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'Nursing isn’t about being judgemental'


Is it our role to pass judgement on patient behaviour? Does it help or hinder care?

While on placement, I helped nurse a patient who was alcohol dependent and had been admitted for alcohol detox.

The patient was independent but required some assistance due to the withdrawal symptoms he was experiencing. I found him pleasant to look after and he thought highly of the staff on the ward.

The patient was to be seen by a specialist nurse who assesses alcohol dependent patients while in hospital. I was interested, so when the nurse came in for the review I asked if I could accompany him. He agreed but I was surprised when he made some derogatory remarks about the patient’s drinking habits, and their repeated drink driving.

The nurse approached the patient, didn’t introduce himself or offer to close his curtains to respect his privacy, and made a remark about the patient’s drink driving and their lack of morals. The patient became very upset.

Is it the nurse’s role to pass judgement on the behaviour of their patients? Does it help or hinder care?

I didn’t feel happy with how the nurse had spoken to the patient. They’d been through an awful lot, and it’s not up to me, him or anyone else to judge this man’s behaviour.

At the end of the day, nursing isn’t about being judgemental - it’s about caring for the public no matter what they have done in the past.

Nurses need to be more proactive in their care and be professional when talking to patients, their families and colleagues. If nurses can listen and see a person not for their limits but for their potential, show empathy and understanding, the patients’ needs will be met resulting in the best possible nursing care.

James Merrell is a first year nursing student at Bournemouth University.


Readers' comments (9)

  • George Kuchanny

    Impressive article from a first year student and definitely gave me food for thought. When we add what Edzard Ernst saysabout what some view as the peripheral effects of delivery of care, I for one think you have made a perfectly robust point that we should all keep foremost in mind when interacting with ill and therefore vulnerable people.

    Thanks again James.

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  • excellent article.

    to be judgemental myself on this insensitive behaviour, I would have expected a specialist nurse, and expert in the field engaged to help patients in this position, to have been better trained in the emotional and psychological needs of the patient, and been able to rely on that training, as well as having more social and emotional intelligence and awareness of the needs of their patient.

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hello James.

    Not only a great first article but quite a shocking insight into the mindset of some nurses. I agree with George, a specialist in the subject should perhaps more than others know the damage that being judgemental and condescending can be. If we want to instil a positive change in patients it is not going to be achieved by acting that way.

    Thanks once again for raising the issue.

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  • I remember being a Student in the late 1990's hearing a Sister in the Community routinely bad- mouth patients. I kept my mouth shut but inwardly I had lost all respect for her.

    In a perfect world the the so-called nurse specialist would have his a*** kicked for unacceptable conduct but of course that won't happen and that's not your fault: but you can learn from this.

    You will nurse many people in the course of your career. Some of them will be extremely unkikeable for one reason or another.However the Code of Conduct exists for one primary reason: to protect patients. You can think anything you like about anyone but what you may never do is allow these feelings to affect how you nurse an individual patient.

    Any nurse who thinks that anything else is acceptable is in the wrong job.

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  • This eloquent expression of observed practice gives me hope, Thank you James

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  • Thank you to all the people that commented on this article.

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  • This is a great article for a first year student, well done for vocalising this nurses' poor practice. If you continue with a positive and professional attitude like this, you will go far with your career. well done again.

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  • Great article James, the nurse described probably toned it down because he was being observed. Just think what happens when two nurses, who have this same attitude, team up or an entire ward of nurses! You then have a small culture of this sort of behavior! This happens unfortunately! Just thought I would cheer you up! :)

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  • what volume is this article ?

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