Doctors are clueless about what really happens in the beds, wards, and halls of our hospitals. That's why we went to the experts: nurses.

We ask the questions you don’t
Doctors are clueless about what really happens in the beds, wards, and halls of our hospitals. That's why we went to the experts: nurses.

“We always question doctors because a lot of the time they are only there for five seconds and we have much more experience with patients.” – Registered nurse with 16 years’ experience. This is what I mean when I say to get a second opinion

“We’re not going to tell you your doctor is incompetent, but if I say, ‘You have the right to a second opinion,’ that can be code for ‘I don’t like your doctor’ or ‘I don’t trust your doctor.’” – Linda Bell, registered nurse

Before you gossip…
“Feel free to tell us about your personal life, but know that we’re here for 12 hours with nothing to talk about. So the stuff you tell us will probably get repeated.” – Registered nurse

A lot of my patients are incontinent
“I’m supposed to just use a wet washcloth to clean them. But if it’s a patient who’s been really nice and appreciative, I’ll go all the way to intensive care to get some of the heated wet wipes, which are a lot more gentle. Somebody who’s constantly yelling at me? I just use the washcloth.” – Registered nurse

Tell us everything because we need to know
“If penicillin made your face swell up and your breathing get funny six months ago, it’s likely to do the same again. Please tell me these things. While we’re at it, tell me if you have a food allergy. Some things I can predict, other things, like you’re allergic to nuts, are not immediately obvious.” – Here's how to get the most out of each and every medical appointment.

I always remain calm
“I’ve had people blow out arteries in front of me, where I know the patient could bleed to death within minutes. I’ve had people with brains literally coming out of their head. No matter how worried I am, I’ll say calmly, ‘Hmmm, let me give the doctor a call and have him come look at that.’” – A long-time nurse

The squeaky wheel won’t always work
“If you want me to give you better treatment, be more appreciative. I’m happy to do a bit extra for appreciative patients, such as massage their legs and feet with sorbolene after a shower. But a demanding patient will always wait longer to have their bell answered.” – Registered nurse with 25 years’ experience, RPA, Sydney

Yes, you should have come in earlier
“I’d never tell a patient that he was stupid for waiting a week for his stroke symptoms to improve before coming to the hospital. Although I’d like to. Especially if his wife then complains that we’re not doing anything for the guy.” – A long-time nurse who blogs at 

Don’t lie about your pain
“If you’re happily texting and laughing with your friends until the second you spot me walking into your room, I’m not going to believe that your pain is a ten out of ten.”  – Nurse, New York  Never tempt fate by lying about what's really bothering you

Listen to our advice, you’ll recover faster
“If we tell you Papa must not drive after his stroke, that means Papa must not drive. Not ‘not drive long distances’ or ‘not drive a Toyota’ or ‘not drive to the store.’ It means that Papa now lacks decision-making ability, part of his visual field, and most of the use of one side of his body, and must not drive. Even a big car, even for short distances, even in town.” – 

Hospitals are full of drug-resistant germs
“Despite nurses’ best efforts, hospitals are still filthy and full of drug-resistant germs. I don’t even bring my shoes into the house when I get home.” – Gina, a nurse who blogs at 

The sickest patients are the only VIPs in here
“If you’re a private patient in a public hospital, don’t complain about not having a private room. The only times you’ll get one is if you’re dying or have a golden staph infection and need to be isolated. If you see a sign with MRSA, it means there’s a risk of multidrug-resistant staph. Either way, you should count your lucky stars you’re in a shared room.” – Nurse, RPA, Sydney 

I’ll always come into your room with a smile
“No matter how many times you use your call light, even if it’s every ten minutes, I will come into your room with a smile. However, if you don’t really need help, I will go back to the nurses’ station and complain, and this may affect how the nurses on the next shift take care of you.” – Cardiac nurse, California.

We can tell when you exaggerate the pain
“Don’t tell me you need more pain relief – I know you’ve just come back to the ward after having a cigarette.” – Nurse, RPA, Sydney

Over-the-counter drugs and herbals count as medications
“When your provider asks for a list of the medications you’re taking, make sure you include over-the-counter drugs and herbals. People think that if an herb is ‘all natural’ and ‘organic,’ it’s not a medication. But that’s not true. Herbals can interact with other medications and can cause serious complications.” – Kristin Baird, registered nurse and health-care consultant

The sicker you are, the less you complain
“I’ll have a dying patient with horrible chest pain who says nothing, because he doesn’t want to bother me. But the guy with the infected toe – he can’t leave me alone.” – Intensive-care nurse, California

We can tell when you’re frightened
“It’s frustrating to see people neglect themselves, but there’s no point reading them the riot act. One patient had a fungating wound from breast cancer that she’d hidden from her family for 18 months. How she did it I don’t know.” – Community nurse with 20 years’ experience 

