Jun 15, 2020
By Catherine Smith

I am proud to be a nurse and not an angel

Unsplash.com/Luke Jones

Take away messages:

  • Nursing is grounded on knowledge, evidence and philosophy. Evidence-informed practice promotes quality care, which is vital in influencing change across the health-care system. Evidence-informed care, not “angelism,” should be the aspiring force to join the profession.
  • War and divine metaphors that dehumanize the nursing discipline can place intemperate stress and unrealistic pressure on nurses. The metaphors can evoke a sense of guilt in nurses who are unable to enact their profession due to non-clinical roles and personal circumstances.
  • Nursing is evolving in the 21st century. Just like the saying, “never let a good crisis go to waste,” what positive changes would you like to see in the nursing profession?

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), more commonly referred to as COVID-19, has caused global disarray. This pandemic is the biggest challenge of the 21st century. Every challenge has its silver lining and to some, the pandemic may bring about positive societal change.

In one of my roles as nursing faculty, a silver lining was adapting to a virtual learning environment that I had previously avoided and argued against. I am a strong believer in experiential learning, and simulation sits outside my comfort zone. But having no choice at hand compelled me to embrace the new ways of teaching and, on reflection, I see that my trepidation was merely an old habit.

… nursing as a profession has striven to move from the “virtue script” toward a knowledge-based discipline.

In my second role as an intensive care (ICU) nurse, my silver lining is seeing doctors wash their hands vigorously. My medical colleagues will testify to my constant “bare below the elbow” mantra.

“Heroes” and “angels”

Many of my nursing colleagues globally have shared that their silver lining is the appreciation of the nursing profession; in some countries, nurses do not ordinarily get the recognition they deserve. The “cheer for health-care workers” movement, including the 7 p.m. banging of pots and pans, evokes warm sentiments. But the myriad of headlines and tweets proclaiming nurses as coronavirus “heroes” and “angels” does not evoke a sense of pride in me.

I have always struggled with the lauding of nurses as health-care’s angels. This notion has existed since the days of Florence Nightingale, and efforts to abolish the stereotype have been ongoing by some. In fact, nursing as a profession has striven to move from the “virtue script” toward a knowledge-based discipline.

I am not an angel; I am a nurse who strongly believes in evidence-based knowledge. I worked assiduously to achieve my credentials as a registered nurse.

A knowledge-based discipline

My nursing education was supported by evidence-based theories, and the experiential learning component bridged the theory–practice gap. I believe being called an angel demeans the nursing profession and reinforces the stereotype that ours is a vocation that does not require intellect. Nursing education not only prepares nurses to think critically and problem-solve, but also to act compassionately.

Many of my nursing colleagues who work on the front lines of the coronavirus share the same sentiment: we are not angels.

Concerted efforts to prepare future nurses for 21st-century nursing emanate from nursing research. As nurses, we can think independently and intellectually. Nurses demonstrate best practice based on evidence that promotes safe, person-centred, high-quality care. Nurses actively advocate for their patients, as this is the missing piece in health care. It is achieved through knowledge, passion, and commitment to our profession.

Many of my nursing colleagues who work on the front lines of the coronavirus share the same sentiment: we are not angels. We have been trained as highly skilled nurses and critical care practitioners. In my job I utilize my critical thinking, clinical judgment, knowledge, and expertise; I do not apply any “angelic” skills or competency when I care for patients in the ICU. I do incorporate compassion, empathy, and kindness in my care because I am passionate about my work and, most importantly, I believe in humanizing care.

So, as a nurse, I call upon you to challenge the stereotype that nurses are “angels.” We are professional registered nurses, and our discipline is derived from knowledge, philosophy, and evidence. When we perpetuate the notion of “angelism” in nursing, we endanger our profession because we risk instilling the wrong motivation in those who aspire to a nursing career.

In this time of pandemic, what silver lining are you looking for in the nursing profession?

Catherine Smith: RN, BSc (Hons), MSc is an Assistant Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, BC and she also works as an ICU nurse at Fraser Health Authority. She is the Vice Chair and Director of ReSurge Africa (NGO) www.resurgeafrica.org. She can be reached by email at: catherine.smith@ufv.ca.

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