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News on Nurses in the Media
December 2005 Archives

Heroes, Whores and Handmaidens: 3rd Annual Golden Lamp Awards Rank Best and Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing in 2005. Awards featured on Jeopardy! and in the January issue of the American Journal of Nursing

Baltimore, MD, December 27, 2005 -- The Center for Nursing Advocacy and the American Journal of Nursing announce this year's annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses. Media recognized by the "Golden Lamp Awards" include such well-known television hits as ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," singled out for especially poor performance. The Golden Lamp Awards highlight media portrayals from around the world that the Center believes deserve attention, for better or worse. See the full press release or go straight to the awards in full or summary version.

UPDATE on Benghazi Six -- Sentences overturned, retrial granted on Christmas Day

December 25, 2005 -- Today CNN posted an unsigned AP story reporting that the Libyan Supreme Court had overturned the death sentences imposed on five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian physician convicted of intentionally infecting hundreds of hospitalized Libyan children with the HIV virus. The court "accepted" the appeal of the health care workers, who had argued that their confessions were the result of torture, and ordered a retrial, though it was not clear when that would occur. more...

AP: "Inappropriate patient behavior tough on nurses"

December 15, 2005 -- Today MSNBC posted a short, unsigned Associated Press item about the widespread problem of sexual harassment of nurses by their patients. The Missouri-based piece provides a fairly good look at the breadth of the problem and some of its effects, though it understates the danger it can pose to patient care and nurses themselves, and does not convey the lack of support some harassed nurses feel they get from their institutions. more...

Center calls for boycott of Mattel products after company refuses to withdraw "Nurse Quacktitioner" dolls from market

December 21, 2005 -- Mattel, the world's leading toy maker, has notified the Center that the company refuses to withdraw or buy back from retailers its Furryville "Nurse Quacktitioner" dolls. The doll's name suggests that nurse practitioners (NPs) are "quacks," untrained persons who pretend to be physicians and dispense medical treatment. We understand that, as part of the normal practice for such "collectible" dolls, Mattel will no longer make or distribute the dolls. And the company has expressed regret for “upsetting” NPs. We appreciate that, but as long as the dolls remain for sale, the dolls' pernicious effects will continue. (See our initial analysis here.) Mattel’s assurances that it values nurses and its commendable support for children’s hospitals are irrelevant to the anti-NP message consumers receive from the dolls. The Center has gotten Wal-Mart's agreement to sell the dolls back to Mattel. But because Mattel refuses to buy them back, the Center urges everyone to:  

  1. boycott all Mattel products, including Fisher-Price, American Girl, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Barbie items;
  2. if you wish, buy the Nurse Quacktitioner dolls (Mattel does not profit from this--they have made all their money already by selling them to retailers), render them unusable with permanent marker or in some other non-violent way, and return them to: Valerie Rodgers, Consumer Relations; MS# M1-1426; Mattel, Inc.; 333 Continental Blvd., El Segundo, CA 90245 (and please let us know how many you sent back); and
  3. See our January 13, 2006 update on this campaign

    Thank you!

"The unique gifts that nurses receive"

December 21, 2005 -- Today the Globe and Mail (Toronto) ran a moving op-ed by Calgary maternity nurse Raewyn Janota. It describes the skilled, sensitive care Janota recently provided to a couple whose baby was stillborn. In taking readers inside this wrenching example of her practice, Janota underlines the importance of her work and shows why, even during the current crisis, career seekers should still want to do it. The piece might have included a bit more about the "gift" nurses receive in knowing that they save lives and improve outcomes in more tangible ways. But the piece is still a powerful look at some key aspects of nursing. We thank Janota for writing it and the Globe and Mail for publishing it. more...

If only we could find a 10,000-word major metropolitan newspaper article on nursing malpractice, that would be so great!

December 20, 2005 -- Today the Baltimore Sun ran the last installment of Fred Schulte's massive three-part series "Masking malpractice cases." The gist of it is that Maryland's system for overseeing physician practice is failing to protect patients. According to the report, that is because regulators pay insufficient attention to malpractice claim trends, rules keep most physicians' claim histories confidential, and litigation practices by lawyers and elite hospitals often allow physicians to escape liability and scrutiny. The piece focuses on the small number of physicians who have had unusually high numbers of malpractice claims or payments; regulators in other states reportedly examine those physicians closely. So what's our problem with all this reporting about physician errors? The problem is that the subtext of the huge focus on physician malpractice in recent years, whether from the angle of patient safety or the cost of malpractice insurance, is that only physician care has important effects on patient outcomes. Nursing is ignored because it is not deemed important. more...

