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Are Nurses Getting the Respect They Deserve?

By Joan Spitrey via Multibriefs

Respect in healthcare is an ongoing conversation and struggle. Members of the healthcare team often feel undervalued or belittled in their position, which minimizes their role in patient-centered care.

Nurses frequently find themselves in the chasm of conflict, often feeling like they have no voice to help their patients or impact the care being provided. This often leaves them feeling disrespected. Although these interpersonal dynamics can seem benign, they routinely impact care negatively.

As healthcare moves toward a more patient-centered approach, the use of multidisciplinary teams is starting to be more valued. Despite this effective teamwork model, each voice is often not heard equally.

A recent study in Clinical Nurse Specialist brought to light this very issue. The researchers discovered that the nurses on these valuable teams were often experiencing negative and variable experiences, despite their expertise and experience.

While their role was to speak for the patient — especially regarding quality-of-life issues — only 34 percent felt they could constructively challenge all members of the team in their meetings. Some even described the meetings as intimidating.

Although the study looked a niche group of nursing specialists in uro-oncology, the research brings up good points as more hospitals implement mandatory interdisciplinary team meetings. Despite the professional role of nursing among other healthcare providers, they are often still not seen as contributing members of the plan of care.

Most of this stems from the fact that they have many responsibilities, but limited authority to act upon them. Nurses often have to seek out a prescribing member to put their plan in place, despite knowing the best action for the patient. This unfortunately puts a shadow of lack of value for the profession and establishes roles of superiority for the prescribing party.

The workplace itself often creates an environment that allows disrespect. When poor behaviors or hostile actions are not dealt with, the behaviors are perceived as permissible and will continue. For a healthy work environment to persist, mutual respect has to be one of the cornerstones and this starts with interpersonal interactions.

Everyone has some story of a physician throwing things or screaming at a nurse, but rarely does the story end with the physician being spoken to or counseled. Healthcare is stressful enough — creating hostile, disrespectful environments only makes matters worse.

A lack of understanding each other's work or problems can certainly contribute to a general lack of respect. Although everyone on the healthcare team is supposed to work seamlessly, they often do not receive enough education on the true role and knowledge of the other team members. Many educational models are attempting to remedy this problem with interdisciplinary events; however, it will be some time before the fruits of this training will be evident.

Although nurses or other team members may feel disrespected or undervalued, their loyalty must always lie with what is best for their patients. Even though it may not be easy to be the squeaky wheel, in the end, patients will likely benefit from the nurses' expertise — which is the true purpose of their contribution in an interdisciplinary team.

Joan Spitrey has been a registered nurse for more than 16 years, specializing in critical care and acute care services. She currently is a clinical nursing instructor, sharing her passion with the next generation of nurses. She can be found blogging at

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