Okay, so I’ve decided to call us on it upfront–to say it right out so everyone can hear it. Why? Because I know no other way to try to destroy the crazy-insane stereotypes of nursing that most lay people and many nurses still believe.

Does the public know our power? Do we own it? And if not, who is responsible for telling our story but us?

That the healthcare system is to blame, no doubt, because everyone lives and works within a system, exists in context of a greater whole, and our work takes up a large part of our lives.

But while we allow ourselves to be portrayed as “angels of mercy” or “inferior to doctors”, while we allow the “professionals” to use jargon like “burnout” and “compassion fatigue” as though we are some kind of defective lightbulb or have a limited amount of compassion (as though we forgot to fill our tank) what we really have done is far more dangerous to ourselves.

There many generations of us who still work as nurses. Each generation brings with it valuable lessons we’ve learned through experience. But do we openly share and teach those valuable lessons to lay people and offer it to each other?

We have different backgrounds, different experiences, different values, different goals and so how can we all be called “nurses” and expect anyone to understand who nurses are and what nurses do. And if we don’t tell them, if we don’t help them differentiate between us, who will?

Would any lay person ask a cardiologist questions about problems with their ears or eyes? Would anyone ask an ophthalmologist questions about a kidney infection? And it goes on and on. When the polls are written and we’re told, “Nurses are the most trusted professionals,” I wonder, “What kind of nurses are they taking about?”

Nurses Matter. But Stories matter as well. And we’re not telling enough of our own stories. Sometimes nurses remind me of the Tammy Wynette song “Stand by my Man.” But who do we stand by? Hospitals (we sure let many of them get away with murder) Doctors? (We make excuses for them, and if they’re brash and not so smart, we cover for them. Often we take the rap for them as though our patients are our kids. We want them to have confidence in the healthcare system, because we are loyal to the whole idea of healthcare and helping.

But between that old stereotype of nurses as angels of mercy, and the truth of our visionary understanding of the place of nurturing and heart-centered-care-taking in healing, we downplay our strengths in favor of the old paradigm of scientific medicine. Well, nursing isn’t medicine. Nursing uses medicine as a tool for healing, but nursing isn’t a subspecialty. It’s so much more. It’s a specialty in itself, one that has many new and developing faces of healing. Medicine is only one aspect of healing. Nursing covers many aspects. It’s time for us to own our power. It’s time for us to stand up and stand for what we know to be true.

I’m not talking about not respecting doctors here. I’m talking about respecting those doctors who deserve respect, and respecting healthcare when it helps to heal.

But “Standing by….” and being supportive relinquishes our role as the leaders in healing that we often are.

Would a doctor ever be called to come to see a patient who is in really danger if a nurse didn’t already know the symptoms of that disease? Yet, we’re told never to diagnose.

It’s time we stopped playing “nurse” while others play “doctor” and pretending they are the head of the team of healers. A healthcare team needs to be collegial. There is a place for each of us, for all of us in healthcare, but only if we are willing to stand up and be counted.

No more false virtue, no standing in second place, we must take on the mantle of leadership and learn from others who know what Nurses are, and those are the nurses who have the experience of working in healthcare. It’s time to take the responsibility and put on our mantles of healing. Not only those with the concepts who have never worked in the real world. We have to begin to decide what matter to us, what is the most important thing we do, and then it’s time for us to share it with those who don’t know because we’ve helped hide it from them.