Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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May 20, 2005 -- Today NPR's Morning Edition ran a piece by Patricia Neighmond taking a remarkably uncritical look at what is reportedly the first web-based "reality show," a project produced by a California travel nurse agency that NPR says is called "Nurse TV" (promotional materials call it "13 Weeks"). Despite the project's stated goal of improving the nursing image at a time of shortage, the five-minute NPR piece treats it mostly as a new media convergence story. In fact, the show could spark some increased interest in nursing, though it is not yet clear whether it will tell the public much about the actual value of nursing work, as opposed to what we assume will be six attractive young nurses pursuing personal non-work goals and activities at a beach mansion. Of course, the project may do much to promote the business of sponsor Access Nurses, as well as the explosion of travel and temporary nursing, which some regard as a dangerous symptom of the current nursing crisis. The NPR piece--web-headlined "Reality TV Tackles Nurse Shortage"--appears to be utterly oblivious of this larger nursing context.

The story first takes listeners to the "Nurse TV" web site, where promotional material stresses that travel nurses are "compassionate," "adventurous" and "heroic." The stated idea of the show, premiering this fall, is to attract young reality show fans to nursing at a time of shortage by offering them a look at the travel nursing lifestyle. The six nurses ultimately chosen for the show will spend 13 weeks working at Southern California hospitals while living at a beachside Orange County mansion and pursuing what one of the producers describes as personal non-work goals. Examples mentioned include losing weight, and the choice of one aspiring participant, learning to surf. Indeed, the entire focus here is on the outdoor adventure and other benefits available to travel nurses, whose frequent movement allows them to ski in the winter and surf in the summer. The one nurse interviewed for the NPR piece has apparently held at least four different jobs in the last two years. She stresses that participation would be "fun" and also a way to let people know that there's more to nursing than things they may fear like "vomit" and "blood."

This is really a media story, and that makes a lot of sense, since the Access Nurses principal interviewed is himself a web and IT veteran now in his early 30's. Rather than interviewing an expert nurse as to what this effort might mean for the nursing shortage, the piece turns instead to a Bay Area media expert, who explains that such a web-based show is now possible because of the growing prevalence of broadband. There is reportedly a growing market for the web streaming of media content related to television shows like "The Apprentice," and the "Nurse TV" producers hope their web casts, which will at first be limited to seven minute segments a few times a week, will prove so popular that a television channel picks the show up.

We hope the show will find some time to give viewers a sense of what nurses actually do for a living and why it's critical to patient outcomes, and to that end we encourage all concerned to write to the producers. Although passing comment is made as to nurses' "heroism" and "compassion" (attributes that incidentally do nothing to tell people that nurses are life-saving professionals), the whole focus seems to be getting people away from the gritty reality of nursing to the outdoor fantasy world of travel nursing, where nursing shifts are merely undiscussed speed bumps and what matters seems to be the next wave. There is no mention of what kind of work the nurses might do, where they might work, or what workplace activities the show might include.

In her new book "Nursing Against the Odds," Suzanne Gordon describes the rise of travel and temporary nursing that has accompanied the nursing shortage, as hospitals whose 1990's cost-cutting drove nurses from the bedside now pay very large sums to staffing agencies in a desperate effort to find willing nurses. Gordon, who rightly casts no aspersions on travel nurses themselves, explains why the sharp growth in the use of agencies is worrisome. Potential problems include that it divides nurses in the workplace and creates resentment in regular staff nurses, who are often making less money; that it undermines unions and contributes to an atmosphere of shift work that decreases nurses' power and inclination to challenge the unsafe conditions that result from short-staffing; that it costs a lot of money that could be spent on adequate full time staffing and other critical needs; and that it may present inherent safety issues, since even the most qualified travelers will have difficulty instantly getting up to speed with site-specific and increasingly complex hospital systems. At the same time, Gordon argues, the tempting perks of travel nursing--short contracts, nice housing, sign-on bonuses, ski jumping off the hospital roof or whatever--may do little to keep nurses in the profession long term. Travelers don't have to like their hospital; they can be gone in 13 weeks. When they get tired of that, and there is no hospital at which they can stand to work for long--what happens then?

It's true that even if all we get on "Nurse TV" are "adventurous" young nurses pursuing interesting non-work goals, that might cause some young viewers to take a look at nursing, and maybe some will even find something to like about the profession itself. It's also true that lifestyle matters to career seekers, and many nurses can arrange their schedules to allow for a range of activities not available in most jobs. But it's hard to believe that a focus on what can be done off duty will really attract many people who will be motivated to stay and push the profession forward at a time of crisis. It seems to us that "Nurse TV" could do more for the nursing image if, in addition to reveling in the trappings of the O.C., it showed nurses providing skilled care in a variety of important, interesting settings, and experiencing the joy and pain that can still animate nursing practice, despite all the current troubles. Resolving the nursing crisis is less likely to involve stressing how nurses get to play after they escape all that icky workplace blood than explaining how nurses use their skills to save lives by controlling the bleeding.

Listen to the story "Reality TV Tackles Nurse Shortage" by Patricia Neighmond from the May 20 Morning Edition on NPR.

The press release from Nurse TV is below, with contact information for the producers.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Interviews available http://www.NurseTV.com

First Travel Nurse Reality Show Launches Trailer, Opens Casting Call

"13 WEEKS" Follows Six Travel Nurses in Southern California

San Diego, Calif. -- May 17, 2005 -- Access Nurses, a national travel nurse company, launches the trailer (http://www.NurseTV.com) and opens its casting call for the first reality show about travel nurses -- highly skilled healthcare professionals who travel the country working at hospitals with acute needs for 13 weeks at a time.

The show, 13 WEEKS, will focus on the lives of six travel nurses relocated to Southern California from all over the country. The focus will include the very intense and challenging hospital work environment, the excitement of exploring Southern California, and the demands of living with five new roommates.

"As a primary provider of patient care, nurses are unsung heroes," states Alan Braynin, CEO of Access Nurses. "13 WEEKS will highlight the many exciting facets of the travel nursing profession and showcase nurses as caregivers who change the lives of many."

The nurses on the show will live in a mansion in Orange Country and will experience the attractions and excitement of a Southern California lifestyle. Some of the nurses will also have personal development goals for the 13 WEEKS "The show will deliver quality entertainment by focusing on human potential and human drama without being scandalous or base," comments Braynin.

Filming will occur inside hospitals, inside the mansion and on pre-planned events. The show will be comprised of 13 WEEKS of episodes, as well as a background piece on each of the six nurses. Each episode will be five to seven minutes in length and there will be multiple episodes per week.

The casting call will be open for approximately four weeks and consists of an application process, reference and background check, and an audition tape. Candidate profiles will be posted, and voting will be open, at http://www.NurseTV.com in early June through mid-July.

The United States Department of Labor predicts that the country will have over 600,000 unfilled nursing positions by the year 2020. By showcasing the exciting and rewarding lifestyle that travel nursing offers, Access Nurses hopes the show will encourage more people to join the nursing profession.

About Access Nurses

Access Nurses is a leading provider of healthcare staffing, servicing over 1000 healthcare facilities in the United States. The company recruits domestic and international nurses and allied health professionals and places them on contract, temporary and permanent positions throughout the United States.

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