I’ll wait for the doctor to tell you about test results
“If you ask me if your biopsy results have come back yet, I may say no even if they have, because the doctor is really the best person to tell you. He can answer all your questions.” – Gina, nurse who blogs at

It’s stressful when a physician makes a mistake
“It can be intimidating when you see a doctor who is known for being a real ogre make a mistake. Yes, you want to protect your patient, but there’s always a worry: Am I asking for a verbal slap in the face?” – Linda Bell, registered nurse 

A positive note from you can go a long way
“If you have a really great nurse, a note to her nurse manager that says ‘So-and-so was exceptional for this reason’ will go a long way. Those things come out in her evaluation – it’s huge.” – Linda Bell, registered nurse

I love when you come back and visit
“If you’ve been a patient in a unit for a long time, come back and visit. We’ll remember you, and we’d love to see you healthy.” – Intensive-care nurse, California

Doctors aren’t always the experts
“Doctors aren’t trained to know everything about medication. They learn from the nursing staff. Their success will only be as good as their relationship with the staff who guide them.” – Ed King, intensive care and emergency department nurse

No, we won’t help you break the law
“I cannot tell you the number of otherwise intact people I’ve had in my care in the past eight years who’ve done something really, really dumb that interferes with their care. If you have to ask me when you can go back to snorting coke or taking large amounts of meth, you have a problem. I don’t care what you do after you’re discharged – just please don’t ask my advice about how to do it.” –

We have to complete a lot of red tape
“We have too much paperwork. It would be nice to spend more time delivering the care that patients deserve, but instead we’re filling out paperwork on assessing patients’ skin or his or her risk of falling – most nurses just copy out what the previous nurse has written!” – Nurse, RPA, Sydney

We still believe in miracles
“I once took care of a child who had been in a coma for more than a week. The odds that he would wake up were declining, but I had read that the sense of smell was the last thing to go. So I told his mum, ‘Put your perfume on a washer and hold it up by his nose to see if it will trigger something.’ The child woke up three hours later. It was probably a coincidence, but it was one of my best moments as a nurse.” – Barbara Dehn, a nurse practitioner and blogger at Read about five miracles that the doctors and nurses treating these patients couldn't explain.

Nursing is incredibly demanding
“Some jobs are physically demanding. Some are mentally demanding. Some are emotionally demanding. Nursing is all three. If you have a problem with a nurse or with your care, ask to speak to the charge nurse [the one who oversees the shift]. If it isn’t resolved at that level, ask for the hospital supervisor.” – Nancy Brown, registered nurse

Being a nurse is a serious career choice
“The one question I get that I find annoying is, ‘Are you going to train as a doctor or just stay as a nurse?” – Intensive care nurse, Sydney 

Never talk to a nurse as they’re preparing your medications
“The more conversation there is, the more potential [there is] for error.” – Linda Bell, registered nurse

Nurses shouldn’t miss your vein
“If the person drawing your blood misses your vein the first time, ask for someone else. I’ve seen one person stick someone three times. They need to practice, but it shouldn’t be on you!” – Karon White Gibson, registered nurse

We care about your health, not your personal conveniences
“Don’t page me to your room to fluff up your pillows or to move your trolley closer to the bed. I’m not your personal nurse – I have five other patients to care for.” – Nurse, RPA, Sydney

Never let your pain get out of control
“Using a scale of zero to ten, with ten being the worst pain you can imagine, start asking for medication when your pain gets to a four. If you let it get really bad, it’s more difficult to get it under control.” – Nancy Beck, registered nurse

Drink lots of water before having your blood drawn
“If you’re going to get blood drawn, drink two or three glasses of water beforehand. If you’re dehydrated, it’s a lot harder for us to find a vein, which means more poking with the needle.” – Mary Pat Aust, registered nurse and clinical practice specialist

The seriously sick and injured always come first
“We get spoken to like slaves in the emergency department. There might be a person making a huge fuss about how long he’s waited to have a cut finger seen to while we’re dealing with a family who has just lost a family member. We’re trying to hold in anger and frustration all the time.” – Ed King

Don’t hold your breath before a painful procedure
“Don’t hold your breath when you know we’re about to do something painful, like remove a tube or take the staples out of an incision. Doing that will just make it worse. Take a few deep breaths instead.” – Mary Pat Aust, registered nurse

Some doctors seem to have a lack of concern about pain
“I’ve seen doctors perform very painful treatments without giving sedatives or pain medicine in advance, so the patient wakes up in agony. When they do order pain medicine, they’re so concerned about overdosing, they often end up under dosing.” – Nurse supervisor

