30,000 nurses protest MTV's Scrubbing In, network makes concessions
Since MTV's 10-episode reality show Scrubbing In premiered last month, tens of thousands of nurses, as well as The Truth About Nursing and other nursing groups, have worked to persuade MTV to cancel the show or at least reduce the damage it is causing. See our original analysis. and the original petition. After these collective efforts, MTV reached out to The Truth About Nursing to engage in extensive discussions about how to ameliorate the situation. MTV has agreed to take several helpful steps, including airing the show at a less prominent time, some re-editing of episodes, and other efforts to convey accurate information about nursing, although the last six episodes will air. We thank MTV for being receptive to our concerns and agreeing to take some positive steps. Below we explain the five main steps MTV has agreed to take:
1. Less prominent air time, potentially cutting viewership in half - Starting with this past week's episode (airing November 14, 2013), MTV promised to move the air time of Scrubbing In from 10 pm to midnight, which our contact Jason Rzepka, SVP of communications and public affairs at MTV, said would likely cut viewership in half, from about 500,000 to 250,000. (MTV notes that our concerns were among several factors that led to the time slot change.)
2. Re-editing some episodes - Three of the six remaining episodes of Scrubbing In will be re-edited to include more clinical scenes featuring nursing skill. Those who have been watching know that the nurses are inexperienced and so far have displayed minimal expertise, so we should not expect too much.
3. "Day in the life of a nurse" MTV website feature - MTV now plans to do a "day in the life of a nurse" feature for its website that they will cross-promote to the 40 million people who follow their Facebook page. It will be several pages of photographs with accompanying text intended to educate viewers about real nursing. The Truth About Nursing will be involved in guiding this production.
4. Blog post on nursing on MTV website - MTV would also like to feature a blog post on its website about what it takes to become a nurse. Our contact said that the website receives 10 million unique visitors per month. We will also be closely involved in putting this together.
5. Ongoing consultation - Our contact said that if MTV did more nursing programming, they would consult with The Truth About Nursing so we can educate those involved about potential pitfalls and key messages about nursing. It is not clear if Scrubbing In will return after the current season, but if it does, we would rather do what we can to improve the depictions.
Q & A with our executive director, Sandy Summers:
Q: Tell me about your call with MTV.
Summers: I spoke with Jason Rzepka, SVP of communications and public affairs at MTV. He listened attentively and as he learned from me about the myriad media stereotypes that cause an undervaluation of nursing and subsequent underfunding of the profession that hinders our ability to deliver quality care, Jason developed concern for nursing's crisis and MTV's role in it. Jason indicated to me that he wanted to help resolve the impasse between MTV and the nursing community. He said that he and others at MTV did not know much about the nursing stereotypes or that they undermine nursing such as they lead to a dearth of funding for nursing practice, education, research and residencies. Even though MTV did a little online video of the nine Scrubbing In nurses discussing the myths (stereotypes) of nursing, the nurses were not prepared to adequately address the stereotypes or why they were a problem. Neither did the executives apparently realize the connect between the media and the nursing profession's health. So once Jason understood that--and that only happened because he is an extremely good listener--he set out of work with us to improve the situation as much as possible given the constraints he was under trying to balance MTV's business dealings with its desire to stop infuriating 4 million North American nurses. We spoke first Monday, November 4, 2013 and we had a follow-up call Tuesday, November 12. We emailed back and forth in between and since then.
Q: How did negotiations go between you and MTV?
Summers: I actually asked first to have the show go on immediate hiatus and be re-edited with our help so as to include nursing skill, expertise and autonomy, while removing the deeply personal and sexual interactions shown of nurses' lives. The naughty nurse is such a widespread and damaging stereotype--it's the idea that nurses exist to provide sexual services and it contributes to sexual violence and harassment in the workplace, impedes recruitment of self-respecting people into the profession, and undermines nurses' claims to adequate resources. If all nurses do is provide sex, why do they need significant funding for nursing education, research or practice?
And if the show couldn't go on hiatus and re-edit its episodes, I asked for it to be canceled. I always like media creators to be able to retain as much of their media as possible so their efforts and resources are not wasted. When we worked with Heineken, Wal-Mart, CVS and the US Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health about their damaging media, they were able to retain their original vision, they just adapted their messages around their newly found need not to stereotype and degrade nurses. But then after I initially spoke with Jason, I saw episode #3 and it appeared that there was little hope for the show to be able to improve enough to not degrade the nursing profession, so I asked for it to be canceled. Sadly, the producers spent most of their time filming the nurses on their off time, picking up people in bars, talking about their vibrators and fake boobs, urinating in public and having loud and trite arguments with each other, and spent too little time filming them in the clinical setting for the focus of the show to be entirely revamped. But we are happy that MTV cut viewership of the show in half by moving it from 10 pm to midnight and that they agreed to re-edit the final three episodes so as to include more nursing skill to the extent possible given the amount of footage they shot.
