In Ontario, secondary school students are required to do a set number of hours in community service as a prerequisite for graduation, and the Emergency Department at Acme Regional is naturally a sought-after assignment. The excitement! The drama! The glamour! Et cetera! However, students expecting the pace and intrigue of Grey’s Anatomy or House are pretty quickly brought to ground with the reality of the never-ending flow of nursing home patients presenting with the chief complaint of Very Old (with variations), unhandsome physicians with the appeal and charm of Voldemort, and unsexy middle-aged nurses griping about back pain. And then there’s me, the charge nurse, who sees these students as an opportunity to sort out that back supply closet which has been in shambles since 1975.
For these 17-and-18-year-0lds, it’s a reality check.
I was therefore interested in watching the reaction of a particular student to a nearly continuous series of traumas and codes that presented the other day. If you’re an emergency nurse, you know the scene, the chaotic ballet of nurses and physicians organizing care and treatment, the chatter back and forth, people running in an out, and so forth. At the end of it, I asked the student her impressions.
“It’s not like Grey’s Anatomy,” she said, in her very serious, 17-year-old way.
No, I agreed. It is nothing like television. Not even in the teeniest way.
She went on. “I was really surprised by how much the nurses do.”
I brightened a bit. “Are you thinking about pursuing nursing as a profession?”
“Oh no,” she said. ” I really want to be a paediatrician.”
Sadly, I wasn’t all that surprised. I’ve had this conversation many times before, and I have yet to meet a high school student who excitedly, definitely wanted to be a nurse. Not one. For me, it’s interesting that even after years of positive advertising — think of Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future, among many — the dominant societal meme about nurses and nursing is still one of passive and subordinate actors in providing health care, and that nursing is an inferior choice compared to medicine or even any of the other allied health professions. Which makes me think: why does the nursing profession remain so poor in articulating its own public image?