The Decline in Trust: Why Nurses Remain the Most Trusted Profession

In Gallup’s 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll, nurses emerged as the most trusted profession in the United States. However, it is disheartening to note that the level of trust in nurses has also seen a decline in recent years. Out of the 23 professions surveyed, 78% of adults rated nurses as having “very high or high” honesty and ethical standards. On the other hand, medical doctors dropped to the fifth spot, with only 56% of respondents expressing faith in their integrity.

This decline in trust extends beyond just the medical profession, affecting nearly all other occupations. It is concerning to see that the percentage of trust in doctors has fallen by 6 points compared to the previous year, and the trust in nurses has experienced an even steeper decline of 7 points since 2019 and 11 points from its peak in 2020.

Nurses play a crucial role in healthcare, spending more time with patients than any other healthcare provider. Patients often place their trust in the person who is at their side throughout their medical journey. Rayna Letourneau, PhD, RN, executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing, emphasizes the importance of this trust in nursing and its impact on patient care.

While nursing still holds the title of the most ethical profession, it is alarming to see that last year’s rating was at its lowest since 2004. This decline can be attributed, in part, to recent events such as allegations of fraudulent nursing programs. Earlier in 2023, federal investigators uncovered a network involved in selling fraudulent nursing diplomas and transcripts. Such dishonest practices erode the trust that patients place in the nursing profession.

The Importance of Addressing Unethical Behavior

To maintain the integrity and trust of the nursing profession, it is crucial to address unethical behavior within the field. Letourneau emphasizes the need to implement strategies that prevent the continuation of unethical practices. Additionally, promoting nursing excellence programs and improving the positive image of nursing can help restore and strengthen trust.

Comparing Trust in Professions

The Gallup poll reveals that nurses were followed closely in the trust rankings by veterinarians and engineers, who placed second and third, respectively. Dentists and pharmacists rounded out the top six. Interestingly, advertising practitioners, car salespeople, and senators all ranked in the single digits for trustworthiness, with members of Congress at the bottom with a mere 6% trust rating.

On a broader note, trust in almost every surveyed profession has shown a decline since 2019, with the exception of labor union leaders. This decline is particularly noteworthy in the case of pharmacists, who, despite their sixth-place ranking, have reached “new lows” in terms of trust in 2023.

The survey highlights the impact of education level on trust ratings. Respondents with a college degree were more likely to view nurses and doctors as having “very high or high” honesty and ethical standards compared to those without a college education. This finding suggests that higher education may shape perceptions of professional integrity.

Moreover, the survey also exposes partisan differences in how nurses and doctors are viewed. Democratic respondents were more inclined to consider nurses and doctors as having high levels of honesty and ethics. In contrast, Republican respondents expressed lower levels of trust in these professions. The authors of the Gallup poll attribute these party differences, in part, to the presence of a Democratic president during the survey period.

The erosion of trust in various professions, including nursing, raises concerns about the state of ethics and integrity in society. While nurses continue to hold the distinction of being the most trusted profession, the decline in trust highlights the need to address ethical issues within the field and promote a positive image of nursing. As the backbone of healthcare delivery, nurses must work together to restore trust and maintain the highest standards of honesty and ethics.


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