about H1B visa, they say its hard for a nurse to be approved since Immigration don’t consider nurses as proffesionals. She sain you can be RN even for 2 yrs of education.
    But I do believe that nursing is a profession since we’re takjng care of lives of people.

  • As an R.N. in ICU, I loved what I did and felt it was a privilege to care for patients. That is until I seriously injured my back and was treated horribly by the hospital. In retrospect, I feel nursing was a poor fit for me. While inequality exists in other professions, I found some nurses who talked a good game, while actually providing very poor patient care, disturbing on many levels. The head nurse set up a unit filled with gossip, mistrust, back stabbing and poor morale.

  • Truthmatters
    July 17, 2013 12:38 am

    Perhaps 35 years ago the standards that nurses used were high. Not so much anymore. Nurses are overpaid and lazy. They have about as much common sense and “critical thinking” as a donkey in a horse race! I have seen nurses aides and secretaries make better decisions about a patient’s care then the nurse (proven fact).the nurse was too busy planning her next vacation or what she was going to buy with her big bucks more than caring about the patient!

  • i am a study nurse who as to write on whether nursing is a profession could you give me sites that i can use to show that nursing is a profession?

  • I feel What Dona said is absolutely correct. Being a nurse for 24 years, I too had the same view and I always feel so. nurses who still debate on this issue are wasting time and it means that they are not assuming their role as nurses in the right way and not assertive to take up their real role.

  • I love the dialogue. It is truly thought provoking. However, the issue is not that black and white since the various “definitions” of profession, practice,and skilled trade, overlap greatly, defend and refute each other and are in some part dependent on the individual making the best argument at the time. Also, where is Martin practicing that he is independent of a psychiatric physician or M.D. as his oversight?

  • I agree with Martin irrespective of whether or not he can spell procedures. I have been a nurse since 1973 (Now Chief Nurse of a 600 bed Hospital) and have years of both Clinical and Managerial experience behind me. In Reality even JACHO requires that an attending physician agrees to the nursing care plan for his/her patient. We have a role that requires us to behave professionally but we are not autonomous enough to be called a profession. Repeatedly stating otherwise wont change this

  • meanwhile, martin, you don’t know how to spell “proceedures”.

  • Martin are you kidding me?
    Hope I never get you.
    You are a clown.

  • Bravo, Donna! I’m with you on this all the way. I have been working since I entered my BSN program in 1973 to project my professionalism at all times in my practice and, as the years passed, to mentor new RNs to understand and believe in their profession. Martin’s attitude would send us back to the bad old days when nurses were handmaids to the doctors. Thanks, Martin, but no thanks. I’m a member of the profession of nursing.

  • To Martin –
    I am curious as to whether or not you are currently practicing nursing or are attending a “straight to NP” program. To say nurses “are not professional” is an insult to all nurses. WHenyou have the letters NP after your name – you are a NURSE, and is create some type of “elite” status from others in your profession is disgusting to me. If you do not want to be identified as a nurse – maybe you should have been a PA.

  • You may have been working hard as a RN for 35 years but you are not a professional. The most critical element about being a professional is freedom of action. RNs still require the action of another to perform her duties. I will soon be a psychiatric NP. I will be able to diagnose (free from NANDA), prescribe medication, order lab tests and proceedures, admit and D/C patients, and have my own independent practice. This a is being a professional. RNs work hard but are not professional.

  • Great article!When a nurse is doing a “job” in taking of a patient she or he is also, doing a subjective, objective, spiritual,etc. view in taking care of that person holistic. In order to do that the nurse needs the educational/professional background in order to take care of that patient!Nursing is a profession First and Job Second!!

  • Hear, hear, Donna! As a nurse of 37 years, I would like to add to your comments. As long as nurses practice in isolation and keep their noses to the grindstone, without looking to advancing our profession, we will be perceived as minions performing our “jobs.” We must be proud of our accomplishments and work together to advance our profession! We must seek to add to the body of knowledge and promote evidence-based practice! Continue to encourage and support one another!

  • Even in our profession, we still need to be aware of the Employment Laws of the State we practice in, regardless of the setting or venues we decide on in all of our paths throughout the years of our Nursing Careers. As Women,or Men, sometimes with life challenges, changing health, and family demands, we need to know what our limitations are, and what our Employers should and should not be doing to us, legally.
    You would be surprised at how many RN’s have no idea where to go to report work abuse


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