Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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"What are doctors?!"

June 23, 2005 -- Tonight's episode of the popular television game show "Jeopardy!" featured the following clue: "The Golden Lamp Awards are bestowed for the best portrayals of these health professionals in the media." Of course, we give these awards annually to recognize good (and bad) portrayals of nursing. Although we might have preferred a clue that communicated more of the substance of nursing, the way the clue played out on the show struck us as a great illustration of the attitudes that are the very object of our work. Upon the reading of the clue, one of the three contestants--a medical student--quickly, almost gleefully, answered: "What are doctors?!"

The clue ran in a category called "Awards," and when the medical student--Brandy--answered it incorrectly, she lost $800. Neither of the other two contestants tried to answer the question either, and host Alex Trebek gave the correct answer: "What are nurses?" Holding his hand up as if holding a lamp, Trebek said, "The Lady...with the Lamp," referring, of course, to Florence Nightingale, for whose innovative round-the-clock assessment tool the Awards are named.

We did not really expect many people to know that nursing is associated with lamps. But we were struck by Brandy's quick, assured response. She obviously had no idea what the answer was, and presumably had no reason to think that physicians were associated with lamps (gold, of course, is another matter). It's hard to escape the conclusion that she simply could not conceive of health professionals other than physicians whose work could be associated with awards serious enough to the subject of a Jeopardy! clue. Incidentally, despite Brandy's miscue on this question, she was the winning contestant on this episode.

The Center thanks Jeopardy! for airing this clue. We hope the clue at least let the show's 12 million viewers know that nurses care deeply about how they are portrayed in the media, and that their work is indeed a fit subject for awards, however obscure it may be even to some of their own health care colleagues.

Please send a note of thanks to Jeopardy! editorial producer Billy Wisse by clicking here for his email address. And please copy us on your letter at

See information about our initial concern with Jeopardy! that led us to address nursing as portrayed on the show, and a later write-up of Jeopardy!'s response to us, when they promised to address nursing on the show.