Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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Physicians Formula adMay 2004 -- A full page ad for Physicians Formula's cosmetics in this month's issue of Shape magazine features an attractive young "nurse" in classic naughty nurse attire, complete with revealing cleavage, short white dress and fishnet stockings, under the heading: "Beautiful Eyes: Just What the Doctor Ordered." The Center urges all nurses to protest this amazingly regressive, misogynous association of nursing with make-up and sex.

The ad appears, appropriately enough, in the midst of an article about female "Hypoactive Sexual Desire" headlined "not in the MOOD?" The heavily made up "nurse," whose "uniform" includes a white cap with red cross and even a nursing school pin, holds an instrument tray full of cosmetics and wields a mascara wand as if it were a hypodermic. Her dress is very tight at the bust and is unbuttoned low enough that parts of her breasts are visible. Surrounding her photo are eye cosmetics products, along with short descriptions that include tongue-in-cheek health care references, such as the eyeliner formula that's "like CPR for your eyes." Readers are also cautioned that "[p]otential side effects may include: envious girlfriends, extra-clingy boyfriends, ultra-boosted self-confidence."

And irate nurses may not appreciate the suggestion that the life-saving work they spent years training for involves dressing naughty and helping girlfriends snare that hunky guy with beauty products that "the doctor ordered." Of course the ad is an attempt at a cute joke, but it's probably funnier when you aren't part of a profession in crisis in part because of the persistence of this kind of grossly inaccurate image, a profession whose real nature remains a mystery to the majority of the population.

We understand that Physicians Formula is in the business of helping people look better, not be better, but we urge them to consider a cash extraction procedure with fewer harmful side effects. Actually, since the company's very name suggests it has something to do with "physicians," we aren't sure why the ad doesn't show a young female model dressed as one of them. Oh, that's right: they're serious professionals. Silly, ditzy us. Now pass that eyeliner, honey. If we look good enough, maybe we'll catch a physician tonight!

See the print advertisement "nurse."

See the results of your efforts for helping us on this campaign.

See below for the letter that many of our 75 of our supporters sent to the company to help end the use of this advertisement.

To: Physicians Formula Inc.: Andre Pieters, President; Summit Partners, Managing Partners -- Bruce Evans, Walter Kortschak, Martin Mannion, Thomas Roberts, Joseph Trustey, Stephen Woodsum and Gregory Avis

Dear Messrs. Pieters, Evans, Kortschak, Mannion, Roberts, Trustey, Woodsum and Avis:

I urge you to retire immediately the Physicians Formula Inc. cosmetics advertisement featuring the "nurse" that appeared as a full-page ad in the May 2004 issue of "Shape" magazine. We realize the ad is intended to be humorous, but it feeds harmful, long-standing "naughty" nurse and handmaiden stereotypes, suggesting that nurses are sexually available, frivolous beings, when in fact they are highly skilled, autonomous professionals who save lives every day.

We are in the midst of a global nursing shortage of critical proportions that is only expected to worsen over the next two decades. Publishing risqué images of "nurses" suggests to the general public that nurses exist to serve the sexual desires of patients and/or physicians, and that in turn suggests that nursing is not a real profession. Suggesting, even as a joke, that nurses spend their time at work on cosmetics reinforces similarly harmful impressions of nursing as an unskilled, marginal job. In fact, registered nurses receive 2-10 years of college-level training, and studies have shown that patients' lives depend directly on the availability and qualifications of the nurses who care for them. For instance, one recent study of nurse short-staffing--a primary cause and effect of the shortage--found that when the patient load of a nurse is doubled from 4 to 8, post-operative mortality increases by 31%. The nursing shortage affects us all.

Many who display negative images of nurses doubt that such images can really harm the nursing profession. However, the media does affect how people think. A 2000 JWT Communications study found that US youngsters in grades 2-10 got their most striking impression of nursing from the fictional television show "ER," and consistent with that show's physician-centric messages, the youngsters found nursing to be a technical field "like shop," a job reserved for "girls" and one too lowly for private school students. Nursing is none of these things. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that "ER"'s message is so influential that one-third of their viewers use information learned on the show to make health care decisions. A key reason that nursing is in its current state--understaffed, underfunded and underempowered--is that the work of nurses is undervalued by the general public and health care decision makers, all of whom are consumers of media and advertising.

I strongly encourage Physicians Formula to immediately end the use of its "nurse" advertisement in any and all forms. Otherwise, the ad will continue to reinforce harmful misperceptions about nursing that contribute to the nursing shortage.

I also encourage you to make amends to the nursing profession by supporting efforts to improve public understanding of the profession in a tangible way. The Center for Nursing Advocacy, which engages in such efforts, would be happy to assist you. We are confident that organizations such as Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow would also be happy to work with you.

Please be part of the solution to the shortage. Help us improve public understanding of nursing at this critical time.

 

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