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Americans: Nursing most honest, ethical profession

Monday January 23, 2012
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When asked which profession they think is the most honest and ethical, time and time again Americans rank nursing No. 1. Nurses consistently have topped Gallup's annual poll since the profession was first included in 1999. Since then, they've held the top spot every year except 2001, the year of 9/11, when they placed second to firefighters.

Three medical professions held the first three spots in the 2011 Gallup poll, based on telephone interviews done Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 2011, with a random sample of 1,012 U.S. adults. Americans ranked nurses, pharmacists and physicians as the highest of the 21 professions tested. At the spectrum's other end, members of Congress (who came in last), lobbyists, car salespeople and telemarketers were considered by those polled as the least honest and ethical.

We asked nurses to weigh in on why they believe nursing is so trusted by Americans. This is what they had to say.


Debra O’Hehir, RN
Debra O’Hehir, RN, MSN, MBA, vice president, patient care services » The Allen Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian, New York City

The bottom line, said O’Hehir, is nurses are there when people need them.

“At least from the inpatient side, nurses are there with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “When you need something, it’s the nurse that comes and takes care of you. Nurses are rounding continuously to see if there is something you need and anticipating whatever it may be.”

It’s the nurses who administer medications, take vital signs and act as liaisons between patients and doctors when things aren’t right. “They really become your lifeline,” O’Hehir said. With anticipated changes in healthcare, she said it’s the nurses who will take over caring for people and earning their trust.


Helene E. D’Agostino, RN
Helene E. D’Agostino, RN, CNS, MSN, NICU clinical nurse specialist » Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, West Islip, N.Y.

“I believe nursing is the most trusted profession because of the confidence our patients place in us to provide safe, quality and evidence-based care,” D’Agostino said.

“As professional nurses, we serve as advocates for the most vulnerable populations across the healthcare continuum. When we practice according to the Code of Ethics for nurses, which says in part: ‘The nurse, in all professional relationships practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth and uniqueness of every individual,’ we are able to meet the expectations of our patients and their families, as they place their trust in us to provide consistent, patient-centered care. It is this fulfillment of expectations that has granted us the honor of the most trustworthy profession.”


Patricia Roesch, RN
Patricia Roesch, RN, MHSA, nurse manager » NYU Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases, New York City

Nurses are there 24/7 to listen and guide patients when they are at their most vulnerable. Nurses take the time to listen to patients, to let them know they are not just medical diagnoses, but also people, Roesch said.

“You often hear: The medical team is here to cure and nurses are here to care for all the ramifications and what that cure may mean or that illness may mean. So, when [patients] have to make medical decisions, we often will talk with them and listen … as to how that impacts [patients, themselves], their families, their jobs, their membership in the community. That’s where we can really support and guide them, as they need to be guided, in adjusting to some pretty catastrophic events in their lives. I think because we are there at those moments in time [patients learn to trust us].”


Maria Vezina, RN
Maria Vezina, RN, EdD, NEA-BC, senior director, nursing education and professional practice » The Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City

Nursing is a robust combination of science and art. “One of the core tenets of nursing practice is your relationship with patient and family. You just can’t practice the science of nursing in isolation,” Vezina said.

Great nurses, she said, engage in their communication, as well as think critically, combining the facts with the person.

“It’s not all about the facts, but being able to adjust your factual knowledge based on the relationship with that particular patient. It’s the individualization, at the end of the day, which makes nursing so rewarding,” Vezina said. “Everybody’s different. ... You see some people [react to disease] with incredible bravery and then, in the next room, you might see someone with incredible denial. It’s impossible for [nursing] to become humdrum. ... Having the opportunity to witness the circle of life is awesome.”


Mardeika Dunn, RN
Mardeika Dunn, RN, BA, BSN, home care nurse » MJHS Home Care, New York City

“Nursing is my second career. Before MJHS Home Care, I was a case worker in child protective services. While both fields are important, I can understand why nurses are so trusted. We explore our patients’ thoughts, feelings, experiences, knowledge, weaknesses and strengths,” Dunn said. “This information helps us determine the best way to approach healing and wellness, as well as overall patient care, education and advocacy.”

