Nursing Outtakes

How is a Patient to Figure Out Who’s in Their Room Taking Care of Them when in the Hospital, ER or Even a Doctor’s Office?

September 7, 2022

As you know, if you’ve been to the doctor’s office, in the ER or hospitalized, everyone from the doctor, nursing assistant, phlebotomist, to the nurse, is wearing scrubs, sometimes white lab coats, Crocs, or more likely, tennis shoes (sneakers?). Some facilities designated certain colors of scrubs to the different types of providers. But lately, the trend I’ve noticed is either the employer picks the color you wear or it’s a free-for-all. Wear whatever scrubs strike your fancy as long as you’re wearing a top and a bottom!

And I get that. It’s nice to be able to work in comfort and be able to throw your cootie covered scrubs in the wash. The good ones are stain resistant and come with a lot of pockets to carry the various items the old uniforms couldn’t handle. It’s the goofy, big, plastic covered name tags that are always flipped around with their name, photo, and credential facing their chests, away from you that really get me wound up tighter than an eight-day clock.

Sometimes suspended by a lanyard, or my personal favorite, badge reels! These are typically small round clip-ons that contain a retractable cord to attach one’s “functional” goofy, big, plastic covered name tag. Some attach these to their belts, usually guys, which sort of makes me uncomfortable when I need to visually scan a stranger’s lower body, if you catch my drift. Others like to change it up and wear a badge reel on a lanyard around their neck. Won’t even comment on that one. But I absolutely love these things, although name tags are still always flipped around facing their chests, away from you! So, why do I love them? When the facility I worked at in 2003 started handing them out, I grabbed as many as I could and from anywhere else I worked that gave them away for free! Always with the facility name on it, but you know, free is good. They make great cat toys! Attach a few feathers to the business end of that thing and slowly reel it in! Meow!

Why am I making such a big deal about name tags? Well, if you’re with me this far, bless your heart, and I’m getting to the answer. Stay with me! It used to be common courtesy for healthcare providers to introduce themselves and tell you what their function was. No more. It’s more common for anyone to walk into your room, head straight for the monitor to view your now-digital chart. Then, they will probably tell you what they are about to do to you. If not about to do anything, most won’t even say why they’re looking! The last frontier of identifying anyone approaching you was the good old name tag.

Don’t assume anyone with a blood pressure cuff or a thermometer is a nurse. More likely, a nursing assistant, or “patient tech” (in other words, nursing assistant). In Ohio, nursing assistants can do portable EKGs with a few hours training. In a doctor’s office, it can be someone he/she hired off the street and instructed to do all of the above or a medical assistant. They will also go over your medical history, medications and ask what your complaint and symptoms are. You might think you’re actually speaking with a diagnostician! Some even draw blood samples. Some give injections.

Then, there are physician assistants, nurse practitioners and doctors. All can have prescribing privileges. All can, and probably do, have specialties. Generalist healthcare practitioners of this ilk rarely practice in hospitals.

The short answer? ASK! As a patient, I am offended that anyone tending to me would not have the courtesy to introduce themselves to me, tell me what they do and why they are there. As a nurse, I’m appalled the medical profession dehumanizes the most intimate of personal care possible by dispensing with basic etiquette. My vet talks to my cats more than healthcare providers in hospitals did to me when I was a patient! Either talk to me or turn your freakin’ name tag around so that I have a clue and can open some dialog as to why you’re here!

If the doctor wants to talk to you, he might tell you he’s Dr. X and he wants to listen to your heart. Begin the quiz, politely, “Hello. What kind of doctor are you?” Maybe he says, “Cardiologist.” You can ask if there’s a problem with your heart (if you didn’t come in with one – problem, that is). What kind of problem are you looking for? Are you a staff doctor? How long have you been at Death Valley Hospital? I’ve even been known to quiz them on their education and years of practice.

You’d be stunned to know the number of PAs and NPs who stride in with white coats, examining you as a doctor would. This is very common hospital-wide, especially in the ERs. They will even prescribe and order treatments. Ask them what they do. Are you a nurse, a doctor, a PA? Then ask all the questions you would in the doctor example above.

Specialty technicians are usually a little more forthcoming with information (though, not about themselves unless you ask) as they’re about to do something a little weird to you as a test. You might be injected, connected, or asked to inhale something. Ask them, what is this test for? Why am I getting it? Who ordered this test? Afterwards, ask, “How does it look so far?” This last one may or may not get you an answer but it’s always worth a shot and can relieve some anxiety. Most will be happy to explain the mechanics of the test as typically, patients are content to lie there, disinterested, and let everything “happen” to them. They seldom get to describe how and why the test works to anyone.

One good question to ask those in sub-specialties is, “How did you get into this?” No one ever cares to hear about their interest and most (not all), will be glad to give you a short history.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t play Grand Inquisitor, looking at anyone with a flipped over badge with a squinting, suspicious eye! I’m polite, conversational, even. But it is my right to know who is doing what to me and why. When I’m seriously ill, I especially want to know the level of competence of my caregivers! Not that NPs or PAs are bad. Some are great and more detail oriented than doctors. But that’s up to me to decide when they want to advise, prescribe or order tests. Same with doctors.

Trouble is, most people are in awe of medical providers, handing over their power, logic, and common sense without a peep. Another problem is that with so many second career people entering healthcare, you may have a 50-year-old nurse who has been practicing for 2 years. Remember, age does not equal experience.  Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but isn’t it your right to know? You are hiring these people to hopefully help you get well. Would you not take as much care in choosing a landscaper or a decorator to redesign your living space? It’s your body and your life. Don’t be afraid to ask anyone who wants access to either, who they are and why are they there. 

And if you're the provider, have the common courtesy of introducing yourself by name and title (and nurses, please specify RN, LPN, or student - there is a difference). Explain why you're there and what you plan on doing to or for them. Remember, the big mystery of all the hospital personnel, procedures and the what's and whys are likely to cause the patient severe anxiety. You can both alleviate some of that anxiety and get a little patient teaching in at the same time!

© 2022 Guiomar Goransson