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The ‘N’ stands for Nurse

LVN = Licensed Vocational Nurse

RN = Registered Nurse

That’s right, I am a nurse. I may have the letters LVN behind my name instead of RN, but that doesn’t mean you can talk to me like I’m a moron. Or ask me “Are you an RN?” and when I say, “No, I’m an LVN” you reply “Oh, uh-huh” as if that explains everything. As if I’m something smelly that you stepped in and want to wipe off your shoe so you can move on and find the realnurses.

Yes, LVNs go to school for a shorter period of time than RNs.  And yes, our scope of practice is different, and our licensure limits us to certain nursing tasks. But what does the ‘N’ in LVN stand for? It stands for nurse, that’s what.

I don’t have anything against RNs. Heck, some of my closest friends are RNs. Once you spend some time with them you figure out they’re okay. They have a lot of responsibility and depending on the personality, they can wield their power like a light saber, cutting you down in their wake. They can make an LVN’s work life tough or easy. But if they’re not too drunk on their own power, most RNs will give a gal a chance to prove herself.

But let me tell it like it is. There are RNs who assume that LVNs, simply because of those pesky letters, aren’t qualified to clean a bedpan. There is a hierarchy, a caste system, that exists between RNs and LVNs. Some RNs look down their noses at us LVNs. Yeah, I’m talking to you. You know who you are.

Some of you think you’re better than us because you went to school for longer than we did and you can hang I.V. antibiotics and push medications, or because you get to play charge nurse and tell everyone else what to do. The idea that you would have to work elbow to elbow with one of our kind on a medical/surgical floor fills you with disdain. We couldn’t possibly be as smart or as capable as you, and you will spare no opportunity to remind us of that.

In this caste system known as nursing, everyone is kept in their place. We don’t want anyone thinking they are high-falutin’. And so it is that from the time I did my clinical rotations in nursing school until now some RNs still insist on treating me like a third class citizen. In the beginning of my nursing career this really bothered me, and I would vociferously defend myself to anyone who tried to put me down. As time went on, I learned that the best defense is a good offense. In the nursing world this means a solid skill set and consistently good nursing judgment. Through the years I’ve cultivated both. Despite this, the patronizing continues.

Hey, here’s a question: have I cleaned up any fewer body fluids, supported and comforted fewer patients, or handled emergencies less efficiently? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I get turfed a lot of the really unappealing jobs because I’m lower on the food chain. This is especially true when I work as supplemental staff or as a travel nurse. Hey! Who’s up for a fecal disimpaction? No worries—the LVN will do it.

I’ve made mistakes but I’ve learned from them. This is very important in a profession where you hold peoples’ lives in your hands. If you can master critical thinking and throw in a dash of good old common sense, you will go far as a nurse. But critical thinking and common sense are not enough. We have to help each other succeed.

Excerpt from “The ‘N’ Stands for Nurse.” C–2010 Hudson.

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