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October, November and December 2009
News on Nursing in the Media

   

 

The Truth's Decade Awards Rank Best and Worst Media Portrayals of 2000-2009

Three New Nurse TV Shows Among "Best"

Truth About Nursing decade award winnersVeteran Hollywood Dramas Lead "Worst"

December 31, 2009 - The Truth About Nursing announces its list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses it saw between 2000 and 2009. The Truth's Decade Awards highlight media from a decade in which the world has faced a deadly nursing shortage fueled in significant part by poor public understanding of the profession. The three new nurse-focused shows that appeared on U.S. television in 2009, led by Showtime's Nurse Jackie and NBC's Mercy, made the "best" list despite their relatively recent appearance, because they have consistently presented millions of viewers with compelling portrayals of skilled nurses fighting for patients. Other "best" award recipients include the HBO film Angels in America, and nursing media advocates Diana Mason, Theresa Brown, and Suzanne Gordon. But on the whole, the media continues to undermine the profession. The "worst" list was led by the globally popular hospital dramas Grey's Anatomy (ABC) and House (Fox), which have portrayed nurses as low-skilled physician helpers who are irrelevant to serious health care. Others cited for notably poor portrayals of nurses include the American Medical Association, for its repeated but baseless public attacks on advanced practice nurses, the ABC News documentary-reality series Hopkins 24/7 and Hopkins, and the long-running NBC drama ER, though the Truth also gave that show a "most improved" award for better portrayals in its final years. Of course, any list that tries to cover this much ground is bound to be somewhat subjective--many other items could have appeared on these lists. But the Truth hopes the lists identify notable examples of portrayals of nursing at a time when public understanding of the profession is more important than ever. See our press release or our go straight to our full awards.

 

The 2009 Truth About Nursing Awards
Rank Best and Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing

Three New Nurse TV Shows Lead "Best" List

December 29, 2009 -- The Truth About Nursing announces its annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses. This year featured the unprecedented appearance of three new nurse-focused shows on U.S. television, after no such show had appeared in more than 15 years. Showtime's Nurse Jackie, NBC's Mercy, and TNT's HawthoRNe each had flaws, but their relatively strong portrayal of skilled professional nurses advocating for patients placed them at the top of our "best" list. The far more popular veteran hospital dramas--ABC's Grey's Anatomy, Fox's House, and ABC's Private Practice--again led the "worst" list because of their continuing misportrayal of nurses as low-skilled physician helpers who are irrelevant to serious health care. The Awards highlight media portrayals from around the world that the Truth believes deserve attention, for better or worse, during the deadly nursing shortage. See the entire press release or go straight to the 2009 Truth About Nursing awards.

 

What's wrong with these people?

A review of the 2009 film Precious

John from PreciousClaireece "Precious" Jones is a 16-year-old with 99 problems. The Harlem resident is trapped in a domestic hell with her violent, undermining mother. She endures abuse from peers for her obesity. And she's pregnant as a result of being raped by her own father. Into this nightmare the film introduces a few rays of light from committed agents of the welfare state:  a persistent guidance counselor who arranges for Precious to attend an alternative school, a no-nonsense social worker (whose worn tenacity is ably conveyed by the versatile Mariah Carey), and the beautiful, committed teacher Blu Rain, who patiently cajoles Precious onto a path toward a high school diploma and some control over her life. And there is "Nurse John," a nurse's aide at the hospital where Precious gives birth, who shows her compassion and generosity, and even suggests that she ease up on that McDonald's diet. As played by rock star Lenny Kravitz, John is a somewhat stern but upright and sexy straight man, and this is not lost on the uninhibited females from Precious's class who visit her in the hospital. Hollywood has not offered many strong, straight male nurse characters, and to the extent moviegoers see this portrayal as an indication that it's cool to be a "man in nursing," it is helpful. But "Nurse John" is not a nurse at all, even though he calls himself that. Blurring the distinction between registered nurses and minimally trained nurse's aides makes it harder for nurses to show that they are highly skilled, autonomous health professionals. In addition, the film's portrait of Blu Rain is somewhat idealized, and Precious's voiceover at times over-explains things. Still, with clever direction and some great writing and acting, Precious finds insight, nuance, and humor in what might sound like a hysterical vision of ghetto life. Precious won't give up while there is still some hope, and those who help her are skilled, pragmatic dreamers who see it as their professional obligation to make sure she doesn't. In that way, the film does have something like a nursing perspective. With that and a few years of college-level health science training, John can be a nurse! more...and see the nurse-related film clips!

 

Simply brilliant: the booze-o-meter, the nine-inch plate, and the sleeve song

kids sneezing in sleevesDecember 27, 2009 -- Several press pieces this month highlight deceptively simple nursing innovations with great potential to improve health. Two focus on helping people avoid deadly overindulgence. Today, the Deadline Press & Picture Agency (Edinburgh, Scotland) ran an article by Rory Reynolds about "former nurse" John Sharp, now a local council member, who has invented a glass design that shows drinkers how many units they are drinking, in an effort to reduce what the piece calls Scotland's "binge-drinking culture." (Of course, Sharp is no more a "former" nurse than a physician who no longer practiced would be a "former" physician.) On December 15, the Miami Herald ran a substantial Q&A between Teresa Mears and Christine Bromley, who practiced for years as a home health nurse before starting One Helping Helps Many, a company that sells nine-inch dinner plates to help people maintain portion control and thus reduce overeating. And on December 9, the Cleveland Banner (Tennessee) published an item by Linda Womack about Misi Rollins Austin, a clinical nurse manager for a local school district who created the song and video "Aim for Your Sleeve," sung to the tune of the Addams Family theme, to help kids remember how to reduce the risk of infection when they cough or sneeze. Each of these ideas helps people think more clearly about basic daily decisions, and they may seem simple. Indeed, they would likely be mocked mercilessly on the most popular Hollywood shows like House and Grey's Anatomy, which glorify high-tech interventions and convey little sense of broader public health issues. But these nurses' innovations could make the difference between life and death for many. We thank those responsible for these press items. more...

 

"He just thinks he's a doctor"

palliative careDecember 26, 2009 -- Today the New York Times published a very long article by Anemona Hartocollis about sedation of dying patients, as part of the paper's "Months to Live" series. The piece had lots of important information about the difficult choices and practices involved in end-of-life care. Unfortunately, although nurses provide the vast majority of the professional health care that dying patients receive and have great expertise in that care, only one nurse is quoted in this 4,800-word piece. And although that nurse does get to briefly convey some knowledge and authority, she is not being consulted as an expert in palliative care; the reporter simply observed the nurse having interesting interactions with two patients' families. None of the other scattered references to nurses give any indication that they play a central, autonomous role in end-of-life care, nor that nurses have been at the forefront of efforts to provide dying patients with adequate pain relief and some control over their last days of life. Instead, the article is dominated by physicians, with 11 different physicians named or quoted, sometimes at length, and numerous statements about what "doctors" think or do presented as pretty much the only things worth discussing with regard to the ethical issues surrounding end-of-life care. We urge the Times and Ms. Hartocollis to re-examine their assumptions, and to try to give readers a more accurate picture of health care areas, like this one, in which nurses play critical roles. more...

 

Brainless sex mad bimbos

Dundee UniversityDecember 18, 2009 -- Today the Evening Telegraph (Dundee, Scotland) ran a short but helpful item about a recent Dundee University (right) study that found stereotypical television images of nurses as "brainless sex mad bimbos" were discouraging academically advanced primary school students from pursuing the profession. Marjory Inglis's "Put off nursing by TV portrayal" reports that professor of nursing Liz Wilson presented the research at a meeting of the National Health Service -- Tayside's governance committee at King's Cross Hospital. The piece includes quotes from Wilson, and it describes local plans to try to counter the stereotypes. The study results are consistent with those of a 2000 study of U.S. school children by JWT Communications, which found that students got their main impression of nursing from NBC's ER, and that they considered nursing a technical job for girls, one that was unworthy of private school students. We thank Ms. Inglis and the Evening Telegraph for its report on this research, which shows again that fictional media have a powerful effect on views and actions related to nursing. more...

 

"Naughty Nurse Delivers Nice Profits for RestoreMax"

RestoreMax nurseDecember 11, 2009 -- A Florida company called MensMax recently issued a press release boasting that its new "naughty nurse" online ad was boosting sales of "RestoreMax," which the company says is "the first ever penis skin care cream." The company said that its YouTube posting of the "sexy nurse" video had already gotten more than 150,000 hits. In the release, Michael Dugan, president of Redu, Inc. (which seems to own MensMax and markets other skin care products), said that he had tried the "serious" marketing approach using "doctors and health care professionals." But he said the "naughty nurse" is "funny" and "delivers exactly the same message...in a way men can enjoy and relax with." The press release also reported that the company was creating a naughty nurse ad "that can be cleared on regular television." Great. In the online video, the attractive young "nurse" claims to be a "professional," and she is certainly articulate in explaining the product's virtues to a gowned male patient--she's doing patient education! But her very short white dress, her leering, flirtatious manner, her enthusiastic application of the product to the male patient, and her suggestion that the patient can "get some" by taking her to dinner leave a little something to be desired. Naughty nurse imagery like this may generate profits, but it also reinforces a damaging stereotype of nurses as sexually available (if not sexually aggressive), and it undermines real nurses' claims to adequate resources for clinical practice and education. more...and please join our letter-writing campaign!

