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"The View" doesn't seem to include nursing

June 16, 2003 -- Tonight's prime time episode of ABC's "The View," which consisted of a "His and Her Body Test" designed to impart basic health information, included an attack on nursing, with co-host Meredith Vieira appearing disguised as an "ugly nurse"--as Vieira herself put it in previews--for comic interactions with passersby in a New York mall, including one segment in which Vieira cared for a woman's "shin splints" by drawing a happy face on her leg.

The episode was structured around a series of multiple choice questions on health issues, with an unsurprising focus on sexuality, and it did convey some useful information. The talk show's four co-hosts and a few celebrity guests offered serious and joking answers to the test questions. A rotating crew of physicians served as quizmasters, supplying the correct answers and graciously accepting praise (such as Vieira's comment that those with the highest total quiz scores were so smart they should have gone to medical school), as well as the other benefits of appearing on national television. Of course, the lack of any real nurses on a show devoted to the patient education and preventative care at which they excel, though unfortunate, is hardly unusual in a media environment still dominated by physician-centric views.

But what made the episode so anti-nurse was Vieira's "ugly nurse" segments. In contrast to the high regard the show displayed for the articulate, telegenic physicians, the "ugly nurse"'s appearance was cosmetically sabotaged. ("The View"'s web site describes these segments as Ms. Vieira "harassing unsuspecting folks at New York's Nanuet Mall when she went undercover disguised as a nurse.") The "ugly nurse" displayed no real expertise. Instead, she asked shoppers inane questions about faking orgasms and whether happy faces relieved the pain of shin splints. To the extent these segments had a conscious purpose beyond getting laughs, it may have been to emphasize how badly the average person needs the kind of guidance the episode provided, a point also made in one physician's recounting of the results of a poll the home audience had taken using the quiz questions. But the effect of using a "nurse" for this was to reinforce a harmful stereotype, namely that nurses are ditzy lightweights without knowledge or skills.

The "ugly" element operated as a curious final kick, since it is still far more common to see the reverse stereotype of the attractive "naughty nurse" in the media. We can only speculate that the show, sensitive to some women's issues, could see the problems with objectifying a female character, so it chose to go in the opposite direction.

Today, in the midst of a nursing shortage that is one of the nation's gravest public health problems--when dedicated, highly skilled nurses save or improve millions of lives every day despite short staffing that endangers their patients' health and their own well-being--it is sad that some seem to feel that female empowerment involves slavishly embracing medicine, to which women can now aspire, while blatantly disrespecting nurses, over 90% of whom are still women. To see these attitudes on Barbara Walters' "The View"--a popular, award-winning show celebrated for being progressive on women's issues--is more than a little ironic.

We encourage anyone who objects to this episode's "view" of nurses to write to "The Viewmaster" and send copies to each of the co-stars-- Barbara Walters, Meredith Vieira, Star Jones and Joy Behar--at the show's web site and urge the show to make amends to the nursing profession by creating a primetime show about the rewards of working in the nursing profession. If you do send an email, please send us a copy of it at letters@truthaboutnursing.org so that we can monitor the effectiveness of this campaign. Thank you.

See a powerful letter to Barbara Walters written by Diana Mason, RN, PhD, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Nursing.

 

 

 

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