18 Things Nurses Secretly Wish You Would Stop Doing
Here are some tips from nurses across the U.S. on how to handle your next medical visit, plus, what they wish you would secretly stop doing.
There are nearly three million registered nurses working in the U.S. today, making up the highest percentage of the healthcare workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These hard-working men and women are on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic and overall medical care, saving millions of lives and being the go-between for patients and the rest of the healthcare system. So it makes sense that Americans ranked nurses as the most trustworthy profession, in a Gallup poll. Yet for all the good they do for others, sometimes they’re not treated as well as they deserve.
We asked nurses to share what things they secretly wish patients would stop doing—and what we should do instead. Read on down below for tips from nurses on how to handle your next medical visit.
Stop telling us you take the “yellow pills”
There are many different types of medications and it isn’t fair (or safe) to make your nurse play a guessing game to figure out which ones you’re on. “It is your responsibility to know what meds you take, what the dosage is, and what they’re for,” says Linda D., RN, a pediatric surgical nurse in Denver. “This goes double for parents; you should always know what your kids are taking.” If your meds are difficult to remember, ask for a printed list from your doctor or bring the bottles to your appointment. (Tips on medication make up some of the 75 secrets nurses wish they could tell you.)
Stop quoting Dr. Google to us
The Internet is a vast and wonderful resource for all kinds of illnesses. It’s also a clearinghouse for misinformation, scams, and misunderstandings. “I hate hearing a patient start a sentence with, ‘But the internet says…’,” says Lori E., RN, a registered nurse in Houston. While it’s fine to check reputable internet sources for advice, the ultimate authorities should be your medical team, including the nurses, she says.
Stop looking for the easy way out
Medical treatments are just one part of your overall treatment plan, and what you do outside the doctor’s office matters even more than what you do when you’re there, Linda says. “My pet peeve is when a patient knows there are things they could do to help themselves get better—like drinking more water, eating a healthy diet, and exercising—but they tell me they’d just rather have a pill instead,” she explains. “You need to do your part too.” (Nurses are great at giving general health advice, which is just one of the more surprising things about being a nurse.)
Stop demanding to see the doctor
“I wish my patients would stop assuming that only the physician has valuable information for them,” says Jackie K., RN, a critical care nurse in Rockford, Illinois. The physician is just one part of your team—the nurses, occupational and respiratory therapists, dietitians, and other professionals all have specialties they studied for years and have valuable information patients need, she says.
Stop shooting the messenger
A lot of the time it’s up to the nurses to deliver bad news or information a patient may not like but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to take your frustrations out on them. “I have a really hard time when patients get upset when I have to tell them things that are important but that they don’t want to hear,” says Karly J., RN, a registered nurse in Provo, Utah. “Even worse, sometimes they’ll ask me to get the doctor or another nurse in hopes that they will tell them something better.”
Stop ignoring your prep instructions
Whether it’s fasting, taking a certain medication, or bringing items with you, there will always be things you need to do before having any kind of medical treatment. These instructions are for your own good yet all too often go ignored, says Elizabeth D., RN, a scrub nurse in Stafford, Virginia. “Please for the love of all things holy follow your pre-op instructions,” she says. “We didn’t just invent them on a whim.” (This is so important, it is one of the most important medical tips that doctors and nurses wish you knew.)
It’s fine to share ideas about what your problem might be but once you start insisting you already know what you have and demanding a particular drug or treatment, you’ve crossed the line from helpful to irritating and possibly dangerous, Elizabeth says. Let the medical staff do the work, that’s what you’re paying them for, after all.
Stop asking to “speak to the manager”
“Many patients don’t understand that hospitals and health care in general do not function the same as other businesses. Being difficult, rude, loud, or trying to escalate your concerns does not work the same way,” says Erin A., RN, a surgical nurse in Canada. “In all reality ticking off the people trying to help you will likely only make things worse for you or your loved one. There is a big difference between advocating for yourself and being a jerk.” (Just how the healthcare business works is one of the 60 secrets about the ER you need to know.)
Stop lying to me
Not only is it irritating to be lied to (and often nurses can tell when you’re fibbing) but being dishonest can put your health at serious risk, says Amy E., RN, a diabetes educator in Minneapolis. “I hate it when patients tell me what they think I want to hear or what they know they should be doing (but aren’t) or telling me good things they used to do (but no longer are), she says. “You’ve got to be honest with yourself and me.”
