By Bridget Seelinger | Student Columnist
Last week during the talent portion of the Miss America pageant, Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson’s talent was a monologue.
But it wasn’t just an ordinary monologue: It was a tribute to the profession of nursing.
Johnson is a nurse who works with Alzheimer’s patients. On Tuesday, she recounted a significant experience she had with a patient named, Joe. Joe told her that she wasn’t “just a nurse” and that he valued the care she gave him, which in nursing, means a lot.
The following morning on “The View,” an ABC morning show, the hosts mocked Johnson, saying that her monologue was “funny,” and they remarked on how strange it was that she was wearing “a doctor’s stethoscope.” In short, they were saying that Johnson, was “just a nurse.”
For those of you outside of the nursing profession, this expression “just a nurse” is one that is constantly being tossed around in healthcare settings. Historically, nurses were subservient to doctors, but that isn’t the case anymore. Over the last 50 years or so, nursing has taken on a life of its own as a profession that is independent.
Why did this happen? For starters, nursing is very different from medicine, or the type of medicine that doctors practice. Nursing involves catching medical problems before they develop into life threatening emergencies while coordinating the care of the patient. This can be everything from calling a department in the hospital because there are no bedsheets in the linen closet to checking with a physician about medication that could potentially harm a patient.
The problem is that people who do not suffer from chronic illnesses and are in and out of hospitals often – most of America – don’t see this. They see nurses coming into the rooms and giving pills, or they see nurses helping a patient to the bathroom and cleaning up a food tray that got flipped over.
They don’t see the nurse calling the physician to get an incorrectly prescribed dosage switched. They don’t see the nurse consulting with physical therapy to help a patient walk again. They don’t see that the food tray got flipped over because a patient threw it at the nurse.
Patients don’t realize nearly half of the stuff that nurses are doing because if they did, they would be focusing on the nurse rather than getting better. Nurses make sure that patients don’t see all of this, so that the healthcare team works effectively and patients come to hospitals when they are sick. The goal here isn’t about being the superstar of the unit. The goal is to help the patient get better.
Nursing is about being selfless. Why else would someone sign up for a job that doesn’t include something as simple as a bathroom break or a job that risks direct exposure to a disease such as Ebola? This is a profession that isn’t about being the star of the show. This is a profession that is filling in the gaps and making the medical field work.
There really is no such thing as “just a nurse” because nurses are at the center of everything concerning a patient. That’s not even counting all of the emotional support that nurses provide. It’s impossible to be as involved as nurses are with patients and not get to know them. But oftentimes, that emotional support is all that people see. Namely, people like the hosts of “The View.”
People’s perceptions of nurses are caught in between the sexy nurse costume on Halloween or MTV’s “Scrubbing In” and the doctor’s helper displayed on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER.” I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked why I’m in nursing and not pre-med. There is just an overall lack of understanding about what it is that nurses do, and it’s the reason why the hosts of “The View” really didn’t apologize.
Sure, they said the words and put on a nice dog and pony show, but they don’t understand how hurtful they were. Why else would Johnson & Johnson, a company with a huge support for nursing, pull their advertisements from “The View” in addition to putting out a commercial that goes right in the face of the flippant remarks that the shows’ hosts made? Are they sorry that they are losing money? Yes. Are they sorry that they offended an entire profession? No, because they don’t understand how they were offensive. It boils down to ignorance which is mostly their fault, but not entirely.
Simply put, nurses need to be more active outside of the hospital. They need to be involved in Hollywood and on television and in politics. We need to represent our profession as what it truly is, not as what others make it out to be. We need to be proud of what we do, because we really do save lives. We should never say that we are “just nurses” because the difference that we make goes beyond the hospital bed. Our patients are people who depend upon us to speak up for them and depend on us to take care of them in some of the scariest times of their lives.
In short, yes nurses need to be more active, but there is no excuse for the degrading comments voiced on “The View.”
So, whether or not you are in the medical field, the next time you catch yourself saying the words “just a nurse” take a moment to consider this: When you say those words, it really does reveal that you don’t appreciate the nurse in front of you, like the hosts of “The View,” whether you want to admit it or not.