What It Means to Embody Nurse Professionalism

As an RN, you’re part of a professional clinical team. But in a high-stress environment, it can be difficult to act the part all the time. Nurse professionalism is about putting patients first, upholding ethics and bringing the right attitude to the job every single day.

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7 ways to be an example of nurse professionalism

Nurse professionalism is about more than a few attributes or tips. It requires showing up prepared to do the job every single shift. But you can get ahead on showing your professional side with these seven tips below.

1. Bring a Positive — and Realistic — Attitude to Every Shift

Negativity in any workplace has side effects; the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that negativity leads to costs of around $3 billion per year for businesses. In a healthcare environment, money isn’t the only bottom line. Negative outlooks and actions can decrease staff morale and put patients at risk.

Nurse professionalism requires approaching each task with as positive an attitude as possible without being unrealistic. An inappropriately sunny demeanor in the face of serious patient discussions isn’t professional either.

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, attitude is one of the top three attributes that determine nurse professionalism.

2. Take Time to Listen to Patients

As a professional RN, you probably have a lot to convey to your patient and their family members. From education to comfort, nurse professionalism certainly requires communicating in a proactive, compassionate way. But it also requires listening.

Jessica Simmons, a retired RN and a recent hospital patient, says, "I always knew listening was important, but being in the hospital reminded me. One of my night nurses asked about how I felt and really listened to what I said. It made a difference."

Simmons said it’s easy for nurses to get caught up in processes, asking required or expected questions without listening fully to the answers.

3. Care About Your Appearance

Nursing might not be a glamorous job, and too much makeup or bling can actually get in the way of you doing your job. But think about how your appearance impacts patients and family members; because that is the first impression made.

Wear appropriate nursing attire, including scrubs or uniforms required by your employer, keep hair brushed or pulled back and styled so that it does not become a distraction for your or patients. Simmons recommends keeping an extra pair of scrubs on hand to ensure the appearance of nurse professionalism even after an accident or messy situation.

4. Help Patients and Co-workers

Being professional in a healthcare environment means acting as part of a team. While nurses are typically adept at assisting patients, it can be easy to forget coworkers in the hustle of a busy shift. Some ways to include nurse professionalism in your interpersonal work relationships include:

Offering to assist other nurses with difficult tasks or patients, as allowed by facility policies

Not talking about other nurses with coworkers, even when you disagree with their work or personality (if quality of care or protocol is at risk, talk to the appropriate supervisor and not other nurses)

Offer advice or knowledge to other nurses

Accept advice or knowledge from nurses with more experience 

Think of how you like to be treated and reflect that 

5. Be Accountable for Your Actions

The Registered Nurses’ Associate of Ontario provides a PDF download with nurse professionalism best practices that work well for U.S. nurses too. One of the attributes listed is accountability. Nurses have to be able to understand and incorporate facility, government and clinical rules and self-regulate as they work.

While most facilities have compliance plans in place, nurses may have to make decisions in the moment and be accountable for their actions. That means taking charge when necessary and appropriate, but it also means admitting to mistakes and bringing solutions to the table to make things right when possible.

6. Keep Your Nursing Knowledge Up-To-Date

Body of knowledge is also part of the RNAO’s nurse professionalism best practices, and something Simmons says is definitely important for nurses in any location.

“Some healthcare knowledge is the same for years, but other stuff changes all the time,” she says. “Nurses who don’t stay knowledgeable can’t provide the best possible treatment for patients, and that’s definitely not professional.”

Staying up-to-date helps you prevent medical errors, advocate better for patients and be a stronger part of a multidisciplinary clinical team.

7. Follow Strong Ethical Practices When Making Nrsing Decisions

Finally, strong ethics and the ability to stick with them despite outside pressures is a huge hallmark of nurse professionalism.

Whether you’re dealing with ethical dilemmas in the ER or other areas of nursing, consider the ethics you learned in college and training, talk to mentors or other trusted sources to work out areas where you aren’t sure and stick to your ethics when fighting for what is right or correct in a clinical setting.

By following these tips for nurse professionalism, you can work well within a clinical team, help encourage positive patient outcomes and enjoy a long-lasting nursing career.

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