My Nurse InfluencersNurse Keith's Corner

Nurse Keith’s Corner: The nurse as Hermetic messenger

By: Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

Nurses fulfill myriad roles in the course of their work: counselor, healer, priest, rabbi, psychopomp, advocate, protector, confessor, educator, coach, among others. And amidst each of these various peregrinations of professional identity and purpose, it could be argued that the role and duty of messenger is central to each.

The Greek god Hermes was central when it came to the art of communication; considered the messenger god, he delivered messages between the gods on Mt. Olympus, the underworld, and the land of mortals. Hermes served as a psychopomp, the ferryman of the recently deceased from the land of the living to the land of the dead; he also had the power to carry secret messages (hermetically sealed, as it were) and decipher them for others as needed.

Like Hermes, nurses communicate on multiple levels between disparate groups: nurses often play the role of translator of “medical speak” into language that patients and their families can more readily understand; and they contextualize their holistic assessment in order for medical providers to more fully grasp the patient’s subjective experience, as well as objective nursing data key to positive patient outcomes.

It can be teaching a child with type 1 diabetes to operate a wearable insulin pump, advocating for a patient’s optimal pain control, counsel a patient with a substance use disorder on their treatment plan, and acting as psychopomp help a patient cross into death with dignity.

And like Hermes, we are able to keep secrets, holding patients’ private information sacred — not simply due to HIPAA, but because nurses are charged with maintaining the privacy and dignity of those they care for. In that regard, we can see nurses’ secret-keeping and mastery of electronic medical records as an example of their ability to hermetically seal patients’ information and hold it safe from prying eyes.

As hermetic messengers in our 21st-century world, the nurse messenger is a concept to understand and internalize when considering the multifaceted aspects of the nurse’s heart, mind, practice, and professional identity.

The Many Faces of the Communicator

Nurses are inherently communicators. Multidisciplinary colleagues are often on the receiving end of nurses’ input and wisdom, as are patients and families, of course. For nurses with a political bent, elected officials can be the focus of effective nurse advocacy. And for those nurses choosing a more public space, writing, podcasting, public speaking, and social media are additional avenues for purposeful expression and influential communication.

Many nurses choose to take part in local, national, or even international conversations about the topics they feel passionate about. One nurse may write erudite and convincing letters to the editor. Another, like bestselling nurse author and journalist Theresa Brown, may have the fortune to land a coveted opportunity writing op-eds for the New York Times. Is Theresa Brown a hermetic messenger? I would posit that she indeed fulfills such a role with verbal grace and astute observations.

An intrepid nurse with something to share may launch a podcast or blog as a citizen journalist, or they may choose to self-publish articles on or LinkedIn. And nurses serving as keynote or motivational speakers are themselves messenger educators who seek to inspire, entertain, and educate.

In some cases, nurses may serve as public servants, perhaps sitting on a local school board or city council, as a state legislator or public health official, or even serving as a member of Congress like Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) or Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14). Herein also lies the power of communication, that most hermetic of functions projecting the voice of the nurse into the public space.

An Unstoppable Force for Good

Coupled with emotional and relational intelligence and a finely attuned moral compass, communication can be an unstoppable force for good. Whether in research, the clinical space, entrepreneurial ventures, or public service, nurses’ success often depends on their individual and collective ability to relay complex information clearly, concisely, and persuasively.

Nurses’ influence can be felt far and wide. The annual Gallup Poll demonstrates year after year how much trust is placed in nurses by the public, and simply the mention of one’s chosen profession of nursing can be enough to engender concerned questions from those whom nurses have occasion to meet, as well as family members, neighbors, and friends. And during crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, a nurse’s opinion can carry a great deal of weight with those seeking reliable answers.

The positive influence of the nursing profession on culture and society is irrefutable, as is the effectiveness of nurses to convey important information to those who need it most. Being a nurse carries with it many ethical and social responsibilities, and many thousands of nurses step up and fulfill those responsibilities with great aplomb and professionalism.

The hermetic nature of nursing is a given, and nurses’ skills in communication are paramount to their function in the world. Like Hermes, nurses navigate multiple worlds, keep secrets, and convey what needs to be conveyed. The messenger is an identity to embrace, celebrate, and recognize as an undeniable force of nature in a complex 21st-century world.

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, and author.

With two decades of nursing experience, Keith understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s podcast, The Nurse Keith Show, offers inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful lives and careers.

Keith’s message of savvy career management reaches nurses worldwide and he can be found on social media, as well as at

The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer 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.

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