6 Rules to Live By As A Nurse

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Some people consider popular sayings and famous quotes to be clichés. They turn their nose up at the “Serenity Prayer” and steadfastly refuse to believe that “every cloud has a silver lining.” But most of us can have our hearts cheered or our minds recharged by recalling a few wise words in times of stress. The following inspiring quotes and “rules to live by” may actually be the duct tape that holds your soul together during a long shift in the days ahead. Many of the best pieces of advice come from nurses, and we’ve included half a dozen in the list below.

1. I Can See Clearly Now

Keep things in perspective! As a nurse, it’s easy to focus on illness, calamity and all the pains of life that can pull people apart. But when you look at the big picture, you can see that we are all connected—and being present for another human being in their most challenging times can be a beautiful thing.

“You treat a disease: You win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you win—no matter the outcome.” —Patch Adams

“To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”
-Walt Whitman (poet and volunteer nurse to war veterans)

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” —Mother Teresa

2. Don’t Stop Believing

What you do with your life really does matter. Sure, you may feel weighed down at times by all the obstacles that try to block you from being the best nurse you can be. Don’t despair; it’s all worth it in the end.You should also remember that there are others who believe in you.

“Save one life, you’re a hero. Save a hundred lives and you’re a nurse.” —Anonymous

“Constant attention by a good nurse may be just as important as a major operation by a surgeon.” —Dan Hammarskjold (former secretary-general of the United Nations)

“In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do.” —Dorothea Dix (superintendent of women nurses for the Union Army)

3. Love Is All You Need

Compassion is the one trait that all the best nurses have in common. While you show love to others, don’t forget to be open to the love that others have to share with you! The ancient philosophers had a way of putting things concisely when it came to this topic.

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.” —Sophocles

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

4. Beauty from Pain

Pain is a universal part of the human condition. You know this better than anyone. Take that pain and turn it into something worthwhile. That might be just the inspiration that others need to do the same.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” —Helen Keller

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”
—Anonymous (attributed to various authors, including the Buddha!)

“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.” —Neil Gaiman (author)

5. Go Your Own Way

Speaking of the path not taken, nursing wouldn’t exist in its current form if not for women who refused to conform. May you do the same…or different. There’s a reason nurses are known for being strong-minded!

“If you want a thing done, go; if not, send.” —Eleanor Robson Belmont (author, actress and nurse)

“Economy, prudence and a simple life are the sure masters of need, and will often accomplish that which their opposites, with a fortune at hand, will fail to do.” —Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross)

“I attribute my success to this—I never gave or took any excuse.” —Florence Nightingale (founder of the Nightingale School of Nursing)

“The task of organizing human happiness needs the active cooperation of man and woman: It cannot be relegated to one half of the world.” —Lillian Wald (founder of the Visiting Nurse Service in 1895)

6. Take a Fool’s Advice

Of all the rules to live by, keeping a sense of humor is probably the most important. On that note, here are some statements that are funny because they’re true.

“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you incredibly annoying.” —Rob Sheffield (journalist and author)

“I personally think we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.” —Jane Wagner (writer, director and producer)

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never spent a night with a mosquito in your tent.” —African proverb

“There are three steps to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
—Elbert Hubbard (writer, artist and philosopher)


How'd we do? Share your advice and favorite inspirational quotes in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. As an ICU nurse, I have found this simple proverb to be very powerful, “Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” I remember it when I’m trying to advocate for my patients.

  2. I live by a couple – In no particular order – Dear Lord, please put your arm around my shoulder, and your hand over my mouth.
    Exceed expectations.
    A bad day is all about perspective.
    My favorite, “We’re sending a complicated system into an unknown environment at very high speed. I feel calm. I feel ready. I can only conclude it’s because I don’t have a full grasp of the situation.” Mark Adler, Deputy Mission Manager, Mars Spirit Rover, NASA, 1/3/04

  3. Very inspiring article I like He African proverb if you think you are too small to make a difference you haven’t spent time with a mosquito in your tent . I will share it with others

  4. “The task of organizing human happiness needs the active cooperation of man and woman: It cannot be relegated to one half of the world.” —Lillian Wald (founder of the Visiting Nurse Service in 1985)
    Lillian Wald founded this around 1895. I am glad I am not the only one that transposes number.
    Fun article and I will share this with my hospice team.

  5. Very good article. I found some of the responses in the article of what unit/specialty was the funniest; in poor taste. Some made fun of the patients they treated. Obviously implying gossip between themselves thus not affording the dignity and privacy of the patient.


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