 

The Nurse-Crusader

Mary MundingerDecember 8, 2009 -- Today the New York Observer published a generally good profile of "controversial" Columbia nursing dean Mary Mundinger, who is retiring after a quarter century at the forefront of the fight to help advanced practice nurses (APRNs) win the respect and resources they need to provide high-quality, cost-effective care. Dana Rubinstein's piece even cites the research, too often missing from press reports on APRNs, demonstrating that APRN care is at least as effective as physician care. The article also provides a short but relatively insightful look at the lack of respect nurses have historically suffered, and suggests that the nurse-focused television shows that appeared in 2009 represent a step forward for public understanding of the profession. The piece does at times paint a bit too rosy of a picture--some advances for APRNs and the appearance of the new nurse shows do not necessarily mean the public has grasped that nurses generally deserve more authority and respect. And there are a few unfortunate elements, like the reporter's apparent belief that "doctor nurse" is an appropriate term to describe APRNs. But on the whole the article is a helpful look at a nursing leader and the advanced practice nursing she has championed. We thank Ms. Rubinstein and the Observer. more...

 

Fiddling with the covers while Rome burns

Rome burnsDecember 8, 2009 -- Tonight's episode of ABC's Scrubs offered a great example of how poor the show's portrayal of nursing has become after the departure of the sole major nurse character, Carla Espinosa, after the last season. It's true that the vast majority of the sitcom's clinical scenes have always depicted nurses as anonymous handmaidens to the physicians who provide virtually all the thinking and all of the important care. But Carla was a respected, competent person who at times conveyed health knowledge, on occasion even teaching the young physician characters. Now, with Carla's departure and the show's shift to a medical school setting for its ninth season, the few nurse appearances tend to be like tonight's, in which a mute, nameless nurse was no more than a wide-eyed prop during a code scene, waiting for the physicians to tell her to get a crash cart, fiddling with the patient's covers, and then scurrying out of the way so the physicians could save the patient by themselves. Of course Scrubs has probably spent more time making fun of physician characters than any other television show in history. But it has still managed to reinforce the core social assumption that physicians are the brilliant masters of all health care, and nurses are no more than their faithful helpers. Tonight's episode, "Our Role Models," was written by Steven Cragg and Brian Bradley, and directed by Gail Mancuso. more...see our film clips and send a letter to Scrubs!

 

Listen to the patients

Theresa BrownDecember 6, 2009 -- Over the last year, Theresa Brown has posted some powerful items on the New York Times' prominent "Well" blog about her experiences as a new oncology nurse. These have included posts on the emotional dynamics of shaving the heads of cancer patients when they've lost a lot of hair; the pointless and even harmful things the medical community sometimes does to preserve life that cannot be preserved for long; and the negative effects that the current health insurance system can have on patients. But today Brown published an op-ed in her local newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that makes a persuasive case for health insurance reform. The op-ed uses the examples of three specific patients confronting a health insurance system that does not seem to be designed to meet their needs, to say the least. Brown's piece is a good example of patient advocacy. But the op-ed is also helpful advocacy for nursing--though she says nothing directly about the profession--because it presents nurses themselves as articulate professionals looking carefully at the big picture and trying to improve health care financing structures that seem to threaten patients' lives. more...

 

The Orb of Life

Orb of LifeDecember 1, 2009 -- Today the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY) ran a very good article by Patti Singer about the work of University of Rochester nursing scholar Martin Schiavenato to develop an "orb" that uses artificial intelligence to measure pain in premature infants. Schiavenato and his team are developing ways to measure vital signs and movements, then translate them into colors so clinicians can determine and treat the conditions of vulnerable infants, for whom pain may have life-long developmental effects. The report includes quotes from Schiavenato, who used to practice in the NICU, and from two other nursing scholars. It notes that the orb could have far-reaching implications, potentially giving us new ways to assess pain in older patients, including those with disabilities, dementia, or language barriers, and those in comas. We commend Singer and the Democrat and Chronicle for a helpful report on this vital nursing research. more...

