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Nation's elite honors 13 "medical heroes;" heroic nurses' invitations lost in mail?

July 8, 2004 -- Tonight's two-hour television special, "Discovery Health Channel Medical Honors," hosted by Regis Philbin and featuring Tommy Thompson and C. Everett Koop, salutes 13 "medical heroes" for "bringing awareness to many challenging health and medical issues of our time." Of the 13 honorees, there seem to be eight physicians, a biosciences researcher, a non-profit leader, a political science professor, a health system CEO, and an advertising executive. Not a single one of the nation's 2.7 million nurses made the cut, but at least nurses are represented--by the talented actress Yvette Freeman, who plays nurse Haleh Adams on NBC's physician-centric "ER," and who reportedly appears at the ceremony as a presenter. The show airs at 8 pm ET/PT.

These Honors are the product of an extraordinary mix of the nation's government, business, health care and media elites. In addition to enjoying the support of the Discovery Networks, they are sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Novartis, and produced in association with the National Health Museum. The event's "partners," who nominated the honorees, include the American Hospital Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Biotechnology Industry Association, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the American Association of Pediatrics, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The Advisory Board, which approved the selections, consists largely of the executives of large health care non-profit organizations, including many of these "partners." The 16-member Board appears to include 10 physicians. We see one nurse, Sheila Burke, RN, MPA, FAAN, the Deputy Secretary and COO of the Smithsonian Institution, who also serves on the board of the Kaiser Family Foundation and other corporate boards. Profiles of the honorees were scheduled to be published in the July 5, 2004, issue of U.S. News & World Report (links below). Presenters at the ceremony, which was taped at Washington, DC's Constitution Hall on June 23, reportedly include U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and actor and activist Christopher Reeve.

The Discovery Health Channel's web site, comparing the awards to the Kennedy Center Honors, says they recognize "pre-eminent achievements in the medical community by honoring our nation's best physicians, medical institutions, educators, researchers and the organizations supporting them." Notice anything missing from that list? Obviously, the awards were not limited to physicians (despite the use of the term "medical" instead of the more accurate "health care"), or even to persons with health care training. Part of the problem may be the honorees' inexplicable gender imbalance--12 of the 13 are male--which tends to work against nurses, of whom over 90% are still female. In any case, it is ironic that this program airs in the same week as the Health Channel is re-airing an episode in its excellent five-part documentary "Nurses" (2002), which examined the work of Johns Hopkins nurses in different care settings.

What nurses could hope to share the same stage with these 13 honorees? How about University of Pennsylvania nursing professor Loretta Sweet Jemmott, RN, PhD, FAAN, who heads the Center for Urban Health Research and is a national leader in the prevention of HIV transmission? What about Johns Hopkins School of Nursing Dean Martha Hill, RN, PhD, FAAN, a world leader in research to improve hypertension care among underserved urban populations, and the first non-physician ever to serve as president of the American Heart Association, one of the "partners" of these very Honors? Or Claire Fagin, RN, PhD, FAAN, an internationally renowned leader in health policy, nursing education and psychiatric care, and the first female chief executive of an Ivy League university? (Dr. Fagin serves on the Center's advisory panel.) Or Toronto "street nurse" Cathy Crowe, the co-founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, who has recently been recognized as one of Canada's most prominent and powerful advocates for the homeless?

Countless nurses have changed the world despite daunting obstacles, not least of them their gender and a lack of regard from the elite institutions that shape modern society. We hope that in the future, those who select the recipients of health care awards will recognize the priceless contributions of nurses.

See a list of the honorees on the Discovery Health Channel and their press release on the event on their web site. Also see their entries on the U.S. News & World Report, web site: Ronald Levy, Walter Willett, Robert Jennings, Phill Wilson, Mina Bissell, Partnership For A Drug-Free America, Antonio Grillo-Lopez, John Kattwinkel, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Health System, African Medical and Research Foundation, Raghavendra Mirmira, David Satcher and Wayne Bailey. See television coverage on the event.

We have been having positive discussions about this prestigious awards show's failure to honor any nurses with some members of the Awards' Advisory Panel, which approved the award recipients nominated by the "partner" organizations.

The awards do not appear to have been repeated in later years.

 

 

 

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