09/29/2015 03:59 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

In Defense of Nursing

My colleagues and I in the third year class at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences recently took our board exams and made the transition from the classroom to the clinic. Now, nearly 100 percent of our time is focused on applying the knowledge we have amassed. Initially, we are expected to fumble. And we do. But if there is one thing I have learned thus far, it is this: For questions about what it takes to keep a sick, hospitalized patient alive, ask a nurse.

Recently, misconceptions about nurses' roles were illuminated when hosts of The View criticized a Miss America contestant for delivering a monologue about her career. Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson reflected on the passionate bond she formed with a patient suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The following day on The View, Miss Johnson's moving address was likened to "reading her emails on stage." Additionally, a comment was made about why the contestant was wearing a "doctor's stethoscope."

Such sentiments have no foundation in reality and no place in our national discourse. Nurses are well-trained professionals, not handmaidens. They do indeed use stethoscopes to assess heart and lung function, in addition to monitoring vital signs, administering medications, placing IVs, and assisting with procedures, among many other duties. Their vault of resourcefulness extends far beyond the skills they are often assumed to lack.

One reason that nursing is sometimes ostracized is because many view it as a watered-down form of medicine. The two fields, although complementary, are distinct. Unlike a physician who assesses patients periodically throughout the day, nurses continuously analyze the patient's functional status. This endows them with a keen intuition of the patient's clinical course. A nurse's awareness for when something is wrong usually precedes the abnormal test result that I nervously await. While physicians orchestrate what medicines go in, nurses are first-line interpreters of the human response.

To become registered, nursing students are schooled in evidence-based clinical practice, pharmacology, therapeutics, microbiology, health promotion and disease prevention. Countless hours are also spent learning in the hospital setting. Competence must be demonstrated throughout, in addition to meeting the requirement of passing a national licensing exam. They then assume their position on the front lines of health care, harnessing science to combat disease while building powerful relationships with patients and their families.

The field of nursing has an attribute that many others lack. Even on the worst of days, nurses will never leave the workplace wondering if they just did something meaningful. My hope is that that the public outcry to the incident on The View revives a deeper respect for nursing. It is firmly warranted. To any nurses reading this, on behalf of the medical student community, I extend my gratitude and consider it a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the service of our patients.