 

2010 IYNurse:   Will this be the International Year of the Nurse?

2010 International Year of the NurseDecember 2009 -- A new global initiative founded by three prominent nursing groups is seeking to have the United Nations declare 2010 the "International Year of the Nurse," in honor of the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's death. The founding groups are Sigma Theta Tau International, the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, and the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH). The NIGH notes that the 2010 initiative "seeks to recognize the contributions of nurses globally and to engage nurses in the promotion of world health, including the UN Millennium Development Goals." These eight goals call for the reduction of poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, better maternal health, reduced child mortality, fighting diseases including AIDS, environmental sustainability, and developing a "global partnership for development." The focus on such broad goals illustrates the holistic, policy-oriented approach of strong nursing advocates. The "2010 IYNurse" initiative envisions holding events as part of a "celebration of commitment" to help the world's estimated 15 million nurses "showcase their unique contributions toward the achievement of health and well-being for everyone." One event planned is the Million Nurse Global Caring Field Project. It aims to "create and radiate an energetic Caring Consciousness Field of Heart-Centered Love for Self, Others, and the Planet Earth," and to "extend[] the human caring vibration of nurses into the universal energy field of humanity facilitating healing and health for all." We commend those involved with these initiatives for their efforts to increase global understanding of the contributions of nurses. And we urge them to convey not only that nurses extend caring vibrations into the universal energy field, but also that nurses are educated, skilled health professionals with a unique scope of practice who need public and private sector support in order to save lives and improve outcomes. Learn more at www.2010iynurse.net

November 2009 News on Nursing in the Media

Success (sort of)!

Lung Cancer Alliance quietly removes Dr. Lung Love video after Truth's campaign covered in Modern Healthcare

Dr. Lunglove, Laurie Fenton AmbroseNovember 30, 2009 -- Today the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) removed its Dr. Lung Love rap music video--which promotes lung cancer awareness with naughty, subservient "nurses"--from the group's lunglove.com website. LCA has also removed any significant reference to the video on the main LCA web site. LCA's actions came in the wake of a substantial article on the Truth's campaign about the video in the November 23 issue of Modern Healthcare, the influential magazine for health care executives ("Outliers: Sure, we've heard of bad raps...but this is ridiculous"). We thank Modern Healthcare and you for your 111 letters (42 of them original!), which were indispensable in getting this result. While LCA has failed to remove the video from YouTube and or seek its removal from websites that have cross-posted it, the group has at least made a step in the right direction. Please send LCA one last letter asking it to remove the video wherever it can. Thanks again! more...

 

Lung Cancer Alliance pats nurses' cute little heads, but refuses to fix Dr. Lung Love PSA

Dr. Lunglove, Laurie Fenton AmbroseNovember 22, 2009 -- Please help us with our campaign about the Lung Cancer Alliance's Dr. Lung Love video, which uses naughty, subservient "nurses" to promote lung cancer awareness. LCA refuses to fix or remove the damaging PSA "Waitin' Room Service" despite protests from many nurses and nursing organizations. The prominent charity's president and CEO Laurie Fenton Ambrose (right) took three weeks to respond to our daily calls and supporters' many emails. (See her email.) Her email stated that LCA had "replaced" the video, but it has done no such thing. LCA has just slightly deemphasized the video at the lunglove.com website by having a different Dr. Lung Love video be the default video when visitors first arrive at the site. This actually appears to be part of LCA's original plan to rotate related videos, so it seems that LCA has done nothing to address nurses' concerns. (See our response to her letter.) The original rap video remains prominently displayed on the site, on YouTube, and elsewhere. Ambrose's letter says that she understands nurses' concerns about the "perceived misrepresentation" (maybe it was all in our heads!). But Ambrose also spends a lot of the letter boasting about LCA's achievements, and implies that our concerns must give way to LCA's more important health mission. She even points out the ways in which LCA has supported nursing issues in the past, as if nurses owe LCA tolerance of this obviously degrading campaign, or as if LCA might not be so supportive of nursing in the future if nurses don't back down now. LCA seems to be running out the clock, dragging things out till the PSA has completed its planned run. But it is actually not OK for LCA to pursue its public health goals by obstructing nursing's public health goals, continuing to suggest that nurses are naughty physician servants. So please see our campaign, then call 202-463-2080 (press 8) and ask LCA president Laurie Fenton Ambrose to fix or remove the PSA and apologize to nurses. Then click here to send her an instant letter or even better, one of your own. If you call her, please let us know at letters@truthaboutnursing.org so we can follow the effectiveness of our campaign. Thank you!

