Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
By Theresa Brown
September 18, 2015
IDEAS
Theresa Brown is a clinical nurse and author of The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients' Lives.

For the talent portion of the Miss America contest this year, Kelley Johnson performed a monologue about her work as a nurse and her relationship with an Alzheimer’s patient. The next day, the hosts of The View criticized Miss Colorado’s performance. Host Joy Behar’s asked, “Why does she have a doctor’s stethoscope on?”

The backlash to these comment has started a needed conversation about the importance of nurses in the lives of their patients. Nurses have come together around the viral Twitter hashtag #NursesUnite to demand an apology, and The View hosts have since addressed their comments.

As a nurse, I was really bothered by Behar’s question. It revealed a level of ignorance about nursing and how health care works. Sometimes it seems that all people see when they think about hospitals are doctors. Medical TV shows reinforce that view because all the work shown seems to only be done by doctors—even when it’s work that nurses would normally do.

It’s wonderful to have the voices of so many nurses saying: We use stethoscopes all the time. We use them listen to sick kids. We use them to pronounce when someone has died. We use them to check your heart when it feels like it’s pumping out of your chest.

People often don’t understand how intricately involved nurses are in patient care. We’re there with the patients 24/7. We notice when they become unstable. We notice when they react to a medication. We notice when they’re really in pain. Patients tend to put on their most cheerful face for the doctor. But they tell us the truth.

That’s what I love about my job. We can be the liaison between the patient and getting them the help they need. Even on a bad day, I have moments when I feel that I have made someone’s life better. There are so many ways to contribute—technical skills, like giving a patient an injection in a way that doesn’t hurt, intellectual skills, like explaining how chemotherapy works, and emotional skills, like being there to comfort or celebrate.

I hope that the conversation started by Miss Colorado continues. Medical TV shows should create more nurse characters and show that the work isn’t just done by heroic M.D.s but by equally heroic nurses. And people should understand that issues such as nurses being overworked or hostile work environments in hospitals can make a difference to patients, too.

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