Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

What members of congress can learn from nurses

Once again, the American public have rated nurses as the most trusted professionals, as they have for the past 15 years. Members of Congress were at the bottom of the list, as they have been for the past five years. What’s the difference between nurses and members of Congress when it comes to trust? And what can members of Congress learn from this difference?

We trust people when people prove themselves trustworthy. Trustworthy people, the philosopher Onora O’Neil says, are reliable, competent, and honest.

Anyone who has been cared for by a nurse knows that nurses are reliable. They’ll do what they say they’ll do. It may take them a while, but usually this is because they are busy. Research has shown that when nurses are less busy, they deliver even more reliable care.

After years of stubborn refusal to pass laws and perform basic duties, such as to confirm appointed judges, some members of Congress appear unrepentant about their unreliability.

Nurses pass a national certification exam, and they take mandated continuing education courses throughout their career. But nurses truly demonstrate their competence by delivering quality patient care day after day.

Perhaps Congress could institute training for newly elected members on how to govern. The syllabus might include Plato’s Republic or Rousseau’s The Social Contract. Yet many members of Congress come with government or law degrees. These degrees notwithstanding, they could prove their competence by performing their governing duties.

Obama signs health care By Pete Souza Via wikimedia commons
Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House by Pete Souza. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

By and large, we trust that nurses are honest. For example, we trust they do not lie about the medications they are about to give. We often ask for them for verification, but we do so out of fear of human error, not fear that they may have malicious motives. After all, nurses have little reason to be dishonest. They don’t want to harm their patients, and they don’t gain income or promotion by bringing more money into the hospital or clinic through trumping up tests or treatments that aren’t necessary. Nurses gain no reward from their honesty beyond knowing that they’ve done their job well, but their patients do.

Members of Congress are not in office for underhanded reasons; surely they have a sense of public service. But unlike nurses, it seems that members of Congress are not disinterested. Many are rich. In 2015, the median net worth of a member of Congress was $1,029,505, compared to $56,355 for the average American household. And they tend to get richer during their time in public service.

But there’s one more quality – perhaps the most important – that makes nurses trustworthy. Nurses care. In hospitals, clinics, schools, prisons, and homes across America, nurses care for others. Sure, nurses earn a paycheck, but as a nurse, I can tell you that on many a day, the paycheck does not make up for the stress of having another person’s life in my hands. Nor does it soothe my aching feet, sore back, and hands cracked from repeated washing. We nurses care for others because it is the right thing to do. We care for others regardless of who they are. We show we care through our daily acts of nursing for all people who need it.

On the first day of the 115th United States Congress, a majority of the members of the House of Representatives voted to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics. It makes one wonder for whom these members care. To be sure, there must be many members of Congress who care for all people in their constituencies, not just for those who are likely to re-elect them or those who may help them to enrich themselves. But to improve their position on the “Most Trusted” poll, perhaps members of Congress could follow nurses’ example. Perhaps the American public would trust members of Congress more if, through their repeated acts of governing on behalf of all Americans, they showed us they care.

Featured image credit: Capital by jensjung. CCO Public Domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Feta

    As a nurse for 40 years experiences in different field of nursing providing health care, health promotion and health education, with internaly displaced people during the war 1999in Kosovo and working with Kosovo people refugees in Macedonian camps, I believe that every one will trust to nursing profession and their duties when ever they are they provide nursing health services, and nurses were and will be forever on front of the health institutions, I’m proud of being a nurse, I wish we could have more nurses in Congress, in parlament to raise up the voices for nursing and invest on nursing education, nursing standards and professional regulations, to ensure better conditions for work.

  2. Judith Kunisch

    Nurses get up every morning knowing they go to work to help their patients and families, to work as team members with fellow nurses and other healthcare providers, and to serve the community through their organization. It is our calling, our vocation and our duty.

  3. Linda

    And perhaps we could improve congress and the senate by sending more nurses there. Just a thought.

  4. Cindy Stephens

    Thank you Professor Mark for getting ‘ANY’ information out about nursing, however, our “caring nature” has been over used to the public. I would like to see emphasis on our quality, leadership strengths and cultural competence.

Comments are closed.