Are Nurses Really That Compassionate?

An older article from RealityRN, a site that alternately irritates and pleases annoys me. This article itself is interesting and worthwhile, and it speaks volumes about the author’s strength of character.  She writes about her experiences of being caught stealing narcotics, being sent to jail, her struggle to overcome her addiction and to regain her licence. All of which is very good, and I applaud her courage and insight. I truly do.

But scroll down a little to the comments, and I think you get a fairly accurate sense of how harsh and unforgiving nurses are to the foibles of their colleagues — and but for the grace of God goest thou.

A selection of the most egregious:

Anne – nursing prof and NP Says:*
February 25th, 2009 at 6:26 pm

While I am happy that you are clean, I think you are very very wrong. Your attitude suggests ‘entitlement’ and anger because the hospital didn’t care for you. Well, guess what-you didn’t do YOUR part.

You worked inpaired [sic] and could have harmed patients and employees. You didn’t ‘recognize’ your illness and seek help until someone caught you. You needed a ‘wake up’ call and you got it….you are responsible for your actions from the first moment you chose to take a drug to the moment you first chose to divert to the moment you chose to continue behavior you knew was wrong and potentially a danger to patients.

Insulin dependent diabetics don’t choose to have the disease, may have problems in spite of making responsible choices, and rarely deny they have a medical condition. Further, they rarely steal insulin on the job.

While addiction does have a strong genetic and medical component, the choice to act on the addiction is a CHOICE. And no nurse who makes that choice should whine about what the hospital or anyone else should have done.

So they kicked you out of the hospital and you could have died?? Really? And what about the patients who could have died because you were impaired on the job?

So buck up, grow up, and take responsibility for your choices. Until you do, you will never be fully recovered. Believe me, I know first hand.


I am sorry but I agree with Anne….being an addict is a choice. You make that choice the first time you use. It is time for this country (and others) to place the blame where it belongs. On the addict.


Personally, I hear all the hard work you have done and will continue to do…I ask myself, would I want you taking care of me?

Yes, we are all human, yes we do all make mistakes however YOU knew what YOU were doing and YOU made that choice…

I know alot [sic] of nurses that CHOSE to go down that wrong path and that was THEIR choice!


Firstly, I’m wondering why you wrote this post to begin with, because as most of us have responded with our opinions that are contrary to yours, we have been attacked for our comments, and on a personal level in some cases. I guess I don’t know why you are surprised. We’re not haters, we are compassionate care givers, and we worry for the sake of our patients, our selves and the institutions we all work at.

Secondly, I am sympathetic to any one who has a disease, that’s why I’m in the field. I just don’t think that an addict needs to be in that arena. Would you think an alcoholic needs to be a bar tender? Does someone who is clinically obese need to work in a McDonald’s? I know that’s simplifying the problem, but your just not going to get most people to agree with you on this.

There are other jobs, better suited to someone who is a recovering addict, and I feel sorry for you, I hope it works out, really.


What I find strange (and dangerous) is the author’s willingness, or need, to refute those who disagree. Those of us in recovery understand that this kind of resentment can be dangerous. In a worst case, one may return to substance abuse. At the very least, it will diminish her ability to help others, which is the true gift of recovery.


So we have from nurses

  • a sense that if you make a mistake, and especially if you are an addict, the punishment must go on and on indefinitely, and the consequences must be borne forever
  • that we must blame the ills of society on the bad nurse
  • that addicts need to “buck up”
  • that being an addict disqualifies one from disagreeing with your interlocutors, because you must accept all criticism and blame without argument
  • pity
  • that an addict, especially if one is a nurse, is not entitled at to for decent medical or addiction care

Sometimes I despair for my profession.


*It actually frightens the crap out of me that this “teacher” is actually being inflicted on some poor nursing students, somewhere.


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  1. #1 by Suzanne on Tuesday 15 December 2009 - 0609

    No, I don’t think that Nurses in general are as compassionate as most people think. We spend so much time protecting ourselves from the debilitating effects of empathy, that we lose our sympathy as well. I think we can be cold, hard, and unforgiving. We expect more from ourselves and our colleagues than we expect from others, especially when it comes to what we see as weakness. We basically eat our young! I don’t think compassion is what makes someone a good Nurse though, it’s knowledge, skill, and a desire to use those things to help others when they are at their worst or most in need. Unfortunately, when it comes to drug use and abuse, we can be especially unforgiving because unfortunately we see too much of it, and so rarely see someone actually make it out of addiction. In all honesty, I don’t know if I could trust someone who I knew was an addict at one time, to be in control of my loved one’s pain medications. I hate that I feel that way, but if I’m honest, I do.

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