 

Whoopi listens

Whoopi GoldbergNovember 19, 2009 -- In May, Whoopi Goldberg made a few comments in an Apple store interview that suggested nurses were just "helpers" and that medicine was the health profession today's girls should aspire to join, as the main character in Goldberg's own children's book series does. Goldberg was also the co-creator of the Lifetime series Strong Medicine (2000-2006), which portrayed nurses as handmaidens to heroic female physicians (with the partial exception of the nurse-midwife character Peter Riggs). So we launched a letter-writing campaign to let Whoopi know that nurses are skilled, autonomous professionals who save lives and improve patient outcomes. Over 100 of you sent email letters, and many of those were original. We printed them all out and sent hard copies to Whoopi to make sure they got her attention. Soon after she called us, concerned that all these nurses were upset with her. And unlike many media figures, Whoopi not only responded but took the time to listen to our thoughts about the undervaluation of nursing. We talked for about 15 minutes about how we might work together to convey the truth about nursing to a wider audience, and we understand she has discussed it further with a close business associate. We will soon follow up with some specific ideas. We believe Whoopi has considered our issues seriously and that she will, at a minimum, try not to create damaging media about nursing in the future. So thank you for helping to change the mind of this very influential person. Your letters made the difference. Please click here to change more of the 6.8 billion minds out there with our other campaigns. And thanks again!

 

Putting ideas in her head

Veronica Callahan MercyNovember 18, 2009 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's Mercy featured nurse characters acting with considerable expertise and some autonomy to improve patients' outcomes in two very different cases. In one plotline, lead character Veronica Callahan provides critical physiological care to a gunshot victim who appears certain to die, working as more or less a partner with the physicians and at a couple points coming up with good treatment ideas to help save the patient's life. In the other plotline, nurse Sonia Jimenez advocates forcefully for a 15-year-old with a "rare excessive autosomal condition" who, though she has lived her life as a female, turns out to be genetically male. Sonia tries to protect this teenager from her parents, who pressure her to have surgery to eliminate her emerging male features, and from some physicians who seem to see her as no more than a fascinating case study, with no regard for the huge impact the diagnosis is having on her. There are a few questionable elements in these plotlines. The interventionist approach that Veronica and one physician take in the gunshot case could be interpreted as an argument for heroic measures for every patient. Of course, real nurses often see terminal patients face unnecessary suffering and work hard to encourage decision-makers to consider allowing a natural death in that situation. Nevertheless, the episode presents a prime time vision of nurses as strong, skilled health professionals, and we thank those responsible. The episode, "I'm Not That Kind Of Girl," was written by Veronica Becker and Sarah Kucserka.

Click here to tell NBC to keep Mercy on the air! If you value the generally helpful depictions of nursing skill and autonomy that Mercy provides to more than 6 million viewers every week--the kind of depictions that no other regular season show offers--then please watch the show, urge your friends to watch it, and tell NBC to renew it for a second season. Mercy's ratings in the critical viewing demographic are not high, and renewal is questionable at best. If Mercy goes away, regular season television programming for nursing will be very, very bleak (think House, Grey's Anatomy, and Private Practice). Also, Mercy is actually a pretty good show, with some fine writing and acting. Thanks. more...

 

Take Action!

Fighting equality disease

November 15, 2009 -- Today the Sunday Times (U.K.) ran a piece by columnist Minette Marrin attacking the government's plan to require that all nurses have a three- or four-year university degree by 2013. Marrin (below right) argues that the plan would have "disastrous" effects primarily because it would exclude those who would make "excellent" nurses even though they are "not particularly academic" or "not particularly bright." Evidently, the plan is an example of "equality disease": the misguided effort to extend university education to more people, and to consider as "professional" many jobs that do not merit that exalted status. Marrin actually argues that university degrees inhibit good nursing, because they produce nurses who are not necessarily "too posh to wash," but who are not much good at it, Minette Marrinwith their heads full of all that irrelevant theory. Nurses should not seek equal status with physicians, she suggests; apparently they should be satisfied to be considered handmaidens. The column is so full of uninformed disrespect that it's hard to know where to begin a response. But we'll try to be professional about it. Nursing is an autonomous profession with a distinct scope of practice built on scientific knowledge. The vast majority of U.S. nurses have college degrees that require three or four years of training, and hundreds of thousands have graduate degrees (i.e., at least six years of university training). Research shows that higher levels of nursing education improve patient outcomes. New physicians have little practical experience, but no one argues that their formal training is wasted. The argument against nursing education is based on the false assumption that nursing is mainly about physical labor and hand-holding. But in an increasingly complex care environment in which physicians and others have graduate degrees, nurses cannot provide expert direct care or advocate effectively for patients without advanced training. Please click here to educate Ms. Marrin about what nursing is and is not.

 

Take Action! Use your lungs!

