Not Mrs Smith!

When I was a student nurse someone told me a story that went something like this:

One day Mrs Jones went into hospital for a minor operation. Before the operation the consultant came to the ward to see Mrs Jones and said “Hello Mrs Smith I am your consultant Mr Brown” Mrs Jones, quite rightly corrected Mr Brown and replied “My name is Mrs Jones not Mrs Smith” to which Mr Brown responded “Hold on let me just check my notes …. ahh yes, you are correct!” 

I am sure that you have all heard similar versions of this story throughout your careers – the point of the tale being that the health care professional is not always correct and when we are incorrect we really need to own up to it and apologise. After all, did the consultant really need to check his notes to see that Mrs Jones was correct about her own name!  I was told this story some 20 years ago now, yet to this day I still come across versions of this story in my practice.


I was recently nursing a lady who challenged a nurse who was misinformed – it took great courage for the lady to do so, yet she was dismissed by the nurse.  It then took an enormous amount of faith and bravery for her then to raise the issue with me.  I sat and I listened and I checked she was ok.  I took her seriously and reassured her that it was right for her to be concerned.  I then explained what I needed to do next and why and I kept checking back with her to update her on where I was.  Before I went home that day the lady took me to one side and thanked me for taking the time to care.  I was a little overwhelmed by her thanks as I really felt that it was just what should have happened to start with and I in fact felt sorry that this hadn’t been the case.

Over the last week I have been reflecting on this event and how we as health care professionals are in a position of power.  We hold a great deal of knowledge but even with all the knowledge we possess we do not know the people we care for as well as they themselves do.  It’s important to understand this, to listen and respect the people we care for … and when we get it wrong, as Mr Brown did with Mrs Jones, and are corrected we need to admit that we are wrong.


I am sure that when we all first heard the story of Mr Brown and Mrs Jones we laughed at the absurdity of it.  Yet not giving the people we care for credit for knowing how they need to be cared for and knowing information about themselves, their care and what matters to them still continues.

I have often heard that nursing is an art and science and i think this is true. Nursing is a science because throughout our careers we gain lots of knowledge, information. and experience and this helps us to be the very best nurses we can be … but nursing is also an art and the art of nursing is listening to and gleaning knowledge from each individual person and encouraging them to lead their care.  The art is also in believing that the people we care for know what is best for them …..and they know better than what we think may be best.