Practical nursing: a destination, not a way point
Given my role, and the fact that I have a daughter who is a nurse, you can imagine that I receive more than my fair share of nursing magazines in my mailbox each month. And despite often being pressed for time, I do make an effort to read them. It’s a great way to stay on top of changes and trends and to experience different viewpoints and ideas about the profession.
Recently, though, I read a cover story in one of these magazines that really gave me pause for thought. The premise of the piece was that being an RPN was akin to a larva stage in the lifecycle of being a nurse. The underlying implication was that in order to unlock the true potential of your skills and abilities as a nurse, to be a fully functioning, autonomous and effective nurse, you needed to ‘complete’ your nursing journey and become an RN. This article was (and continues to be) troubling on a number of levels.
Whether the motivation behind the article was malice or ignorance is impossible to know. What I do know, however, is that the result is a story that perpetuates dangerous and incorrect stereotypes, feeds into a culture of incivility and bullying and, intentionally or not, degrades and undervalues the skills, knowledge and incredible contributions of Ontario’s 50,000 RPNs.
Yes, many RPNs do decide to become an RN. And that’s fantastic. Our health care system needs more of every category of nurse. At this point, I should probably remind you that I’m registered as both an RPN and an RN myself. But to imply, as this article does, that anyone who chooses to be an RPN is ‘settling’ in some way or that they’re not realizing their potential or that they’re not a ‘real’ nurse is 100% wrong. I can assure you that having experienced both roles, that I made just as valuable an impact in the lives of patients as an RPN as I ever did in the role of RN.
I suspect that many of the quotes and anecdotes in this article would infuriate not only any forward-thinking nurse, but also any like-minded nursing leader or educator.
One person was quoted as saying that the more knowledge you have, the better quality of care you can provide. An RPN is fully capable of providing the best quality of care within their scope of practice.
Another person was quoted as saying that when people know you as an RPN, it’s so difficult for them to come to you and take the directions you provide. They went on to say that once she had become an RN, it took others a while to adjust and say, ‘okay, she can be in charge, she can make decisions’. What an incredibly ignorant and damaging thing to say. RPNs are not RNs’ assistants. We’re not RNs’ subordinates. RPNs are autonomous, regulated nurses, prepared, willing and able to serve in leadership positions and make well-informed decisions every day. It’s probably worth noting that the most recent President of the College of Nurses of Ontario, one of the top nursing leadership positions in this province, also happened to be an RPN.
I know that the opinions espoused in this article don’t reflect the majority of our health care colleagues. But pieces like this are a reminder that, even in 2017, and despite all the progress we’ve made over the past decade educating people about who RPNs are and what they do, we still have some work to do. In the meantime, thank you to all of our nurses – RPNs, NP and RNs – for the amazing work you do. We truly are stronger together.