Saying "No" Can Be a Healthy Thing

November 12, 2008

As nurses, it’s often in our mindset to agree to do most things we’re asked to do.

As nurses, it’s often in our mindset to agree to do most things we’re asked to do. At work, if asked to do additional tasks, most often we say “yes,” knowing if we don’t do them, they won’t get done. Work overtime? Sure we can, we can’t leave our peers short staffed, and so on. At home, this is repeated in many ways, especially if your family sees you as the go-to person when someone is ill or injured.

Family members and friends may not think twice about asking you to change a dressing or to explain to you what their particular ache or pain is. If they have a doctor’s prescription that needs translation, asking the family nurse is the way to go, right? Well, not really.

In the public’s eye, a nurse is a nurse is a nurse. Whether you work in obstetrics, occupational health, or palliative care, they feel that there are certain things you should know. And, if you don’t, then they’re not sure what to think. But that’s not the only problem. Some nurses just don’t want to be quizzed and asked to do things because of their chosen profession. Many nurses experience this on a regular basis and while some don’t mind, others find it annoying, irritating, and downright wrong. After all, they’re not at work and they’re not that person’s nurse.

If this does happen to you, how do you handle it? In my case, it happens so rarely that I don’t mind. I also don’t have a problem saying “I don’t know” if I don’t. I even offer to look things up on the Internet sometimes because I have the resources. But maybe I’m lucky. Others are constantly bombarded with questions from near and far. It can’t be easy to always be the one who is supposed to have all the answers.

The situation can also be made worse when a family member is hospitalized or diagnosed with something serious. The nurse in the family is often expected to step forward and take a leading role in finding out what is wrong and what is being done. He or she is then expected, by the family, to keep up-to-date on current happenings. Some may ask, what’s the problem in expecting that? Again, while some don’t mind, others have to have a space between their work life and their private life.

There are ways to deal with this if you find yourself overwhelmed with requests for information or help. Too many nurses continue to play the go-to role but then get upset and complain to others about feeling used. When you get your nursing diploma or degree, it’s not written anywhere that you now become the family’s personal nurse, the family’s health resource. You have to learn how to say “no” or “I don’t know.”

Saying “no” can take practice. Others may want to make you feel guilty for not being their medical resource, but if it’s something that bothers you, then you do need to learn that short but effective word.

You can offer your opinion if you want, but you don’t owe anybody your opinion either.