To serve Dr. Lung Love

Dr. LungloveNovember 2, 2009 -- Today the national advocacy group Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) launched a high-profile media campaign to increase awareness of how dangerous lung cancer is for women. The campaign is built on a rap video called "Waitin' Room Service" that features "Dr. Lung Love," who manages to work several important ideas about lung cancer into the song, including the importance of screenings and increased research funding. The LCA video is a shot-by-shot, line-by-line parody of Pitbull's recent video for "Hotel Room Service," which featured the rapper and hot, half-dressed women. Sadly, the LCA parody substitutes "nurses" who, though fully clothed in scrubs, offer word 10 attention to the Lung Love character, caressing him and dancing suggestively with him. And in one lyric, he informs us that the "nurse just left," so he'll "love your lungs tonight." Ewww. Anyway, it seems that swaggering, masterful physicians handle important health matters, while cute nurse helpmates provide, well, waitin' room service. With more inspired writing and direction, a great video could have been made to advance awareness without reinforcing the naughty nurse stereotype that has plagued real nurses for decades. The LCA video is a special insult to the oncology nurses who actually provide much of the care for cancer patients--what Lung Love so eloquently calls the "somethin'" that "can be done" if the cancer is not too far advanced (or even if it is). The Lung Cancer Alliance site makes clear that the video was not something some low level employee stumbled into. It is being promoted by the group's leadership as the central part of a major national publicity effort during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Of course this is not the first PSA to degrade nurses (see Jon Corzine's seat belt ad and Saw III's blood donation ad), but the fact that a major DC health care charity would employ the naughty nurse image in a campaign of this magnitude surprises even us. The nurses who fight cancer deserve better than this video's tainted Lung Love, which undermines real nurses' claims to adequate resources and respect. So please give LCA some love...of nurses. Join our campaign to end the video's needless use of naughty nurse imagery!

 

STTI award for public print mediaSaving Lives to receive 2009 International Award from Sigma Theta Tau

November 1, 2009 -- Today our book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All At Risk received the 2009 International Award for Nursing Excellence in Public Print Media from Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of Nursing, at the group's biennial convention in Indianapolis.

 

ADVANCE for Nurses book club features Saving Lives

November 2009 -- This month, ADVANCE for Nurses book club features our book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk. ADVANCE interviewed the co-authors of Saving Lives.

Read the book club entry

See the videos:

Image Matters: Defusing Nurse Stereotypes

Nurses Can Advocate

Then please join in the discussion at ADVANCE. Thank you!

October 2009 News on Nursing in the Media

Yes, doctor! Right away!

Pam and Andy Three RiversOctober 25, 2009 -- Tonight's episode of CBS's Three Rivers is a good example of the new hospital show's presentation of nurses as physician subordinates who are peripheral to serious care. The show follows the heroic exploits of a team of elite Pittsburgh surgeons, but it virtually ignores the central role skilled nurses play in transplantation, including in procuring organs, transplant surgeries, and the critical recovery period after surgery. Here the physicians conduct all significant treatments and patient interactions. The show's transplant coordinator character is not a nurse. Indeed, though he is well-meaning, he has no health care training, and he makes foolish errors (as in this episode), an ongoing insult to real transplant coordinators, who are usually nurses. There is one minor recurring nurse character, Pam Acosta. In this episode she is shown briefly treating a lightly injured patient, but even that is a rarity, since her role usually involves only occasional light banter with the godlike lead surgeon Andy Yablonski. Although the nursing portrayal in this episode is probably one of the show's best, the other nurse characters remain nameless handmaidens whose dialogue is mostly limited to submissive TV-nurse statements like "Yes, doctor!" and "Right away!" The episode, David Amann's "Code Green," drew 7.9 million U.S. viewers. more... and see the relevant film clips from the show!

 

