By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN interim editor-in-chief
While I was attending the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing 40th biennial convention at the Indianapolis Convention Center last weekend, it was obvious that there was another event going on in the complex. In contrast to the nurses (and we’re talking the experienced practitioners, educators, and researchers who, for the most part, are in the AARP-eligible segment), there were numbers of mothers and their teen and preteen daughters, most of whom were in make-up they’d never be allowed to wear to school. (Think heavy, blue eye-liner and sparkles.) No problem figuring out who was attending which conference.
I asked one woman walking with young girls in glitzy outfits what brought them to the convention center. She told me it was a cheerleading competition and then asked what I was there for. I told her it was a nursing conference. As she hurried off, she said, “Well, you’re like cheerleaders, but for sick people.”
At first I laughed, but then I wanted to grab her and straighten her out. Nurses are just like cheerleaders? Here I was, attending a meeting of nursing’s honor society, some of the best and brightest in nursing presenting the work they do to advance knowledge and practice to improve health care, and this woman likens nurses to the perky young things in skimpy costumes who excel at smiling, dancing, and yelling.
Full disclosure: I played sports growing up and could not have cared less whether cheerleaders were there or not. (Maybe male athletes feel differently and their testosterone levels increase when they see women urging them on to do better?) In my experience, cheerleaders were the ones who shied away from really participating in sports. I saw them as tangential and not really contributing to the outcome of the event. When the players were ready to take their places on the court, the cheerleaders quickly scurried off and sat over in the corner until the court was empty again.
I hope that woman’s view of cheerleaders is different from mine. Maybe she sees cheerleading as a critical support to players, making a difference in whether a player has a good day or bad day, whether the game is won or lost. That’s how I see nurses. But sometimes I’m reminded that, contrary to those old (and sexist) Virginia Slims cigarette commercials, nursing “hasn’t come a long way—baby.”
*Nursing’s image has been a subject of many recent blog posts, especially with the advent of recent TV shows with nurses as central characters. Here are some that might be of interest: