“Why does she have a doctor’s stethoscope on?”—Joy Behar


In 2015 during the Miss America pageant, Miss Colorado took the stage for her talent portion with a monologue about her job as a nurse and touched the hearts of millions. The next day on a popular morning show, one of the well-known co-hosts shocked those same millions when she disrespectfully quipped, “Why does she have a doctor's stethoscope on?” Americans polarized to both sides of the argument; many supporters wholeheartedly backed Miss Colorado and others stood firm with Ms. Behar. This trending topic blatantly suggested one thing: people in the U.S. today don’t really know much about nurses.

Nurses can often be undervalued in our society due to the way nurses have been shown in media throughout history, being equated to someone who cleans bedpans and checks blood pressure. However, nurses have a much bigger role in modern medicine than many seem to give them credit for. The nurse is often with the patient more than the doctor, and in recent history they have begun to take on a bigger role in the clinical setting. There are many types of nurses- nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, NICU (newborn intensive care unit) nurse, registered nurse, and more-who do much more than just menial tasks in the hospital.


Shadowing nurses


·      Students will learn about the routine of a nurse and how it differs from media representation.

·      Students will observe and then analyze the behavior of the patients and physicians around the nurse.

·      Students will learn about the perceptions surrounding nursing in the media and throughout history.


A hospital or clinic in which nurses are employed.

Recommended Preparatory Reading:

Messer, Mary. “Is Nursing a Profession?” The American Journal of Nursing 15.2 (1914): 122-125. Print. 

Read the Introduction and Background section:

“Leading Initiatives.” American Association of Colleges of Nursing.American Association of Colleges of Nursing, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016

Brown, Theresa. “Miss Colorado Started a Needed Conversation About Nurses.” TIME. Time Inc., 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.


This activity should take approximately 30 minutes of preparatory reading. For the activity, the student should shadow for at least 90 minutes. Post-shadowing, about 30 minutes of reflection should be done. Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

Appropriate For:   It is appropriate for college or high school students planning on a career in health professions, students in health related professional schools, or individuals interested in pursuing a career in a health professions field.

Activity Description:

First, read the recommended preparatory reading. These readings give insight into the perception surrounding nurses in the media, as well as how nurses have been seen throughout history. When reading, think about how the opinions have or have not changed over time. Gather your thoughts about these articles and be sure to include them in your reflection at the end.

Second, contact a local hospital or clinic and ask about shadowing opportunities with nurses specifically, then set up a time to shadow a nurse. While shadowing, students should take note of and observe the following:

·      The typical routine of a nurse

·      The interactions between nurses and physicians

·      The interactions between nurses and patients

Once you have completed shadowing, write a short, 1-page reflection on the experience. In your writing, make sure to answer the following questions:

·      What was your initial opinion on nurses?

·      After shadowing, do nurses do more work or less work than you initially thought?

·      If you’ve previously shadowed a physician, how does shadowing a nurse compare?

·      Has this experience impacted the way you look at nurses?

·      Has your overall opinion on nursing changed at all or is it the same, and why?

Be sure to not only just answer the questions, but to also reflect on the experience. Try and incorporate what you learned from the readings and background information into the reflection as well.

Author: RA Fulkerson and Catherine Graham