Bullying us doesn’t help your loved one
“This isn’t the Hilton. Families of patients can make a lot of fuss. It happens all too often with elderly patients. A son or daughter flies in when their elderly parent falls ill and makes a noise and commotion to show how concerned they are. Once the services are in place, they dash off again leaving their parent alone.” – Endorsed enrolled nurse, day surgery unit, Sydney

The blame game doesn’t work long-term
“Doctors blaming nurses for mistakes – it happens all the time. But the mistakes are easily traceable. They learn very, very quickly that they can’t get away with it.” – Ed King

We’re only human, show us you care
“When a patient doesn’t say please or thank you – that can get me off to a bad start straight away. If they continue doing it, I will tell them, ‘It would be nice to hear a please or a thank you.’” – Nurse of 16 years 

We admire strong-willed patients
“I took care of a woman who was given a dire prognosis of stomach cancer. She was told that there was nothing that could be done. She wouldn’t put up with that, found another specialist who gave her an aggressive treatment and now it’s completely gone. It’s fantastic when patients do something to help themselves.” – Nurse of 16 years

This job has many wonderful moments
“Every baby I’ve delivered has made me marvel. Discharging a patient to go home after looking after them for ten months left me feeling I’d achieved something special. Or sitting with an elderly patient in their home knowing I’m the only person they’ll see that day or possibly that week. When we’re thanked, we know that the person genuinely means it – and that’s a bonus.” – Nurse of 20 years, Sydney

“Have you washed your hands?”
“There are staff at every hospital who just don’t think that they need to wash their hands between seeing patients. Others get distracted and forget. So always ask anyone who comes into your room, ‘Have you washed your hands?’”  – Kathy Stephens Williams, registered nurse

Please give physical affection to dying loved ones
“When you’re with someone who is dying, try to get in bed and snuggle with them. Often they feel very alone and just want to be touched. Many times my patients will tell me, ‘I’m living with cancer but dying from lack of affection.’” – Barbara Dehn, registered nurse and nurse practitioner Here, three medical professionals share their experience of what the final moments of life are really like.

The little things can make a difference when you're sick
“One of the best things you can do is wrap them in a warm blanket or towel. Throw the towel in the dryer before they are bathed. If they’re in a hospital, find out where the blanket warmer is.” – Barbara Dehn, registered nurse and nurse practitioner 

We don’t forget about you once you’ve left the ward
“We truly enjoy having long-term patients return to the ward for a visit. We see them at their lowest – with nausea, ulcers, no hair. It’s wonderful when you see them in remission and better once again.” – Nurse, RPA, Sydney 

Try to avoid hospitals in January
“If you can avoid going to hospital in January – you should. That’s when the new crop of junior doctors start, and they haven’t got a clue!” – Registered nurse, RPA, Sydney

I may talk to family members about the patient’s care
“I’ll never tell you to change your code status to Do Not Resuscitate, even though I might cringe at the thought of having to break your ribs during CPR. With certain patients, however, I may talk to family members to clarify their goals for the patient’s care. This sometimes leads to an elderly person being placed on comfort care rather than being continually tortured by us with procedures that aren’t going to help.” – Cardiac nurse, California

Your life is in our hands, literally
“The doctors operate and give the final orders, but we are the ones saving lives by being the first on the scene, detecting whether or not a patient is deteriorating. We are the ones who alert the doctors.” – Registered nurse 

We save as many patients as doctors do
“We’re the ones keeping an eye on your electrolytes, your fluids, whether you’re running a fever. We’re often the ones who decide whether you need a feeding tube or a central line for your IV. And we’re the ones who yell and screech when something goes wrong.” – A long time nurse, Texas 

Hospital isn’t always the best place for medical help
“Don’t come to the emergency department with a minor problem in winter and expect to be seen quickly. On top of the regular cardiac, stroke and accident cases, our priorities are with seriously ill patients with pneumonia. You’ll wait a long time. Go to a GP clinic instead.” – Registered nurse, Sydney

Hospitals are for sick people, not family reunions
“Keep the family members who accompany you to hospital to a minimum. It’s understandable that families are worried, but it is so cramped and busy in hospitals anyway, that having bored kids and excess relatives around is just a hassle.” – Endorsed enrolled nurse

Husbands, listen to your wives
“Today a man kept fainting but wouldn’t go to the hospital until his wife forced him. He needed not one, not two, but three units of blood – he was bleeding internally. He could have had a cardiac arrest. Another man complained to his wife that he didn’t feel ‘right.’ His wife finally called me to come over to their house. His pulse was 40. He got a pacemaker that evening.” – Barbara Dehn, registered nurse and nurse practitioner

If you don't understand something, ask
“I once heard a doctor telling his patient that the tumour was benign, and the patient thought that benign meant that he had cancer. That patient was my dad. It was one of the things that inspired me to become a nurse.” – Theresa Tomeo, registered nurse

