Is “I’m Just a Nurse” a Cop-Out Phrase or a Simple Put-Down?

I always advise nurses not to use phrases such as “I’m just a nurse” or “I’m only an RN.” My reasoning is that it demeans the nurse who says it and the entire profession. But interestingly I recently heard from a nurse who had read that advice in one of my articles and expressed an alternate perspective related to accountability. Nurse Sona Mahal stated, “How many of us attempt to avoid the accountability by using this boneless statement? If only it was that easy to avoid. It seems like lacking accountability for patient safety is falsifying the role of a professional nurse. There are many, many committed nurses, but there are many more for whom nursing is just a job and no one listens to them. I often question – how much do you want to be heard? Trying to be heard requires commitment and persistency and sometimes a set-back, but giving up means harm – we all know who gets harmed by our silence and fear of acknowledging our role.” What a powerful and intriguing statement! 

Sona may have a point. Sometimes it’s easier to shirk responsibility than to step up to the plate and stand up for who you are and what you do and take full responsibility for your actions, your knowledge, your license, and your decisions. By downplaying our role with such demeaning phrases, it may be easier to hide in the shadows when something doesn’t go as planned or there is a problem that needs to be solved and we don’t feel like taking responsibility for the action or the outcome.

Your first thought upon reading this might be, “Oh that’s not true. It doesn’t go that deep.” But sometimes we get so accustomed to hiding behind words, phrases and thoughts we don’t stop to think about where it comes from or what it really means. So what do you think – cop-out or put-down? Either way we lose each time the phrase is uttered.


  1. It can be be both! But it may also be a reflection of a nurses humility in putting others before them. All together believe that a new label should be put into the nursing field as if to say,”I am an RN and I am here to help you”