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Worth Dying For

October 2006 -- We hear that a fine new ¨establishment in Tempe, Arizona, one Heart Attack Grill, has been the subject of complaints by those battleaxes at the Arizona State Board of Nursing. And it's all because the Grill uses scantily dressed "naughty nurse" wait staff to sell burgers and beer! Last month, the real nurses (or "Terrorists & FemiNazis," as the Grill describes them) even got the Arizona attorney general's office to ask the Grill to stop suggesting that its employees are real nurses, in alleged violation of the state's protected title statute. The Center is outraged at this assault on the free speech rights of scrubs-clad Grill owner "Dr. Jon" Basso. But we will explore what those scary Arizona nurses might be getting at, when they aren't busy killing millions of Jews or crashing jets into buildings. The nurses might be upset because the Grill is exploiting nursing's long-standing position as the most sexually-fantasized-about job on the planet. That reinforces stereotypes that discourage practicing and potential nurses (especially men), foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect that weakens nurses' claims to adequate resources. Those stereotypes exacerbate the global nursing shortage, a public health crisis that is killing thousands of people. It would even be killing those whose poor diets help lead to heart attacks, if the link between food and cardiac conditions were not just another silly lie in a world in which, as the Grill says, "insane political correctness stands as a barrier between the average man and his pursuit of happiness."

Hand out our flyer to protest the Heart Attack Grill's waitress uniforms!

The Heart Attack Grill's web site explains its striking culinary vision. That vision centers on Single, Double, Triple, and Quadruple Bypass Burgers, Flatliner Fries (fried in lard), Alpha Male Mondays, and of course, the slogan "Taste...Worth Dying For." But for our purposes, let's focus on its staffing vision, which features attractive young female servers wearing very revealing "nurse" outfits. The Grill's web site is full of photos of these "nurses" (e.g. "Nurse Nicole"). There is the "Heart Attack Grill Song," whose lyrics include "You'll Be Served By Sexy Nurses And Man That's Paradise." And there is even a Heart Attack grill cartoon, in which "Dr. Jon" and "his nurses" debate their customers' needs for burgers, bypasses, and head...on their beer. Ha ha! To top it all off, the Grill is gearing up to actually sell naughty nurse lingerie in its Pro Shop ("Imagine how your special someone will look in your favorite nurse's outfit")! Party on, Garth! The lingerie, by the way, appears largely to come from our friends "3 Wishes Lingerie"--which continues to churn out myriad naughty nurse uniforms.

However, in the wake of all the recent fuss, the Grill's web site seems to have changed. It now links each of its many references to "nurses" to a disclaimer at the bottom of the page stating that it's only a "parody," and that the women pictured don't really have "medical training" or provide "medical services." The news page is full of communications from Grill management and supportive customers, who call the Grill's critics on the nursing issue "idiots," "humorless," "bitter," "short," "fat," "ugly," and "politically correct nimrods."

The site devotes an entire separate page to mocking the Board of Nursing and the Attorney General's office, arguing that there is little chance that anyone would think that Grill "nurses" are actually nurses. But the page doesn't stop there. It suggests that only humorless "politically correct extremist wackos" would think there was any danger of such misunderstanding. The page includes photos of an attractive woman in various other sexually provocative work outfits, including those of a firefighter, an FBI agent, and a nun, facetiously explaining that these images do not really show members of those professions either. And the page attaches a PDF file of the Attorney General's September 1, 2006 letter, which is actually very conciliatory and does not directly threaten to bring suit. The letter does note that the Assistant AG who wrote it has spoken with Basso on the phone, informed him of the Board's problem, and expressed the hope that they could "work together" to achieve the Board's goal that the Grill not use the term "nurse" to describe anyone who is not actually a nurse. The site then invites visitors to vote on the following question:

Is an American company like the Heart Attack Grill protected by our First Amendment Right to Free Speech in its parody of the nursing industry?

YES, they have a Right to Free Speech which includes comedic parody

NO, they should be sent to a Soviet Gulag and be bullwhipped by fat ugly Feminazis

Go right to our sexy "Naughty" cartoon script or read more below.

The idea that the Grill's usage of the word "nurse" violates Arizona's protected title statute is certainly an interesting one. There is a real risk that some people who wrongly identify themselves as "nurses" will mislead the public, threatening public health and undermining the nursing profession, even outside of the traditional clinical settings. One distressing example is the recent growth of infant caregivers with little or no health training who market themselves as "baby nurses." That dangerous trend appears to have played a role in New York State's recent passage of a protected title statute for nurses.

For us, the real problem with the Heart Attack Grill "nurses" is not so much that many people are likely to think they are really nurses. But constantly linking powerful sexual images so closely to the profession of nursing--to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients--reinforces long-standing stereotypes about nursing. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses, encourage sexual violence, and lessen respect for nursing. When you combine this lack of respect, the intense college-level training nursing actually requires, and the difficulty and stress of nursing practice, it is no surprise that the profession remains in the midst of a global shortage driven by rampant short-staffing.

