I have had difficulty expressing my feelings regarding all of the events that transpired beginning with Joy Behar and Michelle Collins’ first comments on The View. I was outraged when I heard the initial insults, but even more irate when I heard the so-called, half hazard apology from all of the women on The View. Additionally, I became more upset when I saw friends of mine update their Facebook statuses indicating they were tired of people posting pictures of themselves with their stethoscopes. However, responding to this is very challenging, because it really is about more than a stethoscope.

Nursing and the glass ceiling

This issue is exceedingly complicated and begins with nursing being a female dominated profession. Previously, physicians were primarily male, portraying a dynamic that females (the nurses) were catering to males (the physicians). Couple this cultural formality with a typical “nurse personality” and breaking the glass ceiling becomes particularly difficult. Although some progress has been made, we are now living in a society where male nurses are paid more than female nurses, in a profession started and dominated by females.

To elaborate on the “nurse personality…” There is just something about nurses. We can take an unbelievable amount of maltreatment in and out of the workplace. By this point, everyone has heard the story; nurses work incredibly hard (emotionally and physically), get paid too little and will do ANYTHING for another person at the expense of their own holistic well being. Nurses never say “no” when hospitals constantly take from them, require more of them and give them nothing in return. Many nurses lack a “backbone” in most life matters except when they must advocate for their incapable patients. It takes an act of god for nurses to engage in conflict, and although they may come across as ratched at times, they are deeply sensitive, natural born, lovers of humanity. Nurses take on too much, multi-task like a smartphone, have the patience, tolerance and understanding of Buddha and chastise themselves when they burnout or need time off. Within reason, these are all crucial “abnormalities” of a good nurse, but they leave nurses vulnerable to the effects of a thick glass ceiling. Hospitals notoriously cut nurses’ benefits because they can, plain and simple.

As stated above, most nurses avoid conflict at all costs. If they have never worked in different institutions or on another type of unit, they may think what they are experiencing is “normal” and they should not complain. Also, if they did collectively cause an uproar and demand a better work environment, it is not worth the risk of loosing their job, income and reputation. Unfortunately, necessitating respect for their strengths and talents becomes a gamble most nurses cannot afford. Yet, the ability to know a patient holistically, to empathize, relentlessly multitask and advocate coupled with intelligence and a high skill-level are all “nurse” characteristics that deserve respect. But are these only “nurse” characteristics or characteristics of women in general?

Just comparing the two sexes, there are fewer males that can and want to successfully perform all of the necessary duties of a nurse. Nurses sign up to put themselves second; second to the patient, second to the doctor and second to administration. It is a daily fight to be accepted as an equal in many settings. I respect and value the talents of my male counterparts, but there are few males who are comfortable being second. Additionally, the nurses, female or male, who are not comfortable being second and spend their days demanding respect are at risk of exhaustion and detrimental social labels from other nurses. So, it becomes easier to just accept what is.

Medicine has evolved into a world more complicated than ever. Patients are becoming more technically and socially complex and it is impossible to provide the best patient care without giving equal respect to all healthcare professionals. Nurses and doctors must be healthy and satisfied themselves to optimally care for their patients. If all members of the healthcare team do not initiate a change, there will continue to be a mass exodus of bedside nurses. Meaning, the best “pilots” of patient care will be off furthering their education, being stay at home mother’s or finding a new career all because our culture and corporations do not support them. For a person who does not work in the medical profession, it is difficult to imagine the implications of this, but they are guaranteed catastrophic.

Hospitals are a fairyland

Most people see hospitals as a fairyland with knights in shining white coats ready to heal any illness that may ail them. They believe the complex adaptive systems of a hospital are accurately represented in television dramas like Grey’s Anatomy. There are basically no nurses in Grey’s Anatomy (unless they are having sex with a doctor, of course), no other healthcare team members and the doctors are ridiculously misrepresented. It is not until one is forced to intertwine within the system that they realize the impact of a nurse, even then, some still do not comprehend.

With these issues and each hospital and unit being so specialized this further complicates the ability for nurses to break the glass ceiling. How do nurses advocate for themselves when most people are unable to grasp what they actually do, nor understand the reality of the healthcare system?

