My friend K is taking prerequisites for nursing school while she works nights as a CNA. At lunch the other day, she said she couldn't wait to be an RN because she wouldn't have to wipe any more butts. I quickly disillusioned her. She was CRESTFALLEN. She wanted numbers. "How many times a week do you think you wipe butts? Every shift?"
It's not most of my job anymore, as it was when I was a CNA (clean, turn, clean, turn...), but sorry, folks: nurses do some "dirty" work. I put "dirty" in quotes because I do not consider caring for the human body particularly dirty anymore. I do some unglorious stuff. It's not really debatable. As an RN I am up close and personal with body areas and their secretions that most people aren't and wouldn't want to be. However, it's not just something I have to put up with in order to get to the good stuff about my job. I was raised as a rogerian nurse, and I guess it took, because I believe that treating a patient's reaction to illness includes warts and all (sometimes literally).
I talked myself blue in the face attempting to convince K that wiping elderly bums, although unglamorous, is still a nursing skill. If I end up sick and needing to be cleaned and turned, you bet YOUR butt I want a skilled RN looking at my bony buns. My eyes and nose are highly trained at this point. If my patient has a suspicious pink smudge that doesn't blanch, I'm going to catch it and do everything I can to prevent a pressure ulcer. If my patient has a developing UTI or C diff or a GI bleed, I'm going to smell it and the patient will receive faster treatment and, if necessary, isolation to prevent spread of infection.
This use of my nursing skills is not the glory work---the successful IV start in a finger because that's all we have, the defibrillation, the high from teamwork well executed in a trauma---but I guarantee you that to the patient I've saved days or weeks of additional illness and hospital stay, it's important. I've seen people die from preventable infections that weren't caught. So it may not be saving a life in an obvious way like shocking someone out of a lethal rhythm, but wiping butts is important. And sorry, CNAs: it's within an RN's scope of practice too!