More than once have I received this “compliment” from well-meaning family members, friends, and sometimes even patients who were satisfied with the quality of care rendered. And in my mind, I will be like “So are nurses supposed to be dumb?”

“You’re so knowledgeable/smart, you should consider advancing into medicine”, they’d say.

“I’m a Nurse. Nursing and Medicine are not the same,” I’d cut in. “But still…you can do better than being a Doctor’s assistant”. I would just smile, mutter “okay, thank you” and let sleeping dogs lie. On some other days–days when I’m not already exhausted or I have the luxury of time–the conversation will not end there.

“Who says Nurses are Doctors’ assistants?” But why do people think like that? 🤦😏

I know that when people say things like this, they think they are praising nurses but really these comments are downright condescending to a Nurse (at least, to me, it is). I don’t blame them anyway. At a time, I believed it too. I didn’t know any better then. But now that I do, we all should know this.

For the record, Nursing is a profession, just as Medicine is. A Nurse and a Doctor are both professionals in their own rights. None is inferior nor superior. A Nurse is not an errand Joe to any Doctor…at least, I’ve yet to see it written anywhere in our curriculum.

It’s just like telling a Geography teacher to be a Math teacher because s/he is too good to be teaching Geography. In the same manner that both teachers put in collective efforts to produce an intelligent student, so do doctors, nurses and other members of the healthcare team put in efforts to bring about promotive, curative, preventive, and rehabilitative health.

They work interdependently and co-dependently to ensure the well-being of a patient. Yes, there’s no arguing the fact that Nursing started as a vocation. But it has evolved. Thanks to Florence Nightingale and her ilks (Virginia Henderson, Dorothea Orems), modern-day Nursing is a scientific discipline rooted in theory, ongoing research, and evidence.

We study complicated scientific concepts, theories, and methodology to understand the complexities of the human body, the environment, and ways to better serve humanity. This is not an easy thing to do. True, professional Nursing is hard. One cannot become a nurse in 6 months or one year simply by undergoing a training in a private hospital and collecting certificates after the freedom party. Doctors don’t train nurses.

It is outrightly condescending and unfair to assume nurses as doctors’ assistants. It is those categories of people that are trained by some greedy and unscrupulous elements that are doctor’s assistants.

However, there are quite a number of career advancements in Nursing. Surprisingly, one of them includes being a Doctor… not a medical doctor anyways. 😁

Thank you!

Your Nurse,

Leonard Otieno,
National Nurses Association of Kenya,
Chairperson Publicity & Recruitment Committee.