Earlier this week, while my mind and time were occupied by various matters of religious and personal interest, the second-runner up for Miss America, Kelley Johnson of Colorado went against expectations and made her talent presentation a sentimental and heartfelt defense of her legitimacy as a nurse. To be sure, it is a bit unusual given the general objectification of beauty pageant contestants to think of these ambitious and beautiful young women in light of their professional lives, but my instincts would generally be to celebrate that which shows the humanity and decency of people in general, no matter how unusual it may be. Apparently, though, a couple of the co-hosts of the Daytime television talk show “The View” decided that the unusual presentation was sufficient to make fun of, wondering if she had the right to use a stethoscope and poking fun at her monologue. The result was that I first heard of the outrage  from the large and vocal disapproval of a substantial number of my own friends and acquaintances (overwhelmingly female) who happen to be nurses, and whose response was immensely hostile to the ridicule of their chosen profession.
As someone with a strong dislike for chaos and disorder, I found the venomous and hostile response of my friends and acquaintances to be somewhat troublesome. After all, I do not consider the co-hosts of “The View,” or any other entertainment figure, to possess the requisite authority to determine the legitimacy of any profession. To see so many nurses erupt in such fury over the moronic brain dribbles of a daytime talk show signifies, to me, much deeper problems than meet the surface. At least initially, my first thought to seeing the outrage was to question whether nurses are really so insecure and in such a state of dishonor and a lack of appreciation that a single inaccurate and hateful characterization would be enough to warrant such an extreme and hostile response. Make no mistake, what those co-hosts said was totally inaccurate, and Miss Johnson (and every other nurse) has every right to feel that caring for sick and dying people is a talent and one that is worthy of a good living and the honor and respect of others. Heaven forbid that I would wish to deny honor and respect to others, seeing that I am particularly prickly about receiving such honor and respect that I am due. However, I have also studied and worked in professions that have attracted a great deal of scorn. To give but one example, I have often had to endure such jokes as the following: “Q: What do engineers use for birth control? A: Their personalities.” However funny such insults may be to others, I do not find being insulted to be acceptable, and I take a great deal of effort not to gratuitously insult others, given my own distaste for ridicule. Yet one never saw engineers erupt in united and massive fury at the slanders and libels of those whose jealousy of our intellectual abilities in science and mathematics led them to mock our worthiness of intimacy and love, as personal a subject as that may be to some of us.
What is a mystery here is not that nurses do not appreciate being mocked or insulted, because nobody does, but what made them unite in such a furor? What is it that makes nurses feel so insecure about their honor and regard as a profession? In my mind, and probably not only mind, nurses are largely responsible for what friendly bedside manner exists within our dysfunctional health care system. The growing pressures of time and paperwork on doctors and other office professionals has meant that a lot of the initial intake and triage and collection of vital health data, as well as much of the interaction between the patient and a doctor’s office, comes through various nurses of various types. This is true in hospitals and laboratories as well with various technicians, who I consider to be nurses for the purposes of establishing the broad boundaries of the profession as a whole. These people are the perhaps unsung heroes of the medical profession, with long hours and work that is often physically and emotionally taxing. That people who are willing to work long shifts dealing with people in difficult circumstances in professional circumstances that can be immensely stressful are worthy of respect and honor I take it to be self-evident and glaringly obvious, and this is coming from someone who does whatever I can not to be involved in the health care system at all.
Clearly, though, even if my own sentiments and my own respect for nurses and professional people in general is high, perhaps this regard and respect has not been communicated to nurses. Perhaps the difficult working conditions of nursing in our society and in our present health care system has so eroded the goodwill of nurses that any public slight feels like the last straw that cannot be tolerated. Given the pivotally important aspect of nurses and their actions for the well-being of many people in doctor’s offices, labs, and hospitals, the thought that the thoughtful and professional manner that such people display in the face of difficult and unpleasant situations that occur fairly naturally when people are sick or injured or dying or being born is hanging by a slender thread, subject to immense outrage at the slightest provocation is worrisome. The fact that the thoughtless insults of obviously clueless entertainment figures erupted into such large and seemingly spontaneous hostility and outrage suggests that the goodwill of nurses has fallen to critical levels. Perhaps the larger question is the following: what would be necessary for nurses to feel honored and respected by society at large? It is clear that we have a problem; it is less clear what we are expected to do about it.
 In general, I am not a fan of our contemporary abuse of outrage, but I am going to make an exception here. See also: