Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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Members of the general public--you can help us increase public understanding of nursing!

We can all learn more about nursing--what it is and is not. When you are in the health care system, or meet a nurse, try to learn what nurses really do. We can all look critically at what the media tells us about nursing. Does that news story or show treat nursing fairly? If not, is that acceptable in the midst of a nursing crisis? We can all consider the messages that we ourselves send, through things as basic as our clothes and our language. What each of us does matters particularly now, because with the Internet, virtually anyone can create media accessible to the rest of the world, all day, every day.
 

"What do you do all day, anyway?"

When you meet a nurse, try asking what was exciting or worthwhile about the care he or she provided to patients in recent days. Try to focus on what the nurse actually did for the patient: How did he improve the patient's outcome? Did she save (or lose) a life? The nurse will get a chance to practice explaining what nursing involves and perhaps gain reassurance that it matters. And you'll probably learn something new about nursing and health care generally.
 

"You could be a doctor!"

Let's say you are a patient or family member who is impressed by a nurse's competence. Or perhaps a nurse tells you a fascinating story and you are floored by his skilled, autonomous interventions. (Stay with us, this often happens when people really listen.) Try to resist the urge to tell him, 'You could be a doctor!" We know that people mean that as a compliment, but it suggests that any nurse who displays knowledge or skill is exceptional and ought to be a physician, since nurses do not need such qualities. In fact, knowledgeable, skilled nurses are not the exception but the rule. Nurses must have those qualities to detect and overcome subtle threats to patient health and thereby save lives. So a better way to compliment that excellent nurse might be, 'Please stay in nursing!"
 

Don't Believe the Hype

We can all look more critically at what the media presents to us. The next time the news media consults only physicians for a story about something in which nurses are expert, like hospital conditions or community health, consider why nurses were ignored--and what the story is not telling you as a result. Research shows that even the entertainment media affects our thinking, as we explained in chapter 2. So when a hospital drama shows physicians providing all skilled hospital care, ask yourself how likely that is. Would nurses be providing much of that care? Ask media creators why they do not give a fair account of nursing. It's fun!

Try to Resist That Naughty Nurse's Charms

Naughty nurse pornography, lingerie, and costumes remain popular, though they reinforce a tired, damaging stereotype. Sexual fantasies cannot be simply wished away, of course, but we can consider new ways to think about nurses. And we urge those who profit from naughty nurse products to seek other ways to prosper. Say you're invited to a Halloween party. You could wear some naughty nurse costume. But the naughty nurse really is a corpse bride, because she scares away the resources nurses need to save lives. So consider telling some other tale from the crypt.

The language that affects nursing

Language is powerful. Unfortunately, too many common words and phrases, with deep roots in our culture, reinforce damaging assumptions and stereotypes about nursing. Many of these usages degrade nurses' professional identity or credit others for their work. Of course, purposely changing language is difficult, but you can start with yourself. You may expand your mind--and improve your health. The table below outlines some troubling usages and suggests alternatives. See specific language changes you can make here.

Thank you for helping us increase public understanding of nursing!

 

 

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