As soon as people find out you’re a nurse, it’s not a question of “if” you will be asked for health advice, it’s “when” you will be asked for health advice. Even though I almost have 14 years of nursing experience under my belt, I still feel really uncomfortable giving health advice, even to family and close friends, and I want to share why.
I’ve had a focus in emergency medicine the last 10 years of my career, and before that I worked in pediatric surgery for over 3 years. If you show me a photo of a laceration, chances are I can tell you whether or not it needs stitches. If you run by me a scenario and ask me if you should go to emergency or a clinic, I can also likely triage the situation and send you in the right direction…but, I really don’t like doing it, and I can be held legally responsible for giving you bad health advice.
Now, I’m not saying don’t ever ask a nurse for health advice, I certainly ask my nurse friends lots of questions, especially regarding my kids when my nurse brain often powers down and my mom brain takes over. However, just know that for me personally, I always hesitate to share my thoughts. Not because I’m afraid you’ll sue me, but because I don’t have you or your loved one in front of me to assess. And that’s the truth of the matter—nurses assess and treat, we do not diagnose. I would feel horrible if I gave you poor advice and made your situation worse, and trust me, it’s always in the back of my mind when I share my thoughts with you.
I can do my best to point you in the right direction, but but I always disclaim to please see a doctor, talk to someone that is specialized in the area of your question, or at least call Health Link (or a similar service, depending on where you live) where you can talk to Registered Nurses specifically trained to give you health advice over the phone.
I get messages all.the.time from strangers on the Internet asking me for health advice because I have the word “nurse” in my social media handle. I always just politely say no. I also have a lot of worried moms emailing me about their baby’s head shape. Those emails I will ALWAYS reply to and I will always give advice as a mom who has had a baby with craniosynostosis. I know what to look for and I know what advice to give and what direction to point worried parents in, and these parents I chat with are always so thankful to talk to someone who has been through the experience.
I get asked a lot about vaccinations, but I’m not a public health nurse. I get asked a lot about pediatric health issues, but other than experiencing what I have with my own kids, I’m not a peds nurse anymore, and when I was I was a surgical nurse. I would love to help you, I really would, but the best thing you can do is talk to your doctor about your health concerns, and if you’re not getting the right answer, fight until you do.