The Essential Items Nurses Keep In Their Nursing Bags

nursing bags

If you want to read one of the very best essays ever written on handbags, (probably the only one ever written on the subject, you have to read Nora Ephron’s “I hate my purse”. When we wanted to write about what nurses keep in their bags, we immediately thought of the witty, ridiculously wry Ephron and her take on the topic.

“This is for the women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of their negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in someway match what you’re wearing.)

“Before you know it, your purse weighs 20 pounds and you’re in danger of getting bursitis and needing an operation just from carrying it around. Everything you own is in your purse. You could flee the Cossacks with your purse. But when you open it up, you can’t find a thing in it — your purse is just a big dark hole that you spend hours fishing around for. A flashlight would help, but if you were to put it into your purse, you’d never find it.”

That about sums it up. A Reddit forum filled quickly with what nurses keep in their bags – and the answers prove that Ms. Ephron was completely right in her observations.

The “Essentials”

Water bottle, badge, infant stethoscope (I have the disposable ones for our little heart kiddos), whatever book I’m reading, O’Keefe’s lotion, DayQuil, Benedryl, Immodium, and Pepto, folder of annual competency/audit stuff, phone charger, umbrella, and planner. Right now I’ve got a lot of hair ties/headbands, pens, old report sheets, Starbucks receipts, an old coffee mug, old chapstick…Its time to clean lol!


Three pens (always getting them stolen), seven gown cards, a sharpie, bandage scissors, and my tiny notebook with my seven million passwords!


Badge. A pen if I’m lucky. I’m a terrible nurse and never have scissors or hemostats. Oh I have a sharpie and a teeny flashlight on my badge. Stethoscope. That’s it. Edit. Chapstick. If I don’t have that I might had well just die.


Ultra light jacket.


Two pens.





Work keys (we have storage units in each pt room and in the hallways).


That’s it, really.


I’m a psych nurse so my bag might be a bit different: Pen (somehow I’ve kept the same one for two years – I guard it with my life) Tiny flashlight Badge ID and swipe cards Phone charger Tylenol Parking transponder thingy Ear plugs Headache essential oil roller (made by my mom with love – also a nurse) Old pay stubs Earbuds Tetley teabags Deck of cards Cribbage board A banana


  • A little baggie that contains toiletries (lip balm, hand cream, toothbrush and toothy tabs from lush, floss, Vaseline and a little Evian spray because I get so dry at work, gum and breath strips, deodorant spray, hairbrush)
  • Pens, highlighter, pencils, eraser
  • badge
  • book, notebook
  • iPad for movies on break on nights
  • stethoscope
  • wallet
  • water bottle and coffee thermos, little bag of loose tea
  • medical tape
  • random pieces of paper, granola bar wrappers, etc.
  • Tylenol, naproxen, flexeril

Edit: this is what I keep at the nursing desk, not at the bedside. Only thing I keep on my person are a few pens and a massive stack of alcohol swabs.


Two half eaten granola bars, stethoscope, badge, writing utensils, planner that I never use, packet about blood administration, and a coworker’s Christmas card that I forgot to hang up lol.


This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that nurses are always ready for the unexpected, always prepared to do their job without delay and without excuse. However, it also proves that no matter what, a purse is a purse. Regardless of the skill and determination of its owner, a purse will eventually succumb to its own nature and become a well of detritus. 

What do you carry in your bag?

Deborah Chiaravalloti is an award-winning writer and former hospital executive. Her insider experience helps healthcare clients launch medical procedures, products including artificial intelligence software and knowledge sharing platforms. Deborah writes websites, blogs, opinion pieces, and marketing strategy for elder care, health care consumerism, revenue cycle management (RCM), and the business of healthcare. Her printed pieces have been published and her radio shows syndicated nationally.

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