Gallup conducts an annual poll in which Americans are asked to rate their perception of the honesty and ethical standards of people in certain professions. This year, 84% of respondents ranked nurses as “very high” or “high” in ethical standards. That is 17% higher than then next-highest rated professionals—medical doctors.
According to Gallup’s website, “With the exception of 1 year, 2001, when firefighters were on the list after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, nurses have far outpaced all other professions since they were added to the list 2 decades ago.”
Why do nurses think patients trust them so much? “Nurses are the first thing a patient sees when they wake up and often the last person they see before they close their eyes,” said Beth Eaby-Sandy, MSN, CRNP, thoracic oncology nurse practitioner, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania. “The nurse advocates for them if they are in pain, or having trouble breathing, or are depressed and cannot cope.”
Carol A. Porter, DNP, RN, FAAN, senior vice president and chief nursing officer, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, added that the nurse’s role as an advocate also provides a strong foundation for building a trusting relationship. “Oncology nurses see patients and families at the most vulnerable times of their lives and the connection between them is sacred,” she said. “Nurturing an environment of openness and honesty and promoting these attributes among our nurses are vital to building a culture of trust.”
Eaby-Sandy agreed, adding that, “it is similar to a mother and a child relationship. A sick patient is vulnerable and entrusts their basic needs to the nurse who provides the care that they need.”
In addition, patients rely on nurses’ expert medical knowledge as well as their compassionate care, said surgical oncology nurse manager Abby Eserner, BSN, RN, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. “Nurses are very knowledgeable,” she said. “When patients figure out that they can ask questions and actually get real answers from nurses, that is comforting to them.”
In her more than 25 years of experience as an oncology nurse, Jean B. Sellers, RN, MSN, administrative clinical director, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, has worked with countless patients, and knows just how important it is to develop trust in the patient-nurse relationship. “A relationship cannot be built without [trust],” she said. “Trust requires the ability to put aside one’s own needs for another. It requires that we recognize fear, uncertainty, and loneliness in our patient’s face while acknowledging that we as nurses will also face this in our own lives.”
Sellers added that the patient-nurse relationship also requires a professional to enter the space willingly, meeting the patient where they are in the cancer journey. “We enter not to provide false hope, but only to listen and say, ‘I know you’re in a dark place. I’m here with you. You are not alone.’ The connection that occurs is powerful and heartfelt,” she added. “In those moments, we are able to help patients find hope, peace, and inner strength despite cancer. In doing so, we enable our patients to trust us to do what is right. This is the true essence of oncology nursing.”
Lastly, oncology nurses see patients across the spectrum of their struggle with cancer, said Eserner. “We help people at the end of their lives, and that's not something that everyone can do. It's a real kindness to make sure that when there is nothing else to be done, and when the doctors have said, ‘This is it,’ and life is coming to an end, that there are nurses there who will sit by your side. We're there to make sure that you have dignity.”
Brennan M. Nurses again outpace other professions for honesty, ethics. Gallup. Dec. 20, 2018. news.gallup.com/poll/245597/nurses-again-outpace-professions-honesty-ethics.aspx. Accessed Dec. 27, 2018.