Monday, April 11, 2011

Honesty: Who Can You Trust Today?

Last week I came across an interesting tidbit of information in the March copy of the magazine Nursing2011. According to the brief article, nurses once again outranked other professionals in Gallup's annual Honesty and Ethics survey. The survey, conducted in Nov. 2010, measured respondents' satisfaction on a "Very high/High" to "Average" to "Very low/Low" scale. Nurses ranked first, with 81% of respondents rating them "Very high/High".

Ranked next highest in 2010 were military officers at 73%, pharmacists at 71%, grade school teachers at 67%, and medical doctors at 66%. Lobbyists and car salespeople sat at the bottom of the barrel, sharing a 7% "Very high/High" rating. The third lowest rating was reserved for members of Congress at 9%, two points lower than advertising practitioners at 11%, three points lower than state officeholders at 12%, and six points lower than business executives at 15%.

The ethical standards of police, lawyers, and judges were called into question by a good many of the respondents. Police only scored a 57% rating for "Very high/High", while judges tied with day care providers at 47%. Lawyers fared much worse at 17% in that category.

The first Gallup Honesty and Ethics Poll was conducted in 1976. Medical doctors took top honors that year with a 56% "Very high/High" rating. After that, clergy and pharmacists led the list until 1999 when nurses were first added to the poll. Nurses have topped the rankings every year since, consistently surpassing medical doctors by as much as twenty points, except for 2001 when -- after 9/11 -- firefighters were added on a one-time basis and scored 90% to finish first.

Three things came to mind when I read the results of the 2010 survey. First of all, why do nurses consistently rank higher than doctors in honesty and ethical standards? As a nurse myself, I believe it's because good nurses see their role as advocates for the patient, and therefore are more open and honest in speaking to people about their medical conditions. Hospital nurses spend more time with patients than doctors do, are more accessible than doctors when patients and families have questions, and as home health care employees, they do more hands-on follow-up care when patients go home after hospitalizations. Nurses have nothing to lose by telling patients the truth; doctors are more prone to hedge their bets on the success of certain treatments because their reputations as "good" doctors are at stake. Added to this is the fact that the American Medical Association is extremely reluctant to police its members, often protecting poorly qualified doctors even when verifiable complaints are lodged against them. This "old boys' club" mentality does neither the AMA nor the public any good, but it will continue to exist as long as doctors refuse to testify against each other in hospital disciplinary meetings or in court.

It seems no one likes to read long blogs, so I'll hold my thoughts on justice professionals and members of Congress for another day. Let me assure you, I have plenty of thoughts on both! :) Meanwhile, I'd be interested in knowing who you feel you can trust today. Doctors? Nurses? Lawyers? Police? Your elected officials? All comments welcome!



  1. I've found nurses to be much more open and honest than many doctors. Some doctors were very frank, and I have great respect for them. Maybe, as you say, it's because I have more contact with nurses that I'm inclined to turn to them first. Most have been wonderful and caring and done their best to lighten the burdens of their patients. I'm grateful for them.

  2. Thanks for posting, Ellis. I'm glad to hear you're had good experiences with nurses. I think nurses can be more honest with families and patients because they have less to risk than doctors. Unfortunately, I believe that to be all too true.

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