An R and an N

Veronica Callahan Mercy 
October 21, 2009 -- Two recent episodes of NBC's Mercy illustrate both the show's flawed portrayal of nursing autonomy and its far more helpful vision of nursing skill and advocacy. The Jersey City drama does at least suggest that there is some nursing management structure. And it captures some of the difficulties that flow from the unequal power between nurses and physicians. But at other times the show suggests that nurses report to physicians, even if there is a nominal nurse manager who presumably handles day-to-day administrative issues. At the same time, the episodes aired tonight and a week ago include very helpful portrayals of skill and patient advocacy by all three major nurse characters, most notably Veronica Callahan's relentless efforts to get a homeless man with hepatitis C into a clinical trial. These plotlines are not flawless. Veronica's advocacy for the homeless man includes simulating symptoms to keep him in the hospital, going behind chief ED physician Dan Harris's back to get an "order" from a less senior physician to get the man into the trial, and throwing a cinder block through Harris's car windshield when he continues to insist that she cut the man loose. Another plotline actually has a hint of the naughty nurse, as nurse Chloe Payne uses a kiss (albeit a fairly chaste one) to help persuade a badly burned high schooler that his social life is not over and he should continue pursuing skin grafts. Still, the show offers millions of viewers dramatic examples of how tough, innovative nurses improve patient outcomes. In one plotline, nurse Sonia Jimenez controls a somnambulist's deadly and apparently untreatable problem by persuading Sonia's boyfriend to give the patient his bark-intensive dog as an "alarm clock." No other regular season show does this kind of thing at all. The October 14 episode was Peter Elkoff's "Pulling the Goalie," and tonight's was "You Lost Me with the Cinder Block" by Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie. more...

 

Did you just call me a nurse?

naggingOctober 21, 2009 -- Are the nurse characters on Mercy and the other new Hollywood nurse shows just self-righteous nags who have forgotten their proper place, which is certainly not to challenge physicians who are trying to do their supremely important work? Shouldn't nurses' highest aspiration be to attend medical school, or at least to marry someone who has? Some elite media critics seem to think so. Ginia Bellafante's contemptuous September 23, 2009 New York Times review suggested that Mercy's nurse characters were pathetic bridge-and-tunnel women who had fallen pretty far from ER nurses, who got to marry George Clooney and maybe even join their "superiors" by attending medical school! And today, Heather Havrilesky's roundup of new shows in Salon was practically seething about Mercy; apparently, it's a "mercilessly self-righteous" vision of nurses "wagging their fingers" at "cartoonishly self-concerned" physicians. In other words, these nurses may think they're fighting for patients, but they're really more like tiresome sitcom wives, nagging and wagging. There are reasons to fault Mercy as a drama, but it and the other nurse shows have gone out of their way to include positive counterexamples of physician conduct (the lead physician in each is smart, able, and attractive) and to show that the nurse leads are deeply flawed and sometimes wrong. It seems like some critics can't handle the idea that there really are smart, educated nurses who do (and must) challenge the care plans of physicians who are not so McDreamy in their professional roles. We can't recall such media critics attacking the far more extreme and unrealistic heroic-physician / servant-nurse narrative that has dominated the last 100 or so other hospital shows. Bellafante acknowledges that shows like House suggest only physicians matter, but apparently there's something unseemly about an "angry little soap" like Mercy trying to counter that vision. Some critics seem to identify more with physicians--the master class that smart, ambitious women like the critics themselves can now join--than they do with nurses, the sad yestergirls who still do subordinate "women's work." Sadly, the dismissive attitudes of female media figures speak volumes not only about the hard road faced by shows like Mercy, but also about why nursing itself remains undervalued and underfunded. Few may consider shows like Mercy subversive, but they do contradict some powerful "feminist" assumptions. Maybe the shows hit too close to home:   How dare they suggest that nurses are like me? more...and please join our letter-writing campaign!

 

Is the "best" nursing all about being "polite and communicative"?

U.S. News & World Report logoOctober 20, 2009 -- Today U.S. News & World report posted an online item as part of its extensive annual "Best Hospitals" survey that actually lists the "best" and "worst" of the hospitals for nursing. Historically, the magazine's "best hospitals" analysis has focused overwhelmingly on physicians. In recent years, the survey has started to factor in nurse staffing and magnet status as very minor elements in its overall scores (as this year's does), but to our knowledge this is the first time it has broken nursing out in its own listings. And the simple suggestion that there is such a thing as the "best" nursing is helpful. So the item is a real step forward. Sadly, nursing is still greatly undervalued. The nursing lists are based solely on patient surveys and filed under the heading of "patient satisfaction," along with similar lists for hospitals that were judged best and worst at "pain management." That suggests nursing is important, but still just a part of what we might call "patient care services," rather than a key factor in patient outcomes. The U.S. News lists also treat nursing as if it was generic across all units at a hospital, and there is no sign that nurses have specialties, in contrast to the specialty-based analysis for physicians that is central to the overall listings. Perhaps most troubling are the standards patients were given to evaluate nursing:   whether nurses were "courteous," "listened carefully," and "gave clear explanations." These standards are important, but they reinforce the prevailing public sense that nurses are about customer service and being nice, failing to measure nurses' main roles in using advanced science training to save lives and improve outcomes. That would never happen in the overall "best" analysis, which relies heavily on the hospitals' reputations among physicians. Even so, we thank U.S. News for this advance, and urge it to continue improving. Next year, perhaps the magazine could also seek the opinions of those who know the most about nursing--and about hospitals in general: nurses. more...

