Nursing as a Profession

Nursing at all levels, whether you are an LPN, R.N., or an APRN, is a profession. Achieving this status has been a hard-fought battle, but one which all nurses must continue to fight with the goal to attract more capable young people into the profession. The growing shortage of nurses is due in part to the fact that nurses often lack respect in the work force. Nurses are over-worked and underpaid. That is a fact, but salaries are increasing and work conditions are improving.

Professional Appearance

All nurses need to strive for maintaining a professional appearance at all times. Caps and white starched uniforms may be a thing of the past, but there is no excuse for not dressing appropriately. No matter what setting you work in, clean, professional attire must be worn. Wearing clean surgical scrubs and lab coats go a long way toward distinguishing men and women as health care professionals. These clothes are not expensive and should be laundered regularly.

Gender issues cause male nurses to be mistaken for M.D.s and females accepted as nurses, even when they are doctors. Wearing identification tags and making a gentle correction could quickly clear up any misunderstandings. There is no reason to become indignant when people make incorrect assumptions.

Remember that you represent the nursing profession at all times — whether at work or at play. Your attire, hygiene, actions, and demeanor are always on display. This can be an intense responsibility and unfair at times, perhaps, but something you must be aware of.

Consider how you might react if you ran into your doctor, lawyer, financial advisor, or other professional at the mall. The person's hair is a mess; he or she is dirty and unkempt and completely ignoring a rude and unruly child. Would you find yourself thinking of this person in a different light other than as your professional advisor? Or how would you react if the next time you visit your doctor's office and the nurse taking your vital signs has the absolute worst body odor and bad breath and hasn't shaved in at least two days?

In addition to representing the nursing profession, whether on or off duty you represent your employer. How you appear and act reflects on the employer's business. If you conduct yourself professionally and present a professional demeanor, you will command the respect you deserve from your employer, your coworkers, your patients, families, and community.

If you look and act the role, your patients will have much more respect for you as a professional. You will be much better able to convince them that what you are telling them is in their best interest. You will gain your patients' confidence and be much better able to educate them and advocate for them.


Infection control is affected by your personal grooming issues. Having your hair fall into your field of vision in the middle of a procedure can be a cause for concern. Not only does hair falling in your face present the potential for you to make a mistake, but also it can contaminate your clean or sterile field. Having to brush your hair aside can cause you to break technique, contaminate yourself, or require you to remove yourself in the middle of a procedure to wash and re-glove. All these put you and the patient at risk.

Fingernails and Jewelry

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued warnings about the use of artificial nails and most hospitals and clinics now prohibit their use. This standard has not been adopted in all areas of health care. Nurses who work in areas where this standard has not been addressed should review the literature and research the topic for themselves.

Would you want someone who looks like you to take care of your loved one? That's the question to ask yourself when you choose your clothes, style your hair, or apply makeup.

Long fingernails, whether natural or artificial and jewelry such as rings have long been known to harbor bacteria even with the best hand washing efforts. Using gloves can alleviate the infection risk, but the practical approach is to keep nails short and hair short or pulled back and to limit or omit jewelry in the workplace. This is not only for the patient's protection, but also for your own.


Another consideration is the use of scents. Whether wearing scented shaving lotions, perfumes, hair products, or mouthwash, nurses should remember that they work with sick people. The sense of smell of an ill person may be more acute because of medications such as chemotherapy. The sensitivity to smells may also be heightened due to allergies, migraines, and other aspects of illness and intolerance. Less is more. Please be considerate of other's inability to cope with what you might think smells terrific.


Smoking is another consideration. If you smoke, you smell of smoke. Your skin, your hair, your clothing can reek no matter how well you try to mask it. Sometimes the masking only increases the potency of the smell. Just because you are not smoking in the presence of patients doesn't mean your smoking is not a problem. Everywhere your cigarettes have been, the smell of smoke has been there too. Your car, your purse, your pockets, will all smell of smoke. Be aware of this and try to minimize the experience for others.

Legal Issues

When a judge gets tossed in jail for a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), don't you lose a little bit of faith in the legal system?

As a licensed nurse, your responsibility is to promote health and well-being. As such, it is obvious that a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol would not be well accepted from any person, but especially not from a health care worker. Under the nurse practice act for your state, you will find a section that deals with disciplinary measures. Here, you will most likely find that not only will you be punished by the laws of your state for the DUI, but that your nursing license is subject to suspension or revocation. This is true even though you were not on duty at the time of the DUI.

The commission of other criminal acts, not limited to malpractice issues or the illegal use of drugs, can also result in the suspension or revocation of your nursing license. These can include things such as writing bad checks, shoplifting, fraud, etc. Remember, you are a professional person and you are expected to conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times. As you know, nursing is a profession, not just a job.

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