Kelley Johnson looked like any other nurse as she stepped onto the stage of the Miss America pageant. Wearing a dark blue set of scrubs, a stethoscope draped around her neck, and her beautiful hair pulled back away from her face, she looked like any other nurse you may meet in your facility.

It took a great deal of courage to do a monologue for her talent portion. After all, how do you illustrate the talents that it takes to be a nurse? Kelley took a deep breath, steadied herself, and launched into a touching story about an Alzheimer’s patient who moved her. Nurses knew what she meant to convey with that story. All of them have had similar experiences.

What was not expected was the backlash that started a movement with Kelley at the center.

Kelley was born in Fort Collins, CO in 1993. Even as a young child, she knew she wanted to go into a helping profession. “I always wanted to take care of people when I was little, but was unsure in what capacity I would practice as an adult.”

Like most potential nurses, Kelley did her homework and found nursing was her calling. “I loved shadowing nurses and doctors in junior high school. After science and anatomy courses in high school I completed my CNA course. I knew that nursing was for me as I headed into college.”

College proved an exciting and rewarding experience for Kelley. She attended Colorado Mesa University from 2010 to 2012, graduating with a BSN as the valedictorian of her class. Despite her stunning good looks, Kelley has found that she was never discriminated against because of her 6’1” frame, her long blonde hair, or her participation in pageants.

“No, I have not [been treated differently because of my looks]. I have never felt like my patients or their families didn’t take me seriously, either.”

As a student and a new grad, Kelley probably never thought that she would be the center of controversy, a rallying point for nurses, or a potential ambassador of the profession. She states, “I did not anticipate this incredible reaction. I am thankful that the amazing and experienced nurses of America are receiving a newfound recognition that they deserve.” The recognition they are now receiving is a result of her courage in expressing her talent, and the backlash from a popular talk television show.

By now, everyone knows that the commentators on The View poked fun at Kelley’s heartfelt presentation. Although they were criticizing pageants in general, they referred to Kelley’s scrubs as a “nurse costume” and the stethoscope around her neck as a “doctor’s stethoscope.” The reaction of nurses around the country was immediate and outraged. The comments made by these talking heads degraded the contributions nurses have to the medical system and showed a marked lack of understanding about the profession as a whole.

Kelley never realized she would be in the center of such an intense media storm. Perhaps it is the deplorable depiction of nurses in the media. Kelley feels differently, though. “There are both positive and negative portrayals of nurses in the media. I don’t believe that media had an effect on the backlash from the View. I believe, as they said themselves, it was a lack of understanding.”

Unfortunately, this lack of understanding about nurses is far too common. The public simply does not know what nurses do, and the comments by the ladies on The View only exemplified the relative knowledge of most of the public. Although The View tried desperately to backpedal on what was said, even going so far as having a nurses’ day on the show, the apologies rang hollow to most nurses. Kelley, however, kept a positive outlook and would rather focus on the issues in nursing than the media storm.

Nursing has many issues, and like most who work in the trenches, Kelley has opinions on how to deal with the major problems. For instance, short staffing is a problem everywhere. She offers this advice, “I think it’s important to continue to have recruiting efforts through nursing schools and student associations.” Recruiting is definitely needed to help with the profession’s major problem of short staffing. Engaging potential nurses through schools, such as high school and college, could help make an impact on this issue.

Another problem in nursing is the crushing loans that are required to pursue a degree. Kelley has come under some fire because the Miss America pageant will pay her student loans, but she agrees it is a problem. Her solution is both practical and simple. “I believe in nursing incentive programs provided by hospitals for continued education. I also believe that student loans are an issue for most professions, not just nursing. We need legislation to decrease costs across the board for students and make loans more affordable and accessible.” Loans are a countrywide problem, but nursing is hard hit. Incentive programs seem like the best solution, but loans are a problem that needs to be addressed in nursing immediately.

Despite the backlash of The View and the problems nursing has, Kelley remains dedicated to pursing her career in nursing, including going on to get her MSN. “[I want to pursue] nurse anesthesia. I love math and pharmacology, and I want to increase my scope of practice in those fields within nursing specifically.” For someone with so many strengths, she is sure to excel in this program as she has in so many other aspects of her life.

While being a contestant on Miss America would be stressful for most people, all nurses know that the most stressful part of being a nurse is handling a code. Kelley sums up her feelings this way: “Being in a code is definitely more stressful. Being in the Miss America competition was exciting and rewarding, but it was not stressful for me.” Most nurses would likely agree.


Photo Credit: Disney | ABC Television Group. Some rights reserved.

Lynda Lampert

Lynda Lampert, RN, has worked medical-surgical, telemetry, and intensive care units in her career. She has been freelancing for five years and lives in western Pennsylvania with her family and pets.
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