Do nurses really have to clean poop? This is a common question that some pre-nursing students (or those interested in becoming a nurse) sometimes ask me.
The answer is…YES! Cleaning poop (stool) is definitely a part of a nurse’s job. It’s not the most glamorous part of the job, but it is a very important part of providing patient care.
It’s basically the same as suctioning sputum, drawing blood, encountering vomit, and more. As a nurse, our job is to take care of our patients, and bodily fluids definitely come with the territory.
How Often Do Nurses Clean Stool (Poop)?
So, how often does a nurse have to clean stool on his or her shift? That really depends on a lot of factors.
First, it can depend on the nurse’s specialty. There are some specialties (or areas of nursing) where stool encounters will be less common. A person who works as a nurse manager, for example, deals more with the business side of nursing. Their encounters with stool will be relatively infrequent (or almost never), depending on where they work.
In contrast, a nurse who is working on the floor of a hospital, who has a load of patients, may have to deal with stool during nearly every shift (or even multiple times per shift).
How often you clean stool can also depend on the health status of your patients during each shift. For example, if you work on a hospital floor and have a patient with an ileostomy, which puts out stool frequently, you’ll have to assist the patient with ostomy bag changes and cleaning the stoma.
Or, if you’re prepping a patient for an in-patient colonoscopy, your patient will be given a solution to help cleanse the colon, so you’ll be dealing with stool in that situation.
In addition, if you’re caring for a patient with a GI infection such as C. diff, the patient will likely have issues with incontinence and diarrhea.
If you work as a labor and delivery nurse, you may encounter stool if a woman has a bowel movement during labor, or while you are assisting with changing the newborn’s diaper.
So, the amount of stool you’ll encounter as a nurse depends a lot on your specialty and the health status of your patients. When you start your clinical rotations in nursing school, you’ll get a good idea of how often you’ll have to encounter stool in the various areas of nursing.
Cleaning Stool is a Team Effort in Nursing
An important thing to remember is that cleaning stool is really a team effort. A lot of people have the idea that cleaning stool is the nursing assistant’s job (or CNA), but it’s not.
Many times, you’ll have a patient who is immobile or incontinent, and you’re going to need help turning the patient to clean them. You may also need help with giving a bed bath or changing linens. It’s definitely a team effort.
If you leave a patient sitting in stool for long periods, it’s not only going to be extremely uncomfortable for that patient, but they will also be at risk for skin breakdown (which can lead to pressure injuries) or infections (such as a UTI).
Therefore, to provide the best patient care you can, you’ll have to work with other team members to clean the patient as quickly as possible.
What if Nurses Struggle with the Sight or Smell of Stool?
Almost every nurse has that one “thing” they struggle with as a new nurse. For me, it was vomit. I didn’t want to see it, smell it, or clean it up. Fortunately, I learned to get over my struggles with vomit over time.
As a nurse, you’ll likely become desensitized to the sight and smell of various bodily fluids over time. If you’re worried about having a sensitive gag reflex, I do have an article and video on how to deal with bad smells as a nurse, in which I discuss strategies (such as rubs under the nose) to reduce the smells you might encounter, if this is an issue for you.
MYTH: Nursing is All about Cleaning Stool
One common myth about nursing is that nurses spend their entire shift cleaning stool. I once had a friend who told me a story about what someone said to her when she told them that she was going to nursing school. The person replied, “Oh, so you’re going to be a professional butt wiper?”
That simply isn’t true. Sure, nurses may have days where they clean stool often (I’ve had those days), and some specialties will require it more than others, but nurses do so much more than just clean stool.
Nurses are professionals who perform a wide variety of complex nursing skills, and we work alongside many healthcare professionals to save lives, provide excellent patient care, and help people.
Cleaning stool is such a tiny part of what the nursing profession is about, but it is an important part of providing great patient care. And I’ve never been ashamed or embarrassed to clean a patient who had a bowel movement, and I never will be, because I know that I wouldn’t want to sit in stool, either.
Conclusion on Nursing and Stool
Yes, nursing assistants can be extremely helpful in cleaning patients or assisting with cleaning patients, but cleaning stool is also a nurse’s job, especially if you work directly with patients. How often you’ll clean stool (if ever) will greatly depend on the specialty in which you work, the way your floor is structured (patient load, etc.), as well as the health status of your patients on any given shift.
Cleaning stool may not be the most glamorous part of a nurse’s job, but it is something we must do for the health and comfort of our patients.
So that’s the scoop on poop in nursing!