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The Nurses Station: Would YOU Give Up Your Seat?

If you have been a nurse for any length of time, you know how precious the seats at the nurses’ station really are. These seats are a rare commodity; one to be cherished and guarded once you snag one. It is also true that the coveted chair can be very revealing regarding the professionalism of the person occupying it.

I will pose to you a question that I recently asked a class of students: registered nurses who are taking their first course in their journey to their bachelor’s degree and are studying the art of professional nursing. Many of them have been practicing nurses for 20 years or more. Here is my question to them: “As a professional courtesy, would you willingly and gladly give up your chair at the nurses’ station to a… to a… wait for it… a doctor? How about a doctor who was nasty to you a few minutes ago? Would you give up your chair for this person? In response to this question, you would have thought I had asked if they would wear their pajamas to work! It would be an unthinkable assault to their personal pride! In fairness, there were many who said that they definitely would offer their chair as a professional courtesy, but most said they would absolutely NOT give up their chair to a physician.

In fact, many were shocked that I would even ask such a question. After all, it is a known fact that we as nurses are in a constant battle to earn respect in our profession, and unfortunately, they say, it is the physicians who are greatly responsible for any lack of respect that we receive. The majority of the students explained by saying that the doctors do not show them any respect, so why should they show them any courtesy? Others say that they feel like they are constantly having to try to prove themselves as equal in importance to the physicians and so they feel like giving up their chair would show a sign of subservience or weakness. One student summed it up by stating, “The doctors think they are so much better than me. Giving up my chair would just explode their egos even more. I need to show that I am not impressed by them.”

Why do I use a scenario such as this in class when it inflames emotions so drastically? Here’s my reason. In my years as a nurse I have noticed a startling lack of civility and respect among health care workers, and not just between doctors and nurses either. The doctors disrespect the nurses who then berate the nursing assistants who, in turn, are short with the patients. We are mistreated, so therefore, we mistreat others. I specifically remember one nurse with whom I worked who was also a former certified nursing assistant (CNA). When she was a CNA she commented over and over about how she couldn’t stand the disrespectful way that the nurses spoke to her. However, after she became a nurse herself, I saw her talking quite rudely to a CNA. I confronted her about it, asking why she would talk to a CNA like that when she resented such treatment when she was a CNA herself. Her answer? “I took it when I was a CNA… now it’s my turn to dish it out.” Is that it? Must we really beat someone down in order to feel better about ourselves? Where does it stop? Do you think that maybe it should stop with us? If we can show respect to others, perhaps we will be respected in return.

Back to the seat at the nurses’ station and my students… I use this example because the chair at the nurses’ station is so symbolic of what we have achieved and can be one of our prized possessions at work. So, here is the point that I wanted to make with my students and will do so here as well: I believe that giving up that chair to the doctor shows the utmost in professionalism, courtesy, and confidence. I always envision Florence Nightingale as the most professional of nurses, and I honestly do not think she would have a problem giving up HER chair. Was Florence a doormat? Was she subservient? I think not! I think that Florence was confident enough in her practice and knowledge that she had nothing to prove to anyone, and certainly not by being discourteous. Perhaps true professionalism possesses enough self control and restraint to show kindness and courtesy toward those who maybe do not deserve it.

Can we not be confident enough in our abilities and our practices that we do not feel like we have to prove ourselves by remaining seated while the physician stands? If a nurse gives up his or her chair at the nursing station to a physician, maybe even the very doctor who was disrespectful a few minutes ago, I believe that it shows that the nurse’s professionalism is a notch above the norm. It’s like taking the high road in the midst of mistreatment. Such professionalism could go a very long way in increasing the respect given to us in the health care community. Who knows… maybe our example will eventually lead to a physician offering his or her chair to US! Wouldn’t that be something? I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one, but in the meantime, we can be the trendsetters in the realm of professional courtesy. And to me, an attitude of servanthood is true professionalism, and I think Florence would agree!

Nurses, would you give up your seat? Please leave a comment below sharing your thoughts.


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