The Nurse Keith Show, EPS 7: Nursing Thought Viruses

Have you ever fallen victim to a nursing thought virus? On episode 7 of “The Nurse Keith Show”, holistic nurse career coach Keith Carlson the origins, symptoms, and treatment  of common nursing thought viruses.

Nursing thought viruses can be deadly to your career

If you’re a nurse or healthcare professional listening to this, you likely picture viruses as organisms that wreak havoc on mucous membranes and the health of patients, inserting themselves into lungs, skin, throats, sinuses, and all manner of body cavities. Viruses are believed to occupy a gray area between the living and the non-living, and even if they’re not really alive, they can do a lot of damage, can’t they?

Viruses are invaders, and they’re not welcome wherever they’re found. They can make us sick, miserable—and even worse, they can kill us. Viruses are hard to eradicate, and try as we might, the human race has done relatively little to combat them in the bigger picture. In fact, some viruses are actually strengthened by our interventions, mutating before our very eyes.

Take HIV, for instance. It’s a shifty little bugger, and its admittedly brilliant mutations have caused it to become resistant to dozens of drugs, and we just have to keep running alongside, hoping that we can get ahead in the race to head it off at the proverbial pass.

Like physical viruses, thought viruses are unwelcome guests as well, but rather than being unwanted guests in our bodies, they’re guests in our heads, in our spirits, in our minds, and in our hearts, and they wreak havoc with our self-esteem and our ability to be effective in the world.

Thought viruses within the nursing profession are particularly noxious, and they cause many nurses to think poorly about themselves. These viruses impact our professional self-esteem, and they can be an energetic Achilles heel in terms of moving ourselves forward professionally.

And what do you think is a powerful nursing thought virus? How about the way we often say, “Well, I’m just a nurse”? Placing the word “just” before the word “nurse” is one of the most diminishing, self-deprecating things that you can say about yourself and your profession, and this virus is easily passed on to other nurses—as well as the public and other professionals with whom you work.

What does it say to other nurses and professionals when you say that you’re “just a nurse”? What does that particular thought virus communicate about your intelligence, training, skill, relevance, and importance?

Have you heard a new nurse say that she’s “just a nurse”? Have you heard a nursing professor, preceptor, or other nursing professional use that pejorative as well? What about physicians? What does it mean if a doctor says that you’re “just a nurse”? Are you less than the doctor? Are you less important and less clinically effective? Do you have less to contribute to patient care?

Another thought virus in nursing is that if you don’t work in a unit or facility where there are machines that go blip and bleep, then you’re not a real nurse. It’s certainly true that nurses who do ICU, CCU, PACU and other clinically and technologically intensive forms of nursing are very skilled clinicians doing very important life-saving work, and we’re all very thankful that they do what they do.

However, nurses who work in schools, offices, factories, insurance companies, or doctors’ offices have just as much professional validity as nurses in the ICU and CCU, and those nurses need to own their professional integrity and not propagate the thought virus that says that they’re not “real nurses”.

For nurses, another related thought virus is that those of us without hospital experience aren’t real nurses. I’ve never worked in a hospital in the course of my 18 years, but does that make me less of a nurse? Does my lack of hospital experience discount my years of experience in home care, hospice, public health, and community health?

Thought viruses permeate the wider culture, but they also permeate the culture of nursing. Nurses pass thought viruses to one another, older nurses pass them on to younger nurses, and we begin to believe those viruses, internalize them, and make them real.

Take the thought viruses that nurses eat their young. If we continue to repeat that phrase and collectively embody that notion, we then begin to accept it as truth. And if we expect nurses to eat their young and accept it as par for the course, we’ll be so disempowered that we won’t fight against a powerful virus that has grabbed a hold of our collective nursing consciousness.

Nursing thought viruses can become epidemic in scope, and, like real viruses, they can mutate, take on new life, and expand into dark corners that gum up the works, interfere with our professional development, and otherwise stunt our growth as nurses and professionals.

Just as some physical viruses may mutate and become resistant to treatment and intervention, so thought viruses can also resist our efforts to decrease their power and eradicate them. Nurses eating their young is just one example, and the mutation and growth of that virus spreads like wildfire and disrupts the fabric of our profession.

In terms of your own individual professional development, you may yourself internalize and firmly believe thought viruses that you’ve been fed by professors, high school teachers, fellow nurses, doctors, society, and even your parents and family. Try these on for size:

  • You’re not smart enough.
  • Nurses are people who aren’t smart enough to become doctors.
  • Male nurses are effeminate men who are too lame to study medicine.
  • Old nurses don’t understand technology and can’t learn new 21st-century skills.
  • It’s bad economy and there are no jobs.
  • You can’t leave your job—you’ll never find another one.
  • Nurses can’t start their own business—they don’t understand business and never will.
  • Nurse burnout is inevitable.
  • A new nurse without Med-surg experience isn’t worth hiring.

Do any of these sound familiar?

What thought viruses have been planted in your brain? What thought viruses make you blow interviews, say self-deprecating things about yourself, or otherwise keep you from reaching for greater satisfaction and empowerment in your life?

On the larger scale, what nursing thought viruses hold you back, keep you down, or otherwise serve to thwart your forward movement?

From the vantage point of my thought virus soapbox, I want to tell you to reject any thought virus that you’re fed. Reject it, beat it back with a stick, bury it in the ground, and avoid internalizing it. Don’t let those thought viruses hold you back in your personal life or your professional life. Own your professional standing, own your skills, feel pride in your accomplishments, and if someone disses you for thinking outside the box, smash that box to smithereens, and act like it didn’t even exist in the first place.

Thought viruses have no place in your head or in your heart. Reject them, and replace them with antiviral thoughts that life you up, elevate you, elevate the profession, and empower you to embrace your gifts and step out into the world with power and confidence.

Please consider leaving a review of The Nurse Keith Show over on iTunes; this helps more nurses and healthcare professionals find the show and benefit from the information being shared. Just visit iTunes, click on the iTunes store, search for The Nurse Keith Show under podcasts, and leave a review, and voila. Thanks!

Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!


Nurse Keith photoKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith is also the resident nursing career expert at

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and currently writes for MultiViews New Service,, StaffGarden, and Working Nurse Magazine.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur.



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