Of course, the naughty nurse image has little to do with a belief that real nurses are sexy, and much to do with a desire to have anonymous sex with hotties dressed in lingerie-like "nurse" uniforms. It's diverting for some men to think that nursing is populated by disposable bimbos, which may also help such men handle the notion that female nurses have some power over them in clinical settings. But the disposable bimbo image does not appeal to most career seekers, particularly men, which is a key reason the profession remains over 90% female. We note that the Grill's owner is a "doctor," and not a "nurse," and none of the female wait staff are "physicians." Physicians are powerful men, nurses are subservient sexbots--duh. But the seemingly endless devaluation of nursing through this kind of imagery translates into an underpowered profession that may not be strong enough to save your life when you need it to do so. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to overcome the current crisis.

And of course, Grill enthusiasts don't just see the sexually-oriented images of "nurses" that are available on the web site. They interact closely with attractive, young, half-dressed wait staff who admittedly have no health expertise, but who do use nursing imagery and equipment (including wheel chairs) as soft-core props. Yes, these guys presumably know they're not really nurses. But this kind of intense personal interaction is likely to create a strong, lasting link in their minds between jiggly sex objects and nursing. Yeah, they might say, it's all just a big goof, and really we have the utmost respect for nursing--though we see no evidence of that on the Grill's web site, which suggests that the Grill doesn't even know or care enough to pretend it thinks real nurses play an important role in health care.

But all stereotypes have some effect. For example, what do you think one of the "real men" who frequent the Grill would say if one of his friends mentioned he was thinking about a nursing career? This is the difference between sexual images of female nurses and, say, female FBI agents. The FBI is not in crisis because it does intensely demanding mental and physical work that few people really respect, in large part because of the idea that its agents are brainless handmaidens and bimbos. Nursing is.

We would suggest that the Heart Attack Grill could probably do just as well if it altered its naughty nurse uniforms to be just, well, naughty. But the Grill's web site suggests that its idea of dealing with nurses' concerns is to call them names. The site also suggests that Grill thinks its responsibility to a group that feels insulted is limited to the Grill's subjective view of whether the group should feel insulted--an attitude that would justify saying anything about anyone. And in fact, the Center has tried without success in two phone calls to persuade Grill owner "Dr. Jon" to stop using the naughty nurse imagery.

We do know that the Grill enjoys cartoon drama. So we put together the little script below--sorry we don't have the Grill's drawing talent--to try to explain what we mean in more dramatic terms.

Read our cartoon below, or see our update!



In a HOSPITAL ROOM, we see a middle-aged male PATIENT lying in bed. In strides a fairly young, harried-looking female PHYSICIAN.

PHYSICIAN:   Good morning, Mr...."Dr. Bob"?   Are you a physician?

PATIENT: Uh...not really. I own a theme restaurant, the Fat-Clogged Artery Grill. We have naughty "nurses" sell burgers and beer to guys, sort of flirt with them and stuff. And I'm "Dr. Bob," you know, the head honcho.

PHYSICIAN (her eyes glazing slightly as she starts to examine him):   That sounds great, I'll be sure to check that out. In the mean time, we do need to get ready for your bypass surgery.

PATIENT:   Yeah, speaking of that, I did have a couple questions--

PHYSICIAN:   Has someone given you all the pre-op instructions, explained your condition and the procedure in terms you can understand, run all the tests, made sure that you're ready physically, given you and your family psychosocial care, been monitoring your status with those complex machines there, administered the various potentially lethal drugs you'll need and assessed your reaction, and gotten ready to detect subtle changes and intervene if you start failing overnight and if necessary argue with me about it, monitor and keep you alive during the surgery, monitor and assess you for post-op complications, and start you thinking about all the challenges of discharge, rehab., and turning your life around with better diet and exercise?


PHYSICIAN:   Well, you have lots of family members, right? (Looking around the empty room, then, smiling, under the bed.) Somewhere?

PATIENT:   How could someone who isn't trained--but wait, don't doctors do all that stuff?

PHYSICIAN (shaking her head):   Oh, Dr. Bob, you've been watching too many old "House" episodes! Real physicians don't do much of that. That's pretty much nursing work.

PATIENT:   So, why can't they do it?

PHYSICIAN:   Do you see any nurses here?

PATIENT:   No, but can't you just order one up with my dinner? I like 'em hot!

PHYSICIAN (sighing):   Actually, only nurse managers could "order them up"--we had nothing to do with it. But the last nurse I saw was this sad woman from a few years ago, always babbling about forced overtime, short-staffing...she was a nut! They say she came in for a shift one day and just climbed into a bed herself. Didn't last long. Anyway, they're long gone.

PATIENT: Really? Why?

PHYSICIAN (shrugging):   Well, you know, as the years went by there were fewer and fewer. And of course, the more who left, the more back-breaking work there was for the ones who were left, with them rushing around like maniacs for 12 hours, no food, no rest room breaks, angry patients, angry physicians. The last ones were pretty much out of their minds--PTSD.

PATIENT:   But why did it get that way?

