Joy Behar of the TV show The View recently generated controversy when she mocked Kelly Johnson, a nurse who was Colorado’s entrant in the 2015 Miss America pageant, for giving a monologue about working with an Alzheimer’s patient. Suellen Breakey, PhD, RN, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing and the interim director of the Master of Science in Nursing generalist program, addressed Behar’s comments to the MGH Institute’s 93 first-year nurse practitioner students during the School’s annual White Coat ceremony on September 18. Her commentary is below.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another tool of the trade that has garnered a lot of attention this week – the stethoscope. For those of you who may have missed it –we know you have had a busy week during your first week of classes – the women on The View sparked great controversy with their insensitive comments regarding a Miss America Pageant contestant’s monologue about her experience of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. She is a nurse. In particular, Joy Behar’s labeling of the “doctor’s stethoscope” struck a nerve with nurses everywhere.
I have been a nurse for 25 years. When I saw the clip of the show, I was angry.
Then, something wonderful happened: Ignorance gave rise to opportunity. Nurses as well as the family, friends, and interprofessional colleagues of nurses united and took to social media to set the record straight. Stories abound on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and individual blogs: stories of individual nurses who are proud of the profession and of what they do; stories of patients and family members whose lives have been touched by the knowledge, skill, and compassion of a nurse. Out of ignorance came the opportunity for nurses – the most trusted profession year after year –to highlight in their own words the important role we have in advancing healthcare for patients, families, and communities for whom we care.
And so, the stethoscope. Oddly enough, while we use them a lot, we don’t spend much time thinking about them.
My stethoscope was a gift from my nurse colleagues when I left my first full time position as a nurse. It is 20 years old. If my stethoscope could talk, it would tell you the story of the countless lives it has literally touched – patients, patients’ family members, members of my family, friends, neighbors – in ICU settings, home care, hospice, outpatient clinics, even other parts of the world. It has witnessed sorrow, joy, hope.
It is not a doctor’s stethoscope. It is not a nurse’s stethoscope. It is simply my stethoscope and we have created a history together. My advice to you: Whether you have the Cadillac version or the economy version, treat your stethoscope with care.
While the white coat signifies compassion and empathy – characteristics that are foundational for quality nursing care –your stethoscope will be the vehicle through which you will unlock the mysteries and the inner workings of the heart, the lungs and much, much more. It will be your trusted companion, and guide you in assessing, diagnosing and evaluating the care with which you will be entrusted.
Remember the discipline of nursing is not only a trusted and respected profession – a point that has been underscored this week – but it is also an earned privilege. Best of luck to you all as you begin this journey.