 

Today's Childbirth Class Topic: Resisting the Urge to Grab Your L&D Nurse's Breasts!

Adam Jay ManningOctober 12, 2009 -- Recent press reports describe what appears be a remarkable example of sexual abuse of a nurse. Melinda Rogers's October 9 piece in the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah police had arrested a 30-year-old man from the town of Bountiful after he had allegedly twice grabbed the breast of the hospital nurse who was caring for the woman about to give birth to his child. The Daily Mail 's (U.K.) item dated today added the helpful detail that the expectant mother had explained the father's behavior by telling the nurse that he was "just drunk." Both reports confirmed that the man had been charged with sexual assault, causing him to miss the birth of his son. It may be hard not to laugh at some of the details, but of course abuse like this is not funny to the victim, and the reports are a reminder of how often nurses suffer sexual and other abuse in the workplace. And the naughty nurse image that continues to infect the global mass media helps to feed such abuse. We commend the police for taking this case seriously, and these newspapers for their straightforward reports. more...

 

Take Action!

Vitamin F

Terri on GleeOctober 7, 2009 -- Tonight's episode of Fox's new dramedy Glee included a plotline in which a character with no health training gets a job as a school nurse. The show's lead character, Will, is a high school glee club director. His wife Terri works at a retail store, but she becomes the school nurse to keep an eye on Will, whom she suspects is having an affair with a guidance counselor. Terri gives the fatigued glee club kids pseudoephedrine to keep them alert, assuring them it's OK because, after all, it's just an over-the-counter drug! For that she eventually gets fired, and the episode stresses that Terri is not a real nurse, so viewers will understand that her misdeeds should not be imputed to real nurses. The show is somewhat absurdist, bending reality to suit its comic ends. But this episode suggests that nursing itself is kind of a joke, since a useless conniver like Terri can waltz into a school nurse job by telling the principal that she has first aid training and once used the "defibulator." Even Glee would never suggest she could get a physician job that way. In fact, real school nurses must generally have bachelor of science degrees in nursing; their training is not just an optional extra, as the show implies. In a cool twist, the evil cheerleading coach who helps Terri gain entry to the nurse position by putting the former school nurse in a coma is played by Jane Lynch, who also played "Nurse 'Doctor' Poole," one of the worst battle-axes in television history, in ABC's 2002 drama MDs. This episode of Glee, "Vitamin D," drew 7.3 million U.S. viewers, and it was written by show creator Ryan Murphy, who also created FX's physician-centric nip/tuck. more...

 

Take Action!

Not so hatke

Think HatkeOctober 2009 -- Starting last year, Virgin Mobile India has apparently been broadcasting a "naughty nurse" television ad as part of its "Think hatke" (Think differently) campaign. In the ad, a supposedly immobilized young hospital patient tricks a hot, compliant young nurse in a very short white dress. The patient has a friend call his cell phone, then asks the nurse to find the ringing phone and help him answer; that requires having her reach around in his pockets, that is, in his genital area. Of course, there is also the irony of a "think different" campaign whose central idea is actually swiped from Apple's legendary campaign of the 1980's. The Virgin Mobile ad does not represent anything "different" from the naughty nurse advertising that CEO Richard Branson and Virgin Mobile Canada indulged in several years ago, or from the ubiquitous naughty nurse imagery that has infected the globe for decades, undermining nurses' claims to adequate resources during the global nursing crisis. As for the "thinking" part, we'll leave it to you to compare the ideas of the people who appeared in Apple's original campaign--for example, Mohandas Gandhi--with the idea of tricking a nurse into sticking her hand down your pants for a few seconds. We urge Virgin Mobile to think different. more...and please join our letter-writing campaign!

 

See a new Truth About Nursing FAQ (and our other FAQs...)

Q: Why do you actually display the naughty nurse imagery you object to? Aren't you promoting the same thing you're complaining about?! Ha ha!

A: JBS naughty nurse underwear adUh, no.

A few critics have suggested that, by providing examples of naughty nurse imagery, we are actually working against our own mission, which they assume is simply to eradicate such images one by one.

We display some of the images we write about for several reasons. First, we cannot fully convey the nature of what we are discussing if we do not display it. We do try to describe the imagery to some extent for people who may not be able to view the images on their computers, but clearly the best way to illustrate the sexualization of the nursing image is to actually show the kind of imagery we're describing. We doubt many advocacy groups in other fields face criticism for actually displaying examples of what they're advocating against. more...

 

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