PHYSICIAN:   Well, the hospital couldn't find funding for them any more. The bean counters figured they didn't make much difference, not too smart, kind of slutty, pretty much just hanging around to fluff pillows. I also recall the nurses had a big issue with abuse--they were always getting assaulted, grabbed, propositioned, called names. "Hey baby, how about a little sexual healing?" "Say, are you the head nurse? Heh heh." Not at job I would ever consider, believe me.

PATIENT:   Yeah, but--

PHYSICIAN:   And the male nurses! Always dealing with: "Could you give me a spongebath, nursey!" "Hey--where's your little dress, baby?" Can't blame them for getting out. Anyway, you seem fine, and I've got so many other patients, I'll be going now. A tech will check on you in a couple hours, probably. Think positive thoughts!

PATIENT:   But...


Later that night, the PATIENT is alone in his room. A young NAUGHTY NURSE enters.

PATIENT: Nurse Candy! You came!

NAUGHTY NURSE (giggling): Not yet, Dr. Bob! But I did bring you a Flabby Patty, and some First Amendment Freedom Fries!

PATIENT: Thanks, Candy. But I don't feel so great. Could you get someone, this call button doesn't seem to--

NAUGHTY NURSE: Dr. Bob, I wanted you to be the first to know: I got that modeling job, and my agent says I might have a shot at "Idol"!

PATIENT: OK, but I really feel...ah...

PATIENT passes out.

NAUGHTY NURSE: That's OK, Dr. Bob, you rest.

NAUGHTY NURSE picks up a TV remote and turns on the set, and we see that "Grey's Anatomy" is on. On the show, in the NICU, a chief RESIDENT sternly orders five PHYSICIAN INTERNS to monitor a critically ill infant 24/7. No nurse appears.

Later, we see PATIENT again in his bed. The lighting is now SOFT and DREAMY. The TV is off. PATIENT's eyes OPEN. NAUGHTY NURSE enters and approaches the bed.

NAUGHTY NURSE (sitting on the bed, her hand going under the sheet): Oh, Dr. Bob, are you wearing TAG Body Spray by Gillette? I think I'm getting "lusty-nurse fever"!

NAUGHTY NURSE quickly takes off her small top and bends down to kiss PATIENT.

PATIENT: Oh, Candy. Oh...mmm...uh-oh... (Struggling to breathe.) Hey...uh...uh!

A MONITOR nearby beeps more quickly, then in an unbroken tone. A FLATLINE appears.

Later, we see the PATIENT lying motionless in the bed. The lighting is no longer soft or dreamy. The MONITOR tone remains unbroken, but now "Grey's Anatomy" also murmurs from the television. NAUGHTY NURSE emerges from the adjoining bathroom in a NEW naughty nurse outfit, as if she has just taken a shower. Ignoring the monitor, she begins to pole dance using an IV pole, waving her long hair from side to side.

NAUGHTY NURSE: Oh, Dr. Bob, that Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo is enough to make my follicles moan and writhe in ecstasy! Oh! Oh!

PATIENT remains motionless. NAUGHTY NURSE eventually NOTICES and stops dancing.

NAUGHTY NURSE: Well, if you're just gonna lie there, you won't mind if I have your Freedom Fries, will you?

NAUGHTY NURSE settles down to watch "Grey's Anatomy" with her fries. The MONITOR continues to beep in the unbroken tone. Annoyed, NAUGHTY NURSE turns up the television volume, just in time to hear a FEMALE PHYSICIAN character snap at a MALE PHYSICIAN.

FEMALE PHYSICIAN: Did you just call me a nurse?!


Update on the Heart Attack Grill Story


October 31, 2006 -- The Arizona media has been covering the Center's efforts to persuade Tempe's Heart Attack Grill to stop using "naughty nurse" waitresses. The Phoenix NBC television affiliate (KPNX) ran a story yesterday, and the ABC affiliate (KNXV) ran one on Oct. 27, with a similar piece appearing in that day's East Valley Tribune. (See our full press coverage on the issue and our press release.) These stories confirm that a key part of the half-dressed female "nurses"' job at the Grill is "role playing": helping diners with "heart attacks," pushing the overfed in wheelchairs, sitting on their laps. But why stop the "fun" there? Grill owner "Dr. Jon" is fully dressed in a lab coat and tie, but why not a skimpy "physician" outfit for him? And how about hospital gowns for Grill customers? Mind the back--it gets a little chilly! Every day can be Hospital Halloween! Meanwhile, Grill supporters have directed angry name-calling and sex-related obscenities at the Center. "Dr. Jon" has threatened to turn a fire hose on any nurse distributing leaflets outside the restaurant. What would Hippocrates say about such aggression? But even if the Grill is just one restaurant having "fun," its imagery is part of a relentless stream from the advertising, entertainment, and hospitality industries that suggests nursing is about hot females bestowing sexual favors. Even humor and fantasy images affect how people act. That's why advertisers spend billions on them. Please let the Grill know that nurses need respect to get the resources it will take to resolve the nursing shortage--and save real heart attack victims.

See our latest update.