10 Things to NEVER Say to a Nurse

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Nurses hear it all: The good, the bad, and the (very, very!) ugly. From pushy patients to bossy doctors, nurses handle it all with grace. But there are some things that can get under the most tolerant nurse’s skin.

NursingLink talked to healthcare professionals, one another and (of course!) nurses to find out what phrases or questions were most irritating. Ever felt like strangling someone with your stethoscope? Then you probably heard one of these 10 things.

10. “Helloooooo, Nurse!”

You’re not an object to be fawned over. You’re saving lives here! You don’t have time to be ogled. Luckily, younger generations probably have never heard the phrase, so you can hope that it will be phased out soon.

Okay. We get it. We’ve all seen the cartoons with the buxom nurse who is swooned over by a wolf, or a man, or an Animaniacs character. It wasn’t funny or original the first dozen times you heard it, and it certainly hasn’t made a positive impact 10 years later.

9. “Do You Only Date Doctors?”

Puh-lease. Anyone who has actually spent any time around a doctor knows that dating one is next to impossible. Crazy hours. Constant stress. Big egos. Who wants to put up with that? Plus, everyone knows you shouldn’t “dip your pen in the company ink.” Spending 12-plus hours with someone can make you form an incredibly close bond, but that doesn’t mean your coworkers will make the best significant others.

Anyone who asks a nurse this is clearly watching too much Grey’s Anatomy and needs their head examined.

8. “C’mon. Nursing is Just Like on TV!”


What were we just saying about people who watch too much Grey’s Anatomy? While medical shows are a great form of entertainment – tons of nurses watch them, too – that doesn’t mean they are an accurate portrayal of when hospital life is like. Nursing organizations have even taken up arms against nurse-centered shows like Nurse Jackie and HawthoRNe. Prior to these shows, nurses were almost never the focus of a medical TV show. Nurses were merely in the background emptying bedpans or taking orders.

But we know the truth. Nurses are the foundation of any good health system. They don’t have time to be the center of attention because they are always cleaning up a (metaphorical) mess a doctor has left!

7. “Nurses Take Orders From Doctors”

Medical Professional

Nurses work alongside other nurses. They report to other nurses. They belong to organizations and unions just for nurses. Edie Falco of Nurse Jackie put it perfectly when she said “Doctors diagnose. Nurses save lives.” When it comes down to it, nurses are the ones in the trenches. Because they spend the most time with patients, they can be counted on to know when something is wrong or if a patient has made any progress.

Doctors and nurses may work side-by-side, but nurses are responsible for nurses.

6. “What’s Taking So Long?!”

istockphoto.com/Sharon Dominick
istockphoto.com/Sharon Dominick

Patients depend on nurses to keep their healthcare experience a positive one. But we all know that things can get hectic in the medical field. Emergencies and unpredictable accidents can happen on a daily basis which means patients may not always be seen when they thought they would.

Having a patient gripe at you and ask “What’s taking so long?!” can be irritating, especially if you are trying your hardest to make sure everyone is taken care of. It’s in stressful situations like this that it’s sometimes easier to snap instead of calmly explain that you are doing your best.

And the top FIVE (drumroll please)…

5. “So…You Can Score Me Some Meds, Right?”

Veer Incorporated
Veer Incorporated

Shows like Nurse Jackie and House, MD make it seems like any nurse can walk right into a pharmacy and get whatever he/she wants. We know that’s totally not true, but those who aren’t in the medical field often believe it. Many nurses have friends or family members who ask them to score some meds they don’t have a prescription for – without even considering the fact that the nurse could lose her/his license!

Most nurses can laugh this off, but, for others, it’s a real problem. To banish this stereotype (and this request!), there needs to be continual education of consumers.

4. “What Does a Nurse Do?”


Coming from a 5th grader who is doing a report on what she wants to be when she grows up, this question is sweet. Coming from a snarky patient, this question is almost intolerable. What doesn’t a nurse do? Let’s see…nurses care for patients, chart, memorize and administer medication, write care plans, take direction, give direction, handle emergencies, handle stress, handle “dirty jobs” doctors don’t want to do…

The list goes on and on.