MTV also offered to do a "Day in the Life of a Nurse" and "What it takes to become a nurse" features for its website, which they plan to cross-promote on its significant social media outlets. The "Day in the Life of a Nurse" will feature several webpages of a nurse in the clinical setting and accompanying text to explain what nurses do to save lives and improve patient outcomes. We specifically discussed the importance of avoiding the naughty nurse image and having the feature depict the important work that nurses do. Jason fully agreed on this because as far as I understand MTV's intent, they want to bring more accurate information about nursing to their followers and viewers in part because many of them are interested in learning about nursing. MTV has asked our help preparing both these features, which we are very happy to provide.
Q: Was there much tension in the negotiations?
Summers: We had several cordial and constructive conversations, and I give great credit to Jason for his openness and willingness to learn new things. It's a characteristic that is less common than it should be in Hollywood, and in this case it enabled MTV and the nursing profession to meet in the middle. Few of those involved in creating television programming seem predisposed to help nursing improve its media image. Hollywood producers and executives have often simply dismissed our concerns--claiming that their programming can't affect the real world, even though they are eager to accept credit for improving public understanding when their work is well-received--so we were very pleased with our interactions with Jason and MTV.
Q: Did you discuss future nursing television programs that MTV might host?
Summers: Jason did say that if MTV decided to cover nursing in its future that they would ask me to come up to its studios to educate their writers and producers about nursing stereotypes, the damage they cause and how to avoid them. I look forward to these interactions if it should come to that, but I feel that the reality show format is a mismatch for improving the image of a profession in crisis. We need public focus on nursing skill, autonomy and advocacy, not the sex lives of nurses. Of course, nurses are allowed to have love lives and sex lives and be sexually attractive--that usually means they're exercising and eating healthy foods. But at this point it's probably not going to be helpful for young nurses' sex lives and partying to be the main focus of a television show, because the naughty nurse image remains so strong. So a reality show format is fine as long as it doesn't reinforce harmful stereotypes about a group that's struggling. Look at Nurse Jackie, which is mostly great for nursing--the main character is a sexual being and an addict with some serious issues, but she's no stereotype and the show makes clear that she's a tough, savvy clinical virtuoso.
Q: When did MTV say that these changes will happen?
Summers: We last spoke on Nov. 12 and the changes went into effect on Nov. 14, when the 4th episode aired at midnight instead of 10 pm, which was expected to cut viewership in half. In the next few weeks, our organization and MTV are going to work together on the "Day in the Life of a Nurse" and the "What it takes to become a nurse" features on MTV's website. The producers are apparently working now to re-edit the final three episodes before they are broadcast in about a month.
Q: How does this relate to other television programming?
Summers: We encourage all television shows to work with us to improve how they portray nurses. Call or email me at 410-323-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org and I will come out and educate your producers and writers about the damage that media stereotypes cause and guide the shows in how to avoid causing harm to nursing. First stop the blood-letting. Then possibly we could work together to even improve the situation by depicting nurses performing nursing work (physicians usually get all the credit for the meaningful work that nurses do) and by showing nurses assessing patients--collecting information that is vital to patient health--and making important decisions that turns around the health of a patient in decline. People do not know that nurses make life and death decisions, that they educate patients and families, and that they advocate to prevent physicians from making errors or bad decisions. People don't know that nurses are hired, fired and supervised by nurses. Too many shows--including the nurse-focused shows--depict physicians as being in charge of nurses, when that is not at all the case. Nurses have nursing managers, leaders and educators. Nursing is an autonomous profession.
For more information about The Truth About Nursing's Scrubbing In campaign, please follow this link: www.truthaboutnursing.org/news/2013/nov/12_scrubbing_in.html
The Truth About Nursing is a 501(c)(3) international non-profit organization based in Baltimore that seeks to increase public understanding of the central, front-line role nurses play in modern health care. The focus of the Truth is to promote more accurate, balanced and frequent media portrayals of nurses and increase the media's use of nurses as expert sources.
See the Truth's about us pages.
For more information, please contact:
Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Founder and Executive Director
The Truth About Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21212-2937
Go to The Truth About Nursing's main page