I was on inpatient service and reviewed the patient’s chart to find out that her cancer had spread to her spine, which had incapacitated her to the point that she could not walk on her own and required assistance even for propping herself up in the bed. I walked in and saw her lying in bed, trying to avoid eye contact with me. The crisp white bedsheets were covered with her feces. A Styrofoam cup in her hand was also smothered with feces. “I’m sorry, I was thirsty!” she said in a trembling voice with her eyes filled with embarrassment. “Don’t worry, let me ask someone to help you right away,” I said.

I headed right to the nursing station and explained the situation to her nurse. She appeared swamped but sprang up instantly and rushed to the room and, on her way, recruited two fellow nurses to help. I returned to the patient’s room after 10 minutes, and she was all freshened up, dressed in a fresh hospital gown, new linen, a pot of flowers, and a bowl of fruit on the table at her bedside with the TV remote and the call bell within hand’s reach.

I asked myself, “Can I ever do for a patient what a nurse does?” Never! Then why is it that the role of a nurse is so underrecognized and invisible compared with a doctor’s? Nurses are respected but are given nowhere near as much credit as doctors. In my mind, if the hospitals were households and all the patients were children, the value of nurses would be akin to that of mothers. Fathers have their own role, which is indispensable, but it is often dwarfed compared with a mother’s role for a child.

Similarly, at the hospital, the nurse is the one at the patient’s bedside around the clock. When the patient has to go to the bathroom or needs help to sit up in a chair, he or she calls the nurse. But the doctor takes most of the credit. Why is that? Just because the doctor spent more years training and passed some more difficult exams? Fine, the doctor makes some of the “big decisions” in a patient’s journey, but the nurse is the one delivering the bedside hands-on care so selflessly.

When a patient is asked whose patient they are, they usually take the doctor’s name. I wish to see a day when they take the nurse’s name. When I ask my nurse to see a patient, she says, “Hi, my name is Nancy. I am Dr. Imran’s nurse.” I hope to see a day when I say, “Hi, my name is Dr. Imran. I’m the doctor working with your nurse.”

Farhan S. Imran is a hematology-oncology physician who blogs at Did I Ask? Visit KevinMD.com to read the full article