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5 Things Nurses Don't Tell Most Patients

RN reveals five things that nurses don't tell patients and why.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The importance of nurses shouldn't be ignored or understated, yet many are underappreciated heroes of the healthcare system who have been horribly mistreated, especially during the pandemic.  Nurses provide valuable education, advocate for their patients and not only take care of them, but oftentimes their loved ones as well during a medical emergency or hospital stay. While they're an essential member of the healthcare team, there are certain things they won't do. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 20 years of direct patient care experience who reveals five things nurses don't tell most patients and why. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The Importance of the Nurse/Patient Relationship

Portrait of doctor with face mask and clipboard looking at camera in hospital.

Marchese says, "A nurse-patient relationship depends on mutual trust, respect and understanding. The nurse's role is to care for their patient to the fullest extent of their capabilities within the scope of the treatment center. Someone expecting to recover from an illness or get better after a health event must place their trust in the nurse's knowledge and skill. The nurse also acts as a liaison between the patient and the provider. Clear and honest communication is essential to that relationship and to building a therapeutic environment."


What to Know About Nurses and Their Role

A female doctor is taking the blood pressure from a very worried African American female patient.

Marchese emphasizes, "To be clear, a nurse should never withhold pertinent or complete information from a patient that is relevant to their wellbeing. The nurse works with the doctor to ensure a clear plan of action based on accurate information before informing the patient of the next steps. Telling patients only half of the story based on preliminary tests, inaccurate results, or misinformation is irresponsible and can tarnish the nurse-patient relationship when that information changes. Just as you wouldn't tell someone about surgery results before the procedure is over, a nurse wouldn't disclose a medical diagnosis or test result without a clear picture of all the details. Part of the nurse's role is to educate patients and families on whatever medical condition or procedure is relevant, and that involves knowing all the specifics without making any guesses."


​​Incomplete Test Results

Doctor holding syringe in hospital.

According to Marchese, "Nurses are responsible for compiling all the results of imaging scans, blood tests and other exams in a practice or hospital setting. The nurse doesn't make a medical diagnosis on their own but consults with the providing physician on likely outcomes and potential treatment plans. The doctor and nurse work together to discuss all the information before presenting a complete diagnosis to the patient. So while a nurse may have early test results or an MRI pointing to a frightening diagnosis, it may not be the whole story until the doctor orders additional tests for clarification. A secondary test or ruling out other diseases can save everyone from an awkward conversation about inaccurate preliminary test results."


Preferences for Caregivers

Home care doctor wearing personal protective equipment(PPE).Infection and cross-contamination during home visit to suspect COVID-19 senior patient

"Just as the nurse-patient relationship relies on trust, so does the nurse-doctor relationship," says Marchese. "Physicians and nurse practitioners have unique ways of treating patients or communicating with other caregivers. Naturally, nurses may have preferences for working with specific caregivers, but those opinions are never relevant to the patient's care and shouldn't be something the nurse discloses. Disclosing preference for one caregiver over another can degrade the patient's trust in that caregiver and create conflict. Negative talk about coworkers or doctors should stay in the break room and never in front of patients."


Personal Background and Beliefs

Female doctor or nurse trying to give shot or vaccine against virus to a scared patient. Angry and distrustful patient refuses to receive it.

Marchese explains, "Nurses must often connect with their patients on multiple levels to empathize with their conditions and situations. In many cases, patients will ask their nurse whether they believe in religion or have had a similar medical problem or one of many other personal questions. While the patient is looking to make a personal connection to help them cope with their situation, it's not the nurse's responsibility to disclose personal information. Of course, if the nurse feels comfortable, they can share stories about their religion, family or medical past, but it should not be expected. Nurses should also never express their own opinions or beliefs in situations where it was not asked or is not relevant. For a successful and therapeutic nurse-patient relationship, nurses must remain objective." 


Stress and Life Events

20- or 30-something woman awake at night
Shutterstock / Syda Productions

Marchese tells us, "Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it's no secret that nurses have been mistreated, underpaid and overworked. Many nurses have families, second jobs or are studying for school, but it's not something they'll tell you on the job. Nurses juggle requests from doctors, patients and staff while dealing with insurance companies, pharmacies, technicians and families. They do all that while also making informed medical decisions about treatment plans and medications that are helping save people's lives. It's a demanding job, physically and mentally, but it's not something professional nurses will reveal in their work. If you're my patient, I will treat you as well as every other patient, regardless of whether it's a good or bad day for me. If I'm your nurse, I hope you have the same respect and know that lapses in your care are never personal."


Promises or Absolutes

sad young female doctor or nurse wearing face protective mask for protection

Marchese reminds us, "There are no sure things in healthcare. A scan could miss something, a blood test could result in a false negative, or the antibiotic treatment might not clear everything up. Nurses want to give you the best news possible, but we can't make any promises because it's impossible to know what could happen in a few days or even minutes. In our heads, we can guess the chances of an outcome. For example, after successful surgery and recovery, it's likely the issue won't return, but we can never promise it won't. However, nurses will always give you an educated and precise idea of what to expect. There's a reason to run so many tests in the hospital before you can leave; it's to ensure the healthcare team is giving you the best knowledge about staying healthy. Every person's condition is different, and tomorrow is guaranteed to no one, but nurses will always fight for you to have all the information you need going forward." 

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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