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What Is Professionalism



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    What is professionalism and how is it defined? I believe there are a number of different ways that we can define professionalism with the most important one being how you want people to perceive the way you define it yourself through your actions. Marriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary defines professionalism as: “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well”(‘Professionalism – Definition for English-Language Learners from Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary,’ n.d.).

    This to me also defines what it means to be a good nurse. To do a job well. Wow, that says a whole lot in and of itself. Expectation says even more. As a nurse we are put through the rigors of intensive training so that we are more than able to do our jobs and do it to the best of our abilities.

    This is the expectation that others have of us once we graduate and pass the NCLEX and begin our career as a practicing nurse. Without it we wouldn’t have the ability to do not only what needs done but also what should be done.

    Historically speaking, nurses have undergone a tremendous amount of scrutiny as to their abilities and professionalism. Throughout the centuries the role of the nurse has changed dramatically. In the early days of the start of modern-day nursing, nurses were rather thrown to the wolves in a sense that they did not have the ability to receive the proper training they deserved. Society said that women should be at home taking care of their men and their growing families.

    That their duty lies in being a good wife and producing children. Many women who became nurses were single women who were left behind while their men went off to war or were widowed due to their men being killed in war and volunteered out of a sense of duty. They were viewed poorly as society did not believe it was a woman’s place to work in such a grueling and demanding role as well as taking care of men that were not their husbands in such an intimate way. Many were believed to be loose women with poor moral standards. Due to this, nurses have struggled with portraying a good image throughout the years as we have been viewed by many as sex objects.

    It is still a thing even today that you see the naughty nurse outfits for sale not only as Halloween costumes but in lingerie stores across the marketplaces. The stigma that we are only good for giving bed baths and rallying the soldiers’ spirits needs to be put to rest and that is why it is so incredibly vital that we continue to bring to light the utter professionalism with which we wish to be perceived by.

    As a nurse it is essential to be professional if we want to be successful. This carries true throughout every aspect of life regardless of our profession but especially within the nursing role as we are the front lines of patient care. The way we carry ourselves, the way we treat others, the way we react to situations; it all has a direct relation on the way we are perceived by others, good or bad. Honesty and integrity, good moral character, timeliness, accountability, responsibility, advocacy, competency, and self-regulation are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think about what it means to be perceived as a nurse with the utmost professionalism. Each one carries its own weight but is just as important as the next.

    Honesty and integrity: Not lying. Going forth with the truth, regardless of how scary it may be. Never compromising your values and always doing what is right no matter what others may think. Always keeping your word and not making excuses. This promotes trustworthiness. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and act with humility. Being humble and speaking up when something is outside of our scope or it is something that we are not familiar with and asking for help.

    Giving grace to others when they make a mistake or when they are being short with you. We don’t always know what others are dealing with in their own lives and giving someone grace can be the difference they need to be able to take a deep breath and keep pushing forward.

    Good moral character: this goes hand in hand with acting with honesty and integrity. Having a good moral compass is vital to me when I think about how I want to be successful in life. Lying, stealing, and cheating are all things that are easy to do to try and gain something we either want or believe that we are entitled to but it does absolutely nothing for us in the end but produce heavy consequences.

    It makes us seem unreliable, non-trustworthy, and a high risk that the majority of people are unwilling to take on. Showing people that you are a good moral citizen will always take you farther in life. Proving to people that you have courage to fight for what is right, that you are loyal and honest, that you have integrity and fortitude and strength of character. These are the things that will take you farthest in life and will make you a professional that is highly sought after.

    Timeliness: being on time for everything that has a timeline. This can be things such as arriving to class on time, arriving to work on time, arriving to your patient’s room at the time specified for medication administration or simply because you stated you would return in 20 minutes to check on them. Time never stops and if we do not respect it and take it seriously then we will not be given the same in return. Maintaining timeliness shows that we care, that we respect others and their time, that we are serious about our responsibilities.

    Accountability and responsibility: Being able to be held accountable is a trait that should be well sought after. It ties into being respected and being a trustworthy individual. If you are unable to take and accept accountability for your actions, then no one is going to rely on you to follow through and do the things that you say you will.

    This also means that you have the ability to face the mistakes you may make and accept the consequences no matter what they may be and work on improving yourself so that the same mistake isn’t made again. This ties into being responsible as you are given a huge amount of responsibility as a nurse. Not only do your patients rely on you but so do the other members of the healthcare team. When dealing with people’s lives, this can be the difference between life and death.

    Advocacy: Having the ability to advocate for yourself as well as your patients is essential in being a good nurse. Standing up for what is right no matter if you are all alone in it is an important part of being seen as not just a good nurse but a great one. Being able to advocate for your patients and do the best thing for them will build a level of trustworthiness that will promote the best possible care for them while also giving them the ability to start advocating for themselves as well.

    This can be difficult for some people to do so having you on their side can make a world of difference not only in the care they receive but, in their lives, overall. Competency: Being competent in your skills is absolutely essential in our roles as a nurse. We go to school to learn the skills necessary to do our jobs and do them well. But it doesn’t just stop once we are out of school.

    We continue to grow our knowledge and our abilities as we perform each and every task day in and day out with our patients. We continue to take classes that keep our skills up to date and learn new techniques and ways to do certain things as times change and technology increases. Being competent promotes the highest level of safe patient care which is one of the top priorities that every nurse should maintain.

    Self-regulation: Staying professional under pressure. This can be seen in a number of different settings whether its dealing with a tight timeline with multiple things due at the same time, dealing with an irate patient and/or their family, dealing with a coworker who may not be in the best mood, or dealing with a medical crisis. Having the ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos, to maintain respect for others’ feelings and emotions regardless of the situation. This displays a high level of emotional intelligence by putting others before yourself.

    All of these things tie into how important it is for nurses to be viewed as a professional. Not only do we want our patients to view us as a competent professional that is more than able to take care of them, we want the same from our coworkers and society as a whole as well. We want to end the stigma of being viewed as a sexual stereotype and start being viewed instead with excellence.

    Excellence matters! Vince Lombardi once said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to his or her commitment to excellence, regardless of the chosen field of endeavor”(Rischer, 2015, p.66). This means that regardless of what we are doing we should maintain a professional persona 24/7. In and out of work, in every aspect of our lives.

    In closing I would just like to state my mission statement that I created earlier in the year as a reminder of just what I have set out to be: To be the voice for people who are unable to vocalize for themselves, to be their advocate.

    To provide competent and compassionate care for all, regardless of background. To make a difference in my patients’ lives regardless of the time spent with them. To be genuine and develop solid connections, building on a foundation of trust. To be remembered not for my name alone but for the things I have done for them. To be dedicated in the continual growth and development of myself and to never forget the passion I have for people. To always remain humble and kind.


    1. Professionalism – Definition for English-Language Learners from Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved from
    2. Rischer, K. A. (2015). Think like a nurse: Practical preparation for professional practice(2nd ed.).

    What Is Professionalism. (2021, Jul 27). Retrieved from

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