Nurses are Trusted to Care


Nurses are Trusted to Care

Remembering why we deserve the trust of our patients, their families and our fellow nurses

By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN
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For the eleventh year, nurses have outranked all other professions in the Gallup annual Honesty and Ethics Poll. 81% of the participants placed nurses near the top with “high” or “very high” marks, above physicians and druggists. We’ve topped the list all years except 2001, the year that firefighters were added. In 2001, after the 9/11 attack firefighters finished first with a favorable rank by 90% of those questioned.

Our patients trust our honesty, and in return, we have a big responsibility to them. Nursing isn’t just a job but a calling. It’s not enough just to show up on time wearing comfortable shoes. We’re trusted to be honest, to be fair, to take our duties seriously and to stay current with professional standards and policies. We’re expected to be knowledgeable about new medications, treatments and technologies, and to be unfailingly compassionate all the while.

Who are we trusted with? We’re trusted with someone’s loved ones — aging parents, premature infants, cranky children and spouses; we see and do it all. We’re innovative, we continuously look for ways to improve care and we do it in so many different ways.

The Real Story

Babie Mar Regner, RN, says it well: “We’re medicine in motion.” Several years ago she worked in occupational health at Dow Chemical, where she believes that her patients trusted her to really hear them. The doctor may have made a diagnosis of high cholesterol, but Babie Mar would develop a relationship with that patient over a period of months to educate the patient and follow up.

“We explain things in a less threatening way” is how she puts it. “We’re the mediator between the doctor and the patient, and they know that we don’t lie. We encourage the patient to say what’s on their mind; we get the real story.” That’s the invaluable skill that nurses develop over time — the ability to individualize our care.

Vote For a Nurse

Some nurses use their experience to go into politics; they advocate for their constituents and try to shape the future of healthcare in America. Some could be driven by a particular personal experience, while for others it’s the need to serve their community that prompts a run for office. Rep. Lois Capps from Santa Barbara is the only former school nurse in the U.S. Congress. She has passed legislation to address the nursing shortage and provide Medicare benefits to patients suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

There are two nurses in the Maryland House of Representatives. Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, RN, BSN, MAS, first ran for office because she found herself evaluating constituent complaints about their difficulty accessing healthcare and realized that there should be a law to help them. Delegate Adelaide Eckardt, RN, MS, told a reporter, “I wanted to change how healthcare is done.” Between the two of them, they have served on a variety of state committees demonstrating that nurses have special knowledge to bring to the table.

“Float” Assignment

Sometimes nurses are trusted beyond what they would ever have imagined they would be expected to do. As a new nurse, Serena Baker, RN, BSN, found a position with the US Embassy in El Salvador serving employees and their families. Almost immediately, she was one of the staff members taking 24/7 calls, triaging by phone, and consulting with local doctors when the embassy doctor was away.

She would arrange to meet families after hours to assess lacerations, asthma care or to determine when hospital care was needed. Even as she was still finding her footing, both as a professional and as a resident of a foreign country, she was being trusted by her colleagues and the families there to provide the best care possible.

Not just the patient, or his family, but the U.S. government trusted Serena to accompany a mentally ill patient on a flight after he was found homeless in El Salvador. She boarded with a syringe of Haldol and was told that there were U.S. marshals on the flight if she needed them. She may have been nervous, but still made sure that her patient was delivered to a family member waiting at the airport. This was a request to “float” far beyond the call of duty.

A Good Death

Nancy Wise, RN, BSN, was a home care nurse early in her career. One of her patients was a mid-40s ventilator-dependant woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who could only communicate with her eyes. While the patient had a supportive family, Nancy detected depression after the birth of the woman’s first granddaughter, something she had previously been anticipating.

Deciding it was her responsibility to tackle the problem directly after they’d formed a bond, Nancy asked the woman if she would want the ventilator removed. An affirmative response sent this nurse on a journey that would ultimately end in what hospice nurses call “a good death,” one supported by a psychiatrist and a member of the state ethics board. Nancy helped to arrange a gathering with extended family arriving to say their goodbyes, providing sedation of the patient as the respirator was removed, and subsequent emotional care of the immediate family.

A large number of people trusted her to proceed carefully and to cover new ground in hospice care.


Nurses can be counted on to step forward when things just don’t work. We work on policy committees and we perform peer review. We look at labels and placement and ergonomics to make sure that our facilities operate efficiently and within budget.            

Sharon Ragone, RN, was a neonatal intensive care nurse who realized that the masks used to protect neonatal eyes from the jaundice-preventing bili lights often slipped, rendering them useless. Wanting to use something more effective she made the “Bili-Bonnet” herself and then founded the business Small Beginnings, named for her tiny patients and for her equally small start-up budget.

Super Nurse to the Rescue

Nurses are heroes! Debra Watkins, RN, MSN, witnessed a motor vehicle accident on her way to work. She ran to the burning truck and took charge of the situation, ordering two male volunteers to help her remove one driver who was bleeding, even as the vehicle was exploding. She performed CPR with the help of a student nurse passing by until the victim was evacuated. Then she went home and changed her clothes before going on to work.

Supporting Each Other

It’s not just that we are trusted by our patients and by their families — we trust each other to do the right thing. Without that relationship, we would not be able to leave at the end of our shift and know that another nurse will insure that our patients are well cared for. We write care plans knowing that we will help each other to get the job done, we ask for help knowing that other nurses will do the same for us.

We cover shifts for each other when children or partners are sick, we stay late when needed because someone’s car didn’t start or the bus didn’t come. We can be trusted to do what’s necessary — we report child or domestic abuse, we help patients find psychological or emotional care when they share their dark secrets, we write our documentation and reach out for help with a sticky problem even when it’s five minutes before the end of our day.

We can always be trusted to care because we are the sort of people who define nursing; those who don’t care don’t last.  


Christine Contillo, RN, BSN has worked as a public health nurse for over 20 years and considers it the best job in the world. Her patients range in age from newborns to their grandparents. Most of her time is spent  one-on-one in patient education where she believes she can make a real difference.


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