This relationship, Dunn said, is magnified when nurses care for patients in their homes. “Trust, honesty, ethics and respect have to be established and earned during the first visit,” she said. “For us, witnessing and understanding patient environments, as well as social, spiritual and cultural traditions, is an asset. Home care nursing is also a unique opportunity — a gift really — to learn things that might not come up in a hospital setting. It’s wonderful that we are so trusted. But if you poll nurses, the results would probably show that we get back more than we give.”


Annie J. Rohan, RN
Annie J. Rohan, RNC, MSN, NNP/PNP, Jonas nursing scholar, PhD program » Columbia University, New York City

“While the partisan debate spirals and many providers adjust practices to affect reimbursement, nurses steadfastly approach their work with the impartial and unwavering goal of providing person-centered healthcare,” Rohan said.

“Nurses do this with little regard for whether their services will be reimbursed at high or low rates, whether or not problems translate to billable diagnoses and irrespective of whether they are needed to support their patients in living or dying.

“Nurses are the shield between our most vulnerable population and the political machine that is now part of our healthcare system. Despite decades of changes that have created a divide between the cost of medical services and our national health outcomes, nurses remain devoted to the concept of basic healthcare as a human right, and are the anchors to which our population clings for preserving its person-centeredness.”


Patricia Ripp Janicke, RN
Patricia Ripp Janicke, BSN, CNRN, nurse educator, neurosciences » Winthrop-University Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.

Nursing consistently earns the top spot as the most trusted profession in America because nurses are truly committed to the patient, the family and the community, Janicke said.

“When I was a patient, having my twin daughters, I didn’t know anything about it. My nurses were my lifeline. ... I put all my trust in them,” she said. “I wasn’t the nurse anymore, I was the patient.

“We always use the word ‘empathy,’ as nurses. I truly believe we embrace and embody every part of empathy. If we haven’t been there, we’ve seen somebody go through it, or we’ve had a family member go through it. Nurses are there at the beginning of life and end of life. They’re there at the best times of life and worse times of life. I think patients understand that, and they turn to us with all their happiness and all of their grief.”


Mary Ann Christopher, RN, MSN, FAAN, president and CEO » Visiting Nurse Service of New York, New York City
Mary Ann Christopher, RN, MSN, FAAN, president and CEO » Visiting Nurse Service of New York, New York City

Nursing provides the opportunity to influence the delivery of healthcare from the bedside to the boardroom, Christopher said.

“In the varied roles that we hold as nurses we have the privilege of participating in the sacred moments of patients’ lives. From this lived experience, nurses work collaboratively with members of the inter-professional team to develop innovative practice models, craft health policy and create cross continuum systems of care that guarantee access, control cost and ensure excellence in quality and patient care outcomes. At this critical time for our nation, we are actively shaping the future of healthcare by forging partnerships and implementing bold new ideas.”

Shawane Garner-McPherson, RN, staff nurse, ED » Nassau University Medical Center, East Meadow, N.Y.

Patients look to nurses for comfort and information, Garner-McPherson said. ED patients are especially full of anxiety. McPherson said she walks into patient rooms, introduces herself and tries to allay patients’ fears by explaining the process. When she sees the opportunity, she’ll use humor to comfort patients.

“They need to know who they’re dealing with, and that there’s somebody there for them,” she said. “When they are brought into the room, the first person they meet ... is the nurse. You put in the time to explain to them exactly what is going to happen, and they’re not so anxious anymore because they know what to expect.”

Katherine Finkelstein, RN, staff nurse, ICU and CCU » Staten Island (N.Y.) University Hospital, South Campus

It’s all about the truthful relationship nurses build with their patients, Finkelstein said.

