Why Every Nurse Should Learn to Say No

Nursing is a calling, not just a profession. Most nurses are innate caregivers. Perhaps you became a nurse after caring for a sick loved one or friend? Perhaps you are the mediator of your family? Are you the glue that brings people together? Or maybe you became a nurse because you like problem solving? While all of these attributes make for an excellent nurse, there is the risk of burnout, mistakes, and lack of necessary change in the profession when we never say no.

No to the Overtime

Overtime is an excellent way to save up for that vacation, advance your degree, or put a down payment on your dream house. However, the more overtime you work, the higher the risk for mistakes. A study in 2010 at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing showed that “all of the adverse event and error variables were significantly related to working more than 40 hours in the average week. Medication errors and needle stick injuries had the strongest and most consistent relationships with the work hour and voluntary overtime variables.” While working overtime occasionally is needed on both the part of employer and employee, know your limits.

No to the Patient Overload

It is really hard for most nurses to say no, whether the brand new nurse or experienced one. As a new nurse you are overwhelmed with learning and multitasking. You want to prove your competence and worthiness. Remember, if you get a sinking feeling while getting report on a complex patient, speak up. Maybe you are not quite ready to take this challenge on your own. Be an advocate for yourself and your patients.

No to the Hierarchy

I have worked in hospitals where doctors respect nurses and treat them as the colleague and equal that they are and should be (thankfully my present job). Unfortunately, I have also worked in hospitals that are stuck in a time bubble where nurses are expected to practically stand at attention when a doctor enters the room. The only way to achieve change is through a big collective NO!… No, we will not stand at attention when you walk in the room because we deserve equal respect. No we will not just blindly follow orders without questioning you. No we will not be intimidated by your blatant disrespect.

No to the Bullying

Studies worldwide have shown that nurse bullying contributes to the nursing shortage and increases the risk for nurse burnout. When will this change? It will change when nurses, nurse managers, and anyone in the work environment of the bully collectively confront and say NO… No, it is not acceptable to intimidate brand new nurses. No, it is not acceptable to purposefully humiliate a coworker in the workplace. No, it is not acceptable to disrespect one another.

Change is pertinent in our nursing practice and in our nursing culture. Change is not simple. It means confronting something or someone that is wrong. It means learning to say no when needed.


  1. The Effect of Work Hours on Adverse Events and Errors in Health Care
  2. Addressing Nurse-to-Nurse Bullying to Promote Nurse Retention

Lori is a travel nurse that has made her way to Sweden. She is also a Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher. Follow her adventures working and traveling through Europe in her blog, Neonurse, or on Instagram.

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