Ask yourself: Do I know what’s happening next?
“If you had blood drawn, find out who’s calling who with the results, and when. People assume that if they haven’t heard from anyone, nothing is wrong. But I’ve heard horror stories. One positive biopsy sat under a pile of papers for three weeks.” – Kristin Baird, registered nurse

Often all you do is run numbers and replenish fluids
“Sometimes you’re also the person who reassures the teenager that ‘everybody’ gets her period on the day of admission, the person who, though 30 years younger than the patient, tells that patient without blushing or stammering that yes, sex is possible even after neck surgery. You’re the person who knows not only the various ways to save somebody else’s life but also how to comfort those left behind.” – Long-time nurse who blogs at

Know when to draw the line
“I had one patient show up repeatedly to see me after he was discharged. Another little old man tried to pull me into bed with him. (He was stronger than he looked.) The general rule is don’t ask us on a date. We’re busy. It’s unethical. And, really, I already know you better than I want to.” – Long-time nurse, Texas

Stay positive
“Positive attitude is everything. I have seen many people think themselves well.” – Nancy Beck, registered nurse

I don’t believe you when you tell me how much you drink
“When you tell me how much you drink or smoke or how often you do drugs, I automatically double or triple it.” – Long-time nurse, Texas

Sometimes I have to lie
“When you ask me, ‘Have you ever done this before?’ I’ll always say yes. Even if I haven’t.” – Nurse, New York

Try this trick
“Ask the nurse to wet your bandage or dressing before removal – it won’t hurt as much.” – Karen White Gibson, registered nurse

Don’t lie about your pain
“For some reason, when I ask ‘Are you having pain?’ a lot of patients say no, even if they are. But I’ve found that if I say, ‘Are you uncomfortable?’ people are much more likely to say yes. Please tell us if you’re in pain. We have all sorts of medications we can use to help you.” – Mary Pat Aust, registered nurse and clinical practice specialist, California

Say “I love you”
“When someone you love is dying, you can never say ‘I love you’ too much.” – Barbara Dehn, registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner 

Fresh air works wonders
“I once had a patient who had been in ICU for six months. He was totally withdrawn – wouldn’t look at us, talk to us, or even open his eyes. One day, the doctor said, ‘Why don’t you take him outside?’ We were thinking, ‘Man, that’s a lot of work,’ but of course we said okay. We rolled his bed out the door, thinking what a waste of time it was. Well, the wind was on his face, he could hear the birds, and suddenly he opened his eyes and talked to his wife for the first time in months. That was an incredible day.” – Gina Rybolt, an intensive care nurse who blogs at 

Your vitals are important
“We know you hate being woken up, but we have to check your vital signs every four hours. It’s not the Hilton, it’s a hospital. And that’s hospital policy.” – Nurse 

Ask if you can call back
“When someone you care about is in the hospital and you call in for information, sometimes it’s not a good time for me to have a 10-minute conversation. Ask me first if I can call you back. That way, I can talk to you after I’ve collected my thoughts – and when I’m not thinking about another patient who’s throwing up.” – Theresa Brown, oncology nurse and author of Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between

Ask the nurse for recommendations
“If the doctor gives you names of three different specialists, ask the nurse which doctor she would choose to take care of her own child.” – Karon White Gibson, registered nurse

Bother the nurse
“My biggest piece of advice: Bother the nurse. When I come upon patients who are in a lot of pain, I’ll ask, ‘Why didn’t you ask the nurse for your pain medication?’ and they say, ‘She looked so busy. I didn’t want to bother her.’ Please, ‘bother’ your nurse. She can’t help you if she doesn’t know what you need.” – Nurse supervisor

Ask us to translate
“If your doctor uses a lot of medical jargon and you don’t understand what it means, ask me to help translate – that’s part of our job.” – Theresa Brown, oncology nurse and author of Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between

Keep comfort in mind
“When it comes to very elderly patients, sometimes family members who are afraid of seeing Mum or Dad go will want us to run a lot of tests or do a major surgery – when, really, the elderly patient just wants to be comfortable. If you’re the older patient, be sure your nurse and your doctors know what you want.” – Nancy Beck, registered nurse

Let us know about your family
“If you think your family member is confused, let us know. That tells us we should move them closer to the nurses’ desk and check in on them more frequently. We’ll also attach an alarm to their gown so we know if they’re getting up without assistance.”  – Nancy Beck, registered nurse 

Tell them to take deep breaths
“In an emergency, the person who needs assistance is usually hyperventilating. So when you jump in to help, the first thing you should do is tell them to look you in the eye and take some slow, deep breaths. You’ll sound and act like an expert, and it will help everyone focus.” – Barbara Dehn, registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner

This article first appeared on Reader's Digest