If there’s one thing I learned during medical school and residency, it was this – don’t piss off the nurses. Why? Because hell hath no fury like a nurse scorned.
Which has become abundantly clear this past week as nurses and some doctors all over the country have taken to social media in protest of a little television show we know as The View. In case you hadn’t heard, during the show’s “Hot Topics” section, two of the co-hosts commented on the recent Miss America pageant, in particular the talent competition. Michelle Collins (full disclosure, I think she’s hilarious, I follow her on Twitter, her tweets are hilarious, and I love her) and Joy Behar made some comments about nurses that didn’t sit too well. Behar’s question “why is she wearing a doctor’s stethoscope?” particularly touched a few nerves.
If you haven’t seen the clip, feel free to watch. In the interest of being completely honest, I do think some of the backlash is a little over the top given the ridiculousness of the statements. Collins was clearly pointing out that telling a story about a patient isn’t exactly the same as playing the violin or singing opera when it comes to talent. Behar’s question, on the other hand, is simply idiotic and ignorant. But then again, it’s The View, which isn’t exactly new to controversy which it arguably feeds off of. This is the same television show that had two of their hosts (Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Rosie O’Donnell) on split screen while having an argument during the show. Not exactly the highest journalistic integrity despite having Barbara Walters as a former co-host. If you were looking for hard-hitting journalism, you should probably be watching the BBC instead of The View. Similarly, if you want medical advice, talk to your health care provider instead of watching Dr Oz.
Despite apologies from both Collins and Behar (although Behar again flubs that by calling scrubs a “nurses costume”), nurses have been calling for a boycott of the show and several high profile sponsors have pulled their support. I don’t really think boycotting The View is going to accomplish much but if there’s any silver lining here, it’s that the controversy has highlighted the critical role that nursing plays in the health care field while shedding light on the fact that many people still look down on nurses as mere “pillow fluffers.” Mind you, nurses are consistently ranked as one of the most admired professions – higher than doctors.
Look, for those of you out there who think that all nurses do it get you coffee and tuck you in at night – you’re an idiot just like Joy Behar. Being a nurse in today’s health care system is one of the most challenging and demanding jobs out there. Think about your last hospital stay – who was with you at almost every part of your stay? The doctor? Probably not – as physicians, we spend on average about 15 minutes with our patients (I have zero data to support that but I’d argue it’s definitely not more than 30 minutes on average). More than likely it was your nurse.
From a surgeon’s point of view, a nurse likely greeted you in the pre-operative area or the emergency room before you were even seen by the doctor. If you had surgery, a nurse anesthetist likely put you to sleep while a circulating nurse got everything needed in the operating room and perhaps even a scrub nurse handed the necessary instruments to the surgeon. A recovery room or PACU nurse took care of you as you woke up. If you were admitted to the hospital, a nurse likely got you everything from the medications ordered by the doctor to the Splenda for your coffee. An IV nurse probably started your IV or placed your PICC line. A rapid response nurse was likely one of the first people to respond to your bedside during a medical emergency. A nurse called a doctor when something clearly wasn’t right with your clinical picture. The beginning and the end of your day in the hospital, like the beginning and the end of your life, likely involve a nurse.
From personal experience, I can tell you that I more often than not borrowed a stethoscope from a nurse during Code Blue situations and traumas. Yes, Joy Behar, nurses carry their own stethoscopes, and a ridiculously high number of doctors do not (I have not had one since my 4th year of medical school after having two stolen). The nurses in the ICU could likely run the unit without any supervision, and honestly could probably do a better job than the doctors. I have trusted some nurse anesthetists with patients more than some attending anesthesiologists. I learned how to float a Swan-Ganz catheter from one of the most experienced nurses in the ICU. I have trusted a nurse’s intuition over my own on a myriad of occasions, and they’ve been right.
But more importantly, I’ve learned that it is our nurses who are there for our patients and their family members when we as physicians couldn’t or wouldn’t be. It’s time to stop treating them as if they are “just a nurse” wearing a “doctor’s stethoscope.”