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The Hollywood Nurse Project

Although nurses regularly top polls that measure "ethics and honesty," research suggests that the public considers nurses to be relatively uneducated people whose work consists mainly of fetching things for physicians and fulfilling the sexual needs of patients and/or physicians. Society gets these ideas to a large degree from the powerful images that Hollywood presents to viewers, decade after decade. Hollywood shows air in nearly every country in the world, and so they affect how nurses are perceived and treated everywhere. We believe Americans have a special responsibility to the global nursing profession to try to improve these damaging portrayals of nursing made in our nation.

Hollywood embraces and perpetuates two especially damaging stereotypes:

The unskilled image, in which nurses lack education and exist to answer telephones, push gurneys and clean up messes, when they appear at all; much of the time, physicians are shown doing key work that nurses do in real life (chapter 3 in our book).

The handmaiden image, in which nurses are meek physician servants who follow commands without question; their most common line is "Yes, Doctor" (chapter 4 in our book).

These are the predominant images of nursing in dramas and sitcoms such as Grey's Anatomy, The Mindy Project, ER, House, and too many others to easily name here.

Other stereotypes that have appeared in Hollywood shows include the naughty nurse (Dr. Steve-O, Whitney, The Dr. Oz Show), the golddigger (Dr. Phil), and the battleaxe (Grey's Anatomy, ER) and others. It is especially troubling that nurses are portrayed as having little knowledge, lacking responsibility in health care decisions, and playing no role in the effort to push health research and practice forward.

Changing what people think about nursing begins with transforming the ideas that Hollywood distributes to the world.

We are seeking funding to pursue work on the following projects:

Hollywood Writers' Conference

Hollywood Nursing Resource Center


Nurse Expert Database

Media Training

Hollywood Writers' Conference

The Truth has proposed to the UCLA School of Nursing that we co-host a conference in Los Angeles to educate Hollywood image creators about nursing. UCLA has sponsored Hollywood media symposia in the past and the Truth's director has been a speaker. The university has tentatively accepted our proposal, but both they and we would need funding to make that happen.

Hollywood shows are constantly looking for cutting-edge research and innovative health practices that make the shows look as though they are at the forefront of health care. They want to hear about new ways of doing things in health care. We would like to give them what they want--cutting-edge technical information--so that they will listen to our underlying message: Nurses have value and expertise, so why don't you consult them and put them on your shows?!

To achieve that, we propose that nursing leaders who push nursing research and practice forward present their work to a gathering of Hollywood writers, producers and directors. We would seek to get as many bright, articulate nurses as possible placed in front of this group. Presentations would be short so we could get many speakers and many different ideas before the writers. We would also provide writers with contact information for the experts so they could contribute more in-depth information to make a writer's particular plot idea sound realistic.

The conference would have to be carefully constructed and marketed. Many in Hollywood do believe that nurses know little of value, so why should they come to a conference to hear about bedpans? But we believe we can do it in collaboration with UCLA, whose contacts, Hollywood savvy, and institutional reputation would, in our view, be our best opportunity for success.

We believe that nursing leaders would be interested in sharing their work in a setting that would increase the possibility that it might be featured on television. And those with an interest who could not attend or for whom the conference did not have room could still be placed in our database of nurse experts, which we can distribute to Hollywood writers. More information on the nurse expert database appears in the discussion of the proposed Resource Center below.

Having nurses as educated and knowledgeable resources is the first step in educating Hollywood that nurses have an education and an autonomous scope of practice. If nurses in real life have an education and autonomy, it will seep into the minds of writers who consult them, and eventually these ideas will flow into more television show plotlines.

The shows with potential interest in our conference would of course include popular health-related shows such as Grey's Anatomy, The Mindy Project, Nurse Jackie, and Royal Pains, as well as shows with some health plotlines such as Parks & Recreation and The Glades. The conference would also interest those planning new health-related shows, those whose shows occasionally feature health plotlines such as crime dramas, and those who work on news and talk shows. Our most recent fall television series preview explores the many health-related shows on the air. Wherever life and death intersect, nursing may be portrayed, and writers who create those plot lines and dialogue would have an interest.


Hollywood Nursing Resource Center

We believe that much entertainment media on nursing is inaccurate and damaging because nurses have not done enough to inject themselves into the media creation process. Media creators do not know what nurses do because nurses have not told them. Of course, it is the job of media creators to investigate the subject matter about which they are writing. But many think they already know what nurses do because they have seen decades of the same unskilled, handmaiden, naughty nurse depictions, with little to counter those images. To change how media creators think about nursing over the long term, we need a Resource Center with media-savvy nurses and nurse-savvy public relations people to continually provide information from nurses and about nurses to Hollywood writers, directors and producers.  


We envision that the Resource Center would send written information about cutting-edge events in health care (with a nursing focus) to our target audience. We would send staff out to meet with writers or host them in our Hollywood office. And though we envision starting with Hollywood, news programs would also benefit from our intervention. We would host round tables for large and important media creators, such as the television networks. Media creators would learn who nurses are and what they do to save lives. And we would send media creators home with a DVD of clips that have been damaging and different clips that are helpful.  

Nurse Expert Database

The Resource Center would reach out to television shows, movie directors and others to provide the kind of information about nursing conveyed at our Hollywood conference mentioned above. The Center would build and maintain a database of nurse experts who would provide information on cutting-edge research and practices going on in various subspecialties. Then the writers would be in contact with the nurse experts about these topics and nurses could provide the information from a nursing perspective, which is holistic and different from the usual physician perspective. This alone would provide something of special value for Hollywood writers and potentially lead to better understanding and better depictions of nursing. 

Media training

The Resource Center could provide media training to nurse experts, to prepare them for outreach with the skills to educate and persuade the media and avoid pitfalls. We would like to prepare nurses for placement on national news shows or even shows such as The Doctors, Dr. Phil, The Dr. Oz Show, The Today Show and other US national daytime shows.


Back to the Overview of Proposed Projects of The Truth About Nursing.  



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A Few Successes —
We Can Change the Media!

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