What Nurses Wish You Knew

Forget the doctors. Who knows what really goes on in a hospital? The nurses. We convened dozens of the region's best and asked them everything we've always wondered about: How can I get the most out of the health-care system? How do I choose an end-of-life advocate? What do you think of Google-diagnosing? How about "Nurse Jackie"? And are you going to get mad at me if I buzz you again?

18 // Nurses count, so count nurses // Penn nursing prof Linda Aiken is one of the foremost researchers in nursing and health-care outcomes, and regularly makes Modern Healthcare’s annual list of the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare. And she recommends that before you head to a hospital for elective surgery, you call and ask: “How many patients do your nurses have, on average?” Aiken says if the hospital averages four patients per nurse, she wouldn’t be concerned. But 10 patients per nurse would give her pause. We tend to think nurses matter most for comforting us, and that whether we live or die depends on the doctor. Aiken’s research shows otherwise: The number of nurses has the biggest impact on outcomes for surgery.

19 // They don’t miss those little white caps // Nursing is a science-based profession, not a frilly one, and Widener School of Nursing associate dean Kathleen Black found it demeaning to wear that cap. Nurses also aren’t happy when Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi hosts parties where hookers dress up as nurses. “He’s from that era when nurses were like airline stewardesses,” Barbara Riegel sniffs. Some, though, liked the instant identity the caps conferred and say patients are bewildered by the identical scrubs worn by hospital personnel: “No one knows who the nurse is anymore,” says Mercy Philadelphia’s Karen King-Shannon.

20 // They don’t expect everybody to quit smoking, quit drinking and lose 50 pounds // Really. They’ve seen it all, including people smoking cigarettes through tracheotomy holes. “You can’t go into this profession thinking you’re going to change everyone’s behavior,” Jefferson’s JoAnn Silcox says. They’re not going to hector you or mock you. They will help you find the help you need, when you’re ready for it.

21 // Nurses don’t like “Nurse Jackie”—and there really are doctors like Gregory House // Showtime’s dark comedy isn’t a hit with real-life RNs. “It’s not entertainment in any way, shape or form,” says Molly Hayden. “When you see a nurse who really is in trouble, it’s heartbreaking.” While substance abuse is rare among nurses, morphine-pilfering Nurse Jackie isn’t based entirely on fiction. Nursing is highly stressful, and abuse happens. But hospitals have systems in place to protect patients, including medication monitoring and random drug testing. As for Dr. House, we thought our nurses would laugh when we said, “There aren’t really doctors like him, are there?” But no one even cracked a smile: There are lots of egomaniacs, they say.