If you’re a nurse, when was the last time you said, “Oh, I’m just a nurse” or “I’m not really an expert–I’m just a nurse”? If you stop to think about it, what are you really saying when you deny your expertise? Words are powerful, and the words we use to describe ourselves can have far-reaching effects — for others and within our own psyches.

For several years, I’ve used my soapbox to cajole nurses into embracing their nurse identity and their individual and collective value as skilled clinicians.

Like I’ve said before, nurses have been voted the most trusted professionals in the U.S. every year for a good reason. That’s because, whether we feel like experts or not, the general public views us as honest and knowledgeable professionals with whom they trust their lives–and the lives of their loved ones.

Sadly, many nurses don’t feel like experts, and the common use of the above-mentioned phrase demonstrates for us the fact that nurses suffer from collective low self-esteem.

While some nurses are more expert than others (or more educated, experienced, or specialized in their practice), every nurse is an expert in some way, shape, or form. Having survived nursing school, learned how to be a nurse, developed specialized assessment skills, and been issued a license to practice, you deserve to call yourself an expert.

Face it, you’re a nurse, and you’re an expert when it comes to being a nurse. And in the eyes of the general public, you’re part of a special breed they see as angels, saints, or some other superlative creature.

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Of course, your nursing career is a creature that will only continue to grow and evolve, which is a wonderful thing. Nurses are required to participate in continuing education to maintain and renew their licenses. Still, many nurses also seek out education and specialization because they’re professionals who always want to learn something new, increasing their knowledge, skill, and expertise–and that’s a beautiful thing.

When I coach nurses, I instill in my clients the undeniable fact that they are experts. However, I also demand that they never again say, “I’m just a nurse.” Using that small “four-letter word” –just — is an affront to who you are and what you do. In this context, “just” is a diminishing term, a word whose purpose is to relieve you of authority, intelligence, and undeniable importance.

You’re a nurse, and nurses can be described as the lifeblood and the backbone of the entire healthcare industry. Take away nurses, and the system as a whole would cease to function.

We’re not simple handmaidens to the all-knowing physicians (like it was in the bad old days). Instead, we’re skilled in the art and science of nursing, and this art/science is made more powerful by decades of research, practice, theory, skill-building, and knowledge accumulation.

You are a nurse. Period. And you deserve to erase that one particular four-letter word from your nursing vocabulary.

Minority Nurse is thrilled to welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column. 

Keith Carlson
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