Nurses holding up hands in confused posture.

Congratulations! You are officially a part of the most trusted profession, with the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives every day. A nurse's role requires involvement in the most vulnerable situations, and they recognize the immense impact they may have on the well-being of others. RNs can be consistently proud of the work they do - wherever their paths may take them.

One Field, So Many Options

An RN's role is the cornerstone of the rigorous foundation of nursing education. Over time, the deeply ingrained nursing process becomes a strategy for approaching every situation throughout their lives. Specifically, a nurse's excellent critical thinking skills are put to use in a variety of roles.

As opportunities continue to present themselves, nurses begin to discover their niche within this highly varied profession. They recognize the strengths of colleagues who dedicate themselves to much-needed roles that differ, as they simultaneously evaluate their own passions to determine where their skill set will best be used. Each individual nurse has an important part to play for those they serve. The qualities that unite RNs are the core of what makes them nurses.

However, it's common for individuals outside of the profession to be confused about how some don't look like "rns" (real nurses). A perception held by many people is that a "real nurse" works in a hospital at the bedside.

So the question becomes, what really makes a nurse a nurse? If one leaves the bedside, are they still considered to be a nurse?

The Public Perception of The Nurse

The public is who nurses serve, and who give the Leapfrog or Healthgrades ratings. This includes one's family members, friends, neighbors, and community.

The public holds a certain image of a nurse, which they cling to tightly. This representation often involves:

  • Hospitals, emergency rooms, and scrubs
  • Bedpans, blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, and thermometers
  • Doctors' offices, immunizations, and shots

Definition of a Nurse: Nursing 101 defines a nurse as "one formally educated and trained in the care of the sick or infirm." Mirriam Webster uses words such as "care" and "sick," with visions of an independent practitioner promoting and maintaining others' health.

The American Nurses Association helps define the profession as one that "was founded to protect, promote, and improve health for all ages."

What The Scope of Practice Has to Say

In many states, the scope of practice for an RN involves the following: 

  • Protecting, promoting, optimizing health
  • Facilitating healing
  • Restoring care
  • Alleviating suffering
  • Preventing illness and injury
  • Supporting activities to enhance well-being
  • Health education and counseling

So What's The Problem?

A nurse's identity is typically never questioned until they leave the bedside, as the public perception of a nurse is one who is engaged in direct-patient care. Therefore, it can be difficult to defend the fact that nurses who work outside of this realm are still very much nurses.

Those who are employed away from direct-patient care may find themselves speechless and even slightly defensive when friends, family members, or neighbors innocently ask, "Oh, you aren't a nurse anymore?" or "When did you leave nursing?"


The Common Denominators That Unite RNs

Certain characteristics are deeply embedded within nurses and ultimately unite the profession. These include:

  • A heart of service towards others
  • Empathy for others' situations
  • A desire to intervene on others' behalves for their well-being

RNs possess skills in:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Education
  • Advocacy

The main denominator in all of this is care. This involves watchful attention, charge, or supervision over another person.

As a nurse, how often have you demonstrated great concern for another person's well-being? The answer is daily, whether it occurred in a hospital setting or not.

Caring and Supervising Health in All Roles

While the act of caring and supervising health frequently occurs at the bedside, consider how these non-traditional nursing examples serve to impact others:

  • Case managers coordinate a safe discharge and plan post-hospital services to safeguard the individual's well-being
  • Nurse educators supervise and train others to effectively oversee and promote good health
  • Informatics nurses use their knowledge to improve systems of care, which indirectly trickle down to patients' well-being
  • Legal nurse consultants provide support by formulating and overseeing laws that help protect the public
  • Nurse writers inform and educate to promote health practices
Susan Donckels, RN, BSN
Latest posts by Susan Donckels, RN, BSN (see all)
  • The Factors That Bind RNs: Are RNs Nurses If They Don’t Work at the Bedside? - November 15, 2020
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