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Beyond Scrubs: How to Level Up Professionalism in Your Nursing Practice

Professionalism is the difference between the world seeing nurses as laborers and taskmasters versus the innovators and stakeholders in the broader healthcare system that we are in.

Gone are the days when professionalism in nursing meant an ironed dress and fresh stockings. Although we’ve traded caps for hairbands to tame our messy buns, and dresses have become scrubs, professionalism in nursing is so much more. Professionalism is the difference between the world seeing nurses as laborers and taskmasters versus the innovators and stakeholders in the broader healthcare system that we are in. Maintaining professionalism benefits your patients, your nursing practice, and your career.

Professionalism in Nursing

Casey Green is a practicing emergency department nurse and the 85th nurse in the United States to hold all five emergency nursing certifications. As a nurse and a preceptor, Green defines professionalism as “being the best version of yourself to care for others.”

Green acknowledges that all nurses may struggle with personal challenges, attendance, or professionalism at some point. However, as nurses, it’s our responsibility to recognize when professionalism is slipping in our practice and offer support to our colleagues that may need it.

Nurses are often taught an antiquated version of professionalism, Green remarks. “We need to teach what professionalism means in 2023.” Being professional is about our demeanor, which is how we show that nursing is an intellectual profession that commands respect.

How Professionalism Advances Your Nursing Career

When a facility hires you as a nurse to work for them, they invite you to represent their brand and the care they provide to their patients. When you are thoughtful in how you present yourself in your nursing practice, that facility is more likely to continue inviting you back to practice nursing in their domain. This secures your financial and professional future.

Aside from your personal nursing career, your management will also take you seriously when you take yourself seriously. For example, if a nurse goes to management to ask them to implement a change, would they hear them out if they are consistently late to their shifts, wear ill-fitting scrubs, and make frequent call-outs?

Expending your energy to be professional will not only be more likely to advance your career, but you also might find your career more fulfilling and rewarding as you are empowered to take charge of your career goals and have the confidence to challenge yourself.

How Professionalism Improves Patient Outcomes

Professionalism impacts your patient outcomes and relationships more than you might realize. For example, imagine being a patient on a medical-surgical unit. If it’s your first time in the hospital, would you be more likely to trust Nurse #1 or #2?

Nurse #1:

You expected a new nurse around 7 p.m., but your day shift nurses approached you at 7:45 p.m. to give you some medication. You wonder why your nurse is still here after over 12 hours, and then you realize that the night shift nurse has not relieved them yet. When your oncoming nurse does arrive, their scrubs drag on the floor beneath their shoes. They look like they have just woken up, and they pull out a crumpled piece of paper to jot down report.

Nurse #2:

Nurse #2 arrives at 7:00 p.m. and introduces themselves to you with the day shift nurse. Their scrubs are matching and clean-kempt. They pull out a neatly folded report sheet and begin filling out notes with their pen. They tell you a rough idea of the plan for the night and when they think they will be back.

Many of our patients don’t feel comfortable or safe in the hospital; they may have been mistreated or may not trust our healthcare system. However, when we set a professional tone with patients, they trust their care, are more likely to comply with medically necessary treatment, and their stress levels decrease. All of which could lead to improved outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Professionalism Tips and Tricks

Green has several quick tips for professionalism including:

Time Management

  • Time Yourself: For example, check how long it takes you to walk from the parking lot to the unit.
  • Set an Alarm: About one hour before your shift, start preparing to be there on time.
  • Check for Traffic:  Set your destination for the hospital parking garage and consider how long it takes you to walk from the parking lot to the time clock.

Giving Your Unit a Heads-Up

  • Use the “Five-Minute Rule”: If you know you will be five or more minutes late, contact your unit to give them a heads-up.
  • Swallow Your Pride: If you think there’s any chance you won’t show up for your next shift, let your supervisor know as soon as you know there might be an issue.
  • Be Honest With Yourself: If you have a pattern of calling out, consider that the facility’s shift, hours, unit, or location might not be the right fit. Don’t be afraid to speak with your supervisor about any barriers you have. They might be able to help you with a solution that works for both of you.

Watch Your Appearance and Demeanor

  • Maintain Professional Attire: Green says, “If you can’t do a squat in your scrubs, get new ones!” Likewise, if you can’t fit your keys into your pocket or have more than two stains on your clothing, it’s also time to start shopping.
  • Keep a Positive Attitude: All personalities are welcome in nursing, and this is no hate to our fellow sarcastic friends. Just make sure that your attitude always portrays that you are invested in your patients and are optimistic about their health and well-being.
  • Take Ownership of Your Career: Stay on top of your continuing education, professional development, and professional goals.

By demonstrating professionalism, you can set your career, unit, and patients up for success. Nursing is a professional career. Let’s present ourselves that way in our appearance, actions, and nursing practice.

Are you ready to take the next step in your career? Then, check out connectRN to join a community of professionals just like you.

This article is sponsored by connectRN.

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