“I try to be very upfront and frank when talking to patients,” she said. “When I talk to the patients, they know I am telling them the truth — even if it’s bad news. I had a patient tell me: ‘No matter what you tell me, I know it’s the truth.’”

Nurses are teachers, Finkelstein said. While patients might not grasp what physicians tell them, nurses are there to explain what patients need to know, in terms patients understand.
Nurses don’t take the responsibility of being the most trusted profession lightly, Finkelstein said. “Even though patients may switch doctors, most of them are coming back to the same hospital, and we see patients time and time again,” she said.

Rosanne Raso, RN, MS, NEA-BC, CNO and senior vice president, patient care services » Lutheran Medical Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Nurses’ interactions with patients and families go beyond addressing specific symptoms, problems or questions. Nurses look at the bigger picture, said Raso.

“I think that we never fail to help — no matter what the setting, whether it’s in the hospital, school, ambulatory care center or the home,” Raso said.

Nursing care is meaningful to patients and families. Nurses are patients’ eyes and ears, advocates, helpers and practitioners.

“Even small acts of kindness that are just inbred in the way nurses provide care are so meaningful to patients,” she said. “Nurses are not only good at nursing. But, especially in the hospital, nurses take care of everything. They take care of materials, dietary, respiratory, physicians — they fix equipment. You name it. And they know how to get help. So, even if they don’t know how to fix it, or do it or help, they know how to find somebody who does. I think that contributes to trust. Nurses are so smart.”

Kerri Ann Scanlon, RN, MSN, ANP, chief nursing officer » LIJ Medical Center, New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Scanlon said nurses are true advocates. “That’s our role: to be there for our patients. We’re there to help them, navigate for them and really protect them in their healthcare experience,” she said. “When patients come in the door, it doesn’t matter if they’re rich or they’re poor. ... their religion or ethnic background [matters not]. They are patients, who come in in their most vulnerable states. And nurses are there.”

Nursing is a true calling, Scanlon said. “It’s the heart ... of any hospital or healthcare-related organization. At the end of the day, nurses are going into the profession not for title; not for money; not for prestige. They’re going into it for the love of the care of patients and their families.”

Scanlon cited poet and author Maya Angelou’s quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Sally Umbro, RN, MS, NEA-BC, vice president, patient care services » Calvary Hospital, Bronx, N.Y.

The trust between patient and nurse goes beyond words, Umbro said.

“It has always been understood that a hospitalized patient has the most contact with nurses. ... The relationship is certainly enhanced by the frequency of interactions. However, what I personally feel is most significant is the role a nurse has using one of our most important senses — the sense of touch. That intimate sense is what sets a nurse apart and instills, I believe, a deep feeling of trust,” she said.

“Touch, physical while providing care, or the connection with words, or a watchful eye when no one is looking — these components of nursing practice make our relationship with our patients unique and deeply meaningful.”

Ann Culkin, RN, OCN, clinical nurse, thoracic oncology service » Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City

Nurse-patient relationships develop and grow over time, and trust is paramount in oncology, said Culkin, whose expertise is lung cancer.

“There is no cure for lung cancer. So, as an oncology nurse, you develop a relationship from diagnosis to death,” she said. “The focus is more on care, as opposed to cure.”

Nurses are respectful of patient-focused care. While physicians prescribe treatment, nurses focus on what it’s going to take to get the patient through treatment.

“It’s a tremendous comfort to know that we’re trusted,” Culkin said. “Trust defines what happens between the patient and the nurse. The nurse also has to trust the patient — that the patient will be compliant or adhere to the prescribed plan. You also trust that the family will take care of patients when they’re out of your realm.”


Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer. Send letters to editorNY@nurse.com or post a comment below.
Nursing ranks No. 1

Nurses have been included on the Gallup poll since 1999, and have ranked at the top every year but one, when they came in second.

Nurses were ranked 84% high, 15% average and 1% low.

Pharmacists and physicians are the only other healthcare professions that also have been highly ranked.

Source: www.Gallup.com