3. “I’m Just a Nurse”

Veer Incorporated
Veer Incorporated

Just a nurse? No such thing!

I’m sure you’ve heard a fellow nurse say something along these lines. Doesn’t it make you crazy?! Nurses are the backbone of any successful healthcare facility, so stand up and be proud!

Similarly, you might hear “I’m just an LPN.” Well, LPNs are nurses, too!

(And don’t you forget it!)

2. “Anyone Can Be a Nurse”

Discouraging Job Hunt

What?! Anyone can deal with juggling 20-person patient loads, keeping track of dozens of medications, handling emergencies with grace, and charting it all correctly? (And more!) Yeah, right. Nursing is not for everyone, which is why not everyone is a nurse. Nurses have a special set of qualities that set them apart from everyone else.

Anyone can be a nurse? I’d like to see them try.
And finally….

1. “Why Didn’t You Become a Doctor?”

iStockphoto.com/Rick Lord
iStockphoto.com/Rick Lord

This utterly annoying and disrespectful question comes in a variety of forms: “Why didn’t you become a doctor?” “Why don’t you want to be a doctor?” “Did med school sound too hard?” No matter the variance, the underlying insult is the same: Doctors are better than nurses. Not true! Let’s see a doctor take on everything a nurse handles with ease.

You know what they say: Behind every good doctor is a better nurse!

How did we do?  Did we miss any?  Share your thoughts and additions to the list in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. “What made you want to become a nurse and not something else that could make you more money?” I replied, “YOU” and every other person who needs medical help.” I’m a person who loves to help others and find answers for the health issues that arise in their lives.

  2. A patient who states right off that my (fill in the blank) is a lawyer, implying that this patient should get more personalized treatment over someone who is much sicker and needs more care.

  3. Laura stabilizing a child and transferring child to level 111 center is confusing, usually you transfer to a higher level of care! A retired nurse response!

  4. I’ve been an LPN/LVN for a little over 40 years. I’ve heard all of them. The one phrase that always sets me to biting my tongue is “Oh, you’re not a REAL NURSE”.

  5. Worst thing ever said to me as a nursing student…..an older gentleman, who I was attempting to cath, became semi erect, being an awkward moment I kindly said, how about I come back in a few and we will try that again, sorry we couldn’t get it done first try. To which the old guy smiled really big, winked, and said “oh honey don’t be sorry that’s the best time I have had in a long time”…..gross, I did not return by the way, my instructor had a male student go back in. I guess he did not have the same issue with that student. When I was debriefing, feeling like I did something wrong, my instructor told me, in humor of course, next time grab it a bit more aggressive, like a poisonous snake! He might not like that so much…..frankly that embarrassed me too! Oh and I was 30 years old, been married 18 years so I wasn’t some shy kid!

  6. I am not particularly fond of the way nurses “trash” Dr’s in published material. I think we would be hard pressed to find ANY medical publishing where Dr’s degrade nurses. We are co-workers, we are a team! I have been a nurse for more than 2 decades and have heard this “nurses are better than Dr’s” insinuation so much it sickens me. The more we say the things that are in this article the further apart we become as colleagues (which is what we are). It is a dis-service to both professions.

  7. Come on people r u freaking serious? Nurses can run circles around doctors all day and all night long. Patients know who they can trust to take care of them. I’ve been told so many times “you are so smart; why didn’t you become a doctor.” I want to say sooo bad “you just answered your own question.” It goes to show you doctors are not the only intelligent members of the health care team. Do you hear nurses screaming when the going gets tough? No. We handle it with such grace and elegance all without breaking a sweat.

  8. You forgot “Gee it sure is quiet here today” One day it started out pretty quietly. By the end of the day I had worked postpartum because no one was in labor assessed those patients, then went to Labor and Delivery my patient ended up with a C-section so I circulated, then recovered the patient then got her to postpartum. Then I went to the nursery and stabilized a baby for transport to a level III center phew that was crazy and all because someone had to say “gee it’s quiet!”


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