Stop skipping questions
Patients have to fill out a lot of paperwork and then answer even more questions at nearly every visit but all of these queries aren’t busywork, they’re essential to helping the nurse do her job, Amy says. This means answering all the questions completely, even if you think they’re redundant or not relevant. “If you don’t answer my questions completely I can’t figure out the problem and work toward fixing it,” she explains.
Stop wasting my time
It may sound harsh but if you’re not willing to take medical advice and act on it then you might as well just stay home, Amy says. “I’m tired of patients wanting someone to just tell them what they want to hear—which is usually ‘you’re fine, do what you want’,” she explains. “If you honestly don’t want to change, don’t waste our time.” (For another perspective check out what doctors say are the most annoying things patients do.)
Stop demanding antibiotics for everything
There is an antibiotic-resistance crisis looming and a major cause is people using antibiotics for viral infections or other non-bacterial conditions. Not only does using antibiotics when they’re not warranted up your risk for future resistance but they won’t do any good for your cold or flu anyhow, says Jen S., NP, a family nurse practitioner in Minneapolis. “Stop requesting or demanding antibiotics for every little thing,” she says.
Stop dismissing home remedies
Basic self-care strategies—like ice packs, warm baths, compression bandages, rest, increased fluids, ibuprofen—used to be the standard first-line procedures for minor illnesses and injuries, but these days too many patients want to go straight for the drugs, Jen says. “I wish patients would stop rejecting these self-care remedies without even trying them,” she says. “A lot of them really can help!” (For more tips, check out what doctors and nurses do to treat their colds at home.)
Stop asking for my advice only to ignore it
Nurses are great people to ask for advice—not only have they seen practically everything but they’re often the ones doing most of the hands-on patient care, so they have a unique perspective on your condition and needs. The problem? “I wish patients would stop asking me (and everyone else) for advice and then refuse to do any of it or argue with me about it,” says Carolyn Guy, RN, a registered nurse in Windsor, California.
Stop joking about medical mistakes
“I really wish patients would stop joking about which part of the body or side we are doing surgery on,” says Angie K., RN, a surgical nurse in Draper, Utah. “I know they’re just trying to defuse tension but it’s not funny because it happens and when it does, it is devastating.” If you’re truly concerned about a mistake then bring it up with your nurse and he or she can talk to you about real ways to ensure your surgery happens correctly, she adds. (Unfortunately, medical errors aren’t the only secrets every hospital patient needs to know.)
Stop withholding your questions
Doctors and nurses can seem intimidating, and Angie says she’s seen more than one patient freeze up in their presence. This often means that they don’t ask important questions and leave feeling anxious, scared, or unheard. “Please speak your mind and ask questions, even ones you might think are silly,” she says. “That’s what we are here for!” If you think you might freeze up during a consultation, bring a written list of questions so you won’t forget to ask them. (That’s one of the best ways to get the most out of your doctor’s appointment.)
Stop being rude to nurses and kind to doctors
You wouldn’t think people would need to be reminded of basic courtesy but there are patients who treat nurses in a very derogatory manner and then turn on the charm when the doctor enters the room—and it infuriates nurses, Angie says. Be kind to everyone on your medical team, period. (Already a nice person? Try these things you can do to improve your hospital stay.)
Stop lying about using drugs
Many drugs, both illegal and abused legal ones, can seriously compromise your health and medical treatment. “Don’t ever lie to us about drug use,” Angie says.” We aren’t going to call the police, we just want to take care of you.” (Ignore this rule and you could end up like one of these crazy emergency room stories.)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019: 29-1141 Registered Nurses”
- Gallup: “Americans Rate Healthcare Providers High on Honesty, Ethics”
- Linda D., RN, a pediatric surgical nurse in Denver
- Lori E., RN, a registered nurse in Houston
- Jackie K., RN, a critical care nurse in Rockford, Illinois
- Karly J., RN, a registered nurse in Provo, Utah
- Elizabeth D., RN, a scrub nurse in Stafford, Virginia
- Erin A., RN, a surgical nurse in Canada
- Amy E., RN, a diabetes educator in Minneapolis
- Jen S., NP, a family nurse practitioner in Minneapolis
- Carolyn Guy, RN, a registered nurse in Windsor, California
- Angie K., RN, a surgical nurse in Draper, Utah