It is utterly important for patients to publicly share their positive experiences with nurses. Public support and campaigns can help increase awareness and reality of the healthcare system (SIDE NOTE: Thank you to Johnson & Johnson and Egglands Best for pulling their sponsorships of The View, and thank you to Elisabeth Hasselbeck for publicly proclaiming the power of the nurse. Your words were worth more than you know). Also, due to the fact that this is largely a feminism issue, more powerful women need to advocate from nurses, including female doctors, business women, women in Hollywood and broadcasting or any woman who breaks the mold. This issue should not slip through the cracks.

Mean Girls

It is also crucial for nurses to support other nurses. Women can be so mean and condescending to each other with these traits mostly arising from insecurity and jealousy. Notoriously, nurses used to “eat their young” and while slowly this is changing, it still exists. Chief Nursing Officers need to make a further effort to understand the “abnormalities” of each individual nurse tribe, and nurse managers need to manage each nurse as an attribute to their unit despite their experience level and life situations. Everyone is important to the success of a unit, hospital system, and patient outcome.

Suppressed cohorts constantly try to prove to themselves and others that they are equal to their male counterparts. Unfortunately, this makes them susceptible to being called a “bitch” or “emotional,” as if having a deep passion for equality is dishonorable. Women MUST work together and empower each other to reaffirm the importance of their purpose. Everyone needs to just stop with the “Mean Girls” bullshit; it does nothing for the cause.

Thank you, Kelley

Thank you to Kelley Johnson for having the courage to stand in front of millions of people and proclaim your purpose as a nurse. This does not happen enough. For those who do not understand, Kelley Johnson’s talent was not a typical display of superficiality; her talent was conveying a monologue about doing something others could not do, saving lives and touching people in their most vulnerable moments, just being a nurse.

Prior to the incident on The View, nurses everywhere were posting Ms. Johnson’s video on social media and feeling proud of the public announcement of the importance of their profession. The women of the View annihilated this rare moment for nurses then continued to further the insult after being incapable of self-reflecting and empathizing. The old “blame the nurse” phenomenon was classic and frankly, I expected it.

There are certain people who get an opt-out from any public ridicule; children, Mother Teresa and nurses. Despite their proclamation of feminism, Michelle Collins, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg and Raven Symone not only insulted nurses and the healthcare community, they directly defamed women. In particular, the “doctors stethoscope” comment, minimized a female dominated, honorable profession by indirectly insinuating a doctors higher level of importance in healthcare. Those simple words put the doctor before the nurse, males above females and deeply struck a nerve of every nurse because nurses have heard it too many times before. Magnifying the situation was the broadcast on national television from four other women.

Women ridiculing other women should be a “never” event. The words are only the tip of the iceberg regarding the damage they will cause and it requires no wit or intelligence to slander other women. It is a deflection of ones insecurities on to another.

And Finally…

To all nurses, Kelley Johnson repetitively said she was “just a nurse.” I hear this phrase far too much and it minimizes the importance of the career which I and many consider a passion and calling. Instead of hash tagging #justanurse, I urge nurses to use the hash tag, #NotJustANurse.

This event is an opportunity for nurses everywhere to publicize the need for equality, better wages, paid maternity leave, mandatory breaks and lower nurse to patient ratios. To capitalize on this opportunity, nurses must realize they are not JUST nurses. Nurses must be confident that their talents are unique and powerful. And if this still is not enough for nurses to fight for themselves, then use this as another opportunity to fight for patients. The healthier and happier nurses are, the better patient outcomes will be.

Finally, I hope powerful women will truly process this incident. I urge all of the nurses who read this to share it ceaselessly. Say whatever you want; tell me where I am wrong, tell me where I am right and add your experiences in the comments section. I want to hear from everyone. To make a real change, this will require help from all sides, men and women, nurses, doctors, communities, patients, journalists etc. We have to get each other.

P.S. Commentary from all of my favorite women (#OprahWinfrey, #GloriaSteinam, #SherylSandburg, #TaylorSwift, #FranLebowitz, #LauraGasparisVonfrolio, #MerylStreep, #AngelinaJolie, #ElisabethHasselbeck) and everyone who stands for something would be pivotal for this issue.