Archive for category The Chair Strategy for Recalcitrant Physicians

On Your Feet, Nurse, the Doctor’s Here!

Should nurses give up their chairs for physicians? A nursing professor named Susan Kieffer writing at thinks so:

If you have been a nurse for any length of time, you know how precious the seats at the nurses’ station really are. These seats are a rare commodity; one to be cherished and guarded once you snag one. It is also true that the coveted chair can be very revealing regarding the professionalism of the person occupying it.

Uh-huh. Kieffer goes on:

I will pose to you a question that I recently asked a class of students: registered nurses who are taking their first course in their journey to their bachelor’s degree and are studying the art of professional nursing. Many of them have been practicing nurses for 20 years or more. Here is my question to them: “As a professional courtesy, would you willingly and gladly give up your chair at the nurses’ station to a… to a… wait for it… a doctor?”

The old is new again


Kieffer goes on to argue that nurses are bigger than their ownership of their chairs by a mile. In other words, we’re better than those nasty physicians, even when they are nasty to us. I call Kieffer’s argument The Chair Strategy for Recalcitrant Physicians:

So, here is the point that I wanted to make with my students and will do so here as well: I believe that giving up that chair to the doctor shows the utmost in professionalism, courtesy, and confidence.


Can we not be confident enough in our abilities and our practices that we do not feel like we have to prove ourselves by remaining seated while the physician stands? If a nurse gives up his or her chair at the nursing station to a physician, maybe even the very doctor who was disrespectful a few minutes ago, I believe that it shows that the nurse’s professionalism is a notch above the norm. It’s like taking the high road in the midst of mistreatment. Such professionalism could go a very long way in increasing the respect given to us in the health care community. Who knows… maybe our example will eventually lead to a physician offering his or her chair to US!

I know many of you are now rolling around on the floor in a display of unrestrained mirth. But stop it. Right now. This is a serious question, posed by one of our nursing betters leaders. And I will offer a serious and considered response.

My short answer is not only No, but Hell, No.

Two reasons: first, though I do have a streak of unreconstructed idealism a mile wide, I am not so naïve to believe that the Chair Strategy will ever cause physicians to respect us more. There is not enough Pollyanna in the world to make this possible. It isn’t as though physicians spend their sleepless nights agonizing over the burning question of Disrespectful Nurses. In any case, why (insert eye-rolling here) are we obsessing over what physicians think of nurses anyway?

And the Chair Strategy as the cure for bullying physicians? Please. Good physicians treat nurses professionally, with dignity and respect. Their opposite numbers are only going to be encouraged by subservience. Such physicians need to be called on their behaviour by assertive and confident nurses and if necessary reported to higher authorities, not coddled and enabled to be bullies.

My second reason has to do with the paternalism implicit in Kieffer’s article. I am not old enough to remember those halcyon days when nurses rose to their feet when the physician (in all of his god-like powers) entered the nurses’ station — no nurse would ever sit in the presence of a physician, God forbid — and when the charge nurse followed him on rounds, to open the door to ward rooms and take orders. But I am old enough to to have been educated by nurses who did remember those days, and their memories were not fond. The point of all the sitting and not sitting, giving up of chairs, and attending the physician like a pug dog follows a child was not “professional courtesy,” but a reminder of the power relationship between physician and nurse, and the place of nurses and nursing in the hospital hierarchy.

Kieffer misses this point. She ignores the obvious symbolism, that who gets to sit and who doesn’t speaks directly to hierarchy and deference to superior authority. Nurses who robotically and without thought give up their chairs are implicitly saying, “Here, doctor, take my seat, because what I am doing can hardly compare to the importance of your mighty role in the provision of health care.”

Let’s put this in practical terms: if I am sitting in the nurses station, I am charting or otherwise doing something requiring the convenience of seating. I am not going to offer up my chair to a physician qua physician for her or his convenience. The reason for this is simple: I have work to do. Which in the scheme of things, is as about as important for overall patient care as any physician’s. If you believe what you do is somehow of less importance or insignificant compared to a physician’s, by all means give up your seat. (Neck rubs for said physician are optional.) If you believe your time and convenience is at least as important of the physician’s, kindly yet firmly direct them to the consultants’ room — or any other alternate seating.

I will grant Kieffer this: she is right on the larger issue of professionalism. If nurses are sitting around texting or Tweeting or drinking coffee while looking over catalogues, by all means move if a seat is required. But that’s just common sense and courtesy, and not restricted for physicians alone.

One last point: does anyone know why, exactly, we are talking about nurses giving up their chairs for physicians, in this the year of God’s grace, 2012? Does anyone actually think Kieffer is correct?


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