Retired Johns Hopkins School of Nursing dean looks to debunk popular portrayal



Nurses are not “mindless bimbos” — at least not for Martha N. Hill, today’s morning lecture speaker.

Hill, who serves as both the dean emerita and a professor for the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, will talk about common misperceptions about the profession with her lecture, “Have You Looked at Nursing Lately?” at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Hill said she was thrilled to be invited to speak at Chautauqua.

“This is a very prestigious invitation, and I was delighted that nursing was going to be included in the discussion on health care,” Hill said.

For Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, inviting Hill to speak on nursing was a given.

“You couldn’t possibly do a week on patient-centered health care without talking to nurses,” Babcock said.

Hill said she wants to ask people to reflect on their experiences with nurses, and to gain a greater grasp of what nurses do and what a difference they make. She also wants to debunk some of the negative notions that the media and pop culture may put into people’s heads about nurses, who are often “portrayed as bimbos — mindless bimbos.”

“It gives people the impression that nurses don’t know anything, that they are not critical thinkers, that they don’t make astute judgments of the patient’s status, and that they just don’t do anything,” she said.

For Hill, the exact opposite is true.

“In fact, they make referrals, they’re the ones who know when to call the doctor or not, and they’re the only ones that are at the bedside 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Hill said. “So they really may know more about what’s going on with a patient.”

Hill said that nurses are playing a vital role in the shift that is happening in modern health care.

“There really is a major shift going on now where — and it’s part of the increasing attention that some people are paying to humanism and patient care — but you will hear a lot of talk about patient-centered care, family-centered care and the team approach to care,” Hill said. “And nurses are very much a central and essential part of those teams.”

Hill said nurses are integral to the health care profession because they are involved across all ages and stages of life and across all settings. They also make up a huge part of the world’s health care providers.

“About 80 percent of the health workforce, worldwide, are nurses,” she said. “And there are many countries — particularly in developing countries or in rural areas — where nurses are the only health care professionals.”

People may go “quite some distance” to find pharmacists and physicians, Hill added, but nurses are usually much more readily available.

The nursing profession also allows for flexibility and transitions as a career.

“There was a time when I was an intensive care unit nurse, and I thought that was the most exciting thing,” Hill said. “Then I realized I was actually terrified of it. You had to carry a screwdriver to calibrate the machines, you couldn’t talk with most of the patients because they weren’t able to talk back.”

Hill said she eventually went on to focus on “cognitive and behavioral aspects of patient care.” Now she teaches others about nursing and the impact it has within the medical community.

It’s also what she wants Chautauquans to glean from her lecture.

“I hope that they’ll come away with a revitalized curiosity and admiration for nursing as a profession and for individual nurses,” Hill said.