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The Gash Cam

December 19, 2005 -- Tonight, CBS' "The Late Show with David Letterman" included a short segment in which a hand surgeon removed several stitches from Dave's hand, which he had injured in a household mishap. Standing by were two giggling, attractive "nurses" in short white dresses and white caps. Letterman gave credit to nurses following his heart bypass a few years ago. But this segment was another tired suggestion that nurses are brainless bimbos, which is especially reprehensible at a time of critical shortage. more...

M. M. Styles, global nursing visionary, leader and scholar

December 18, 2005 -- Today the New York Times published a fairly good obituary for Margretta Madden Styles. Dr. Styles was a renowned nursing leader and scholar who was instrumental in establishing nursing certification standards, and who also served as president of the International Council of Nurses and the American Nurses Association. Jeremy Pearce's short piece about Styles, who died from cancer at her Florida home in November, was headlined: "M. M. Styles, 75; Helped to Define Nursing Standards." The piece does not quite convey the full global significance of Styles' work, but it's pretty good considering how nursing usually fares on obituary pages. more...

NBC News Broadcast Standards

December 15, 2005 -- NBC has responded to the 3500+ letters sent as part of our campaign about the "Today" show segment on nurse practitioner (NP)-staffed quick clinics that aired November 14, 2005. Please see their letter here, and our response to them. Although the Center is not satisfied with the position of NBC News on the segment, we do appreciate its consideration of our views, and especially that the "Today" show has agreed to work with a new group of nursing organizations to improve its coverage of nursing issues going forward. In fact, we understand that "Today" has already run a segment about the worrisome school nursing shortage, although the Center has not yet seen that piece. So we are ending our "Today" show campaign as to NBC today. But Dr. Edward Hill and the AMA refuse even to respond to the Center or (to our knowledge) any of the thousands who have written to protest Dr. Hill's unfounded comments denigrating NP care. So we are continuing our campaign as to the AMA; to participate, please click here.

"If there's ever an emergency, don't even bother trying to find me -- just call 911"

                                         -- A school nurse responsible for 7,200 students

December 13, 2005 -- Today USA Today ran a massive and influential report on the shortage of school nurses, including a very good main story and five shorter related pieces. The main ideas are that U.S. school nurses are vital but severely understaffed, and that given the serious health issues today's students confront, their health is at risk. The report covers much of the same ground as Laurie Udesky's Golden Lamp Award-winning September 2005 piece in Salon, even using some of the same anecdotes. The earlier article seems likely to have been a strong influence on this one. But the USA Today piece, while less probing in some ways, surpasses the earlier one in giving readers a better sense of what it's like to be a school nurse confronting this short-staffing, and in showing the different ways school nurses affect patient outcomes. The new report appears to have led to recent coverage by NBC's "Today Show" and other prominent news entities. We commend authors Bruce Horovitz and Kevin McCoy, contributors Paul Overberg, Tom Ankner, and Bruce Rosenstein, and USA Today for bringing these important issues to a broader public. more...

Newsweek: "Not Enough Nurses"

December 12, 2005 -- This week Newsweek ran a fairly short story by Anne Underwood headlined "Diagnosis: Not Enough Nurses." The piece highlights some important aspects of the current nursing shortage and has some good expert quotes, though it omits the key roles that budget-driven short-staffing and nurses' poor image play in the crisis. One especially good aspect of the piece is its point that "nursing is crucial to patient safety." more...

UPDATE -- Treats, lies, and Good Housekeeping

December 12, 2005 -- To date over 200 supporters have sent letters to Good Housekeeping as part of a Center campaign about the 75 health tips in the magazine's November issue, not one of which came from a nurse. We were particularly concerned about a tip from the mysterious "Dr. X" advising ED patients to lie to the triage nurse in order to be seen faster, and another from Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, who advised patients to get better hospital care by "supplying the staff with treats." In a recent telephone call with the Center, Good Housekeeping health editor Toni Hope indicated that the magazine plans to print a nurse's letter to the editor on these subjects in the February 2006 issue. In addition, Ms. Hope promised to work with the Center to ensure the accuracy of future nursing portrayals, and to include us on her list of consulting health experts. Please register with our nurse expert database today, so that if we need an expert in a specific field, we will be able to call on you. Our current list has gaps; for instance, we do not yet have HIV experts. Please help us to improve media portrayals of nursing and other important health issues. Thank you!

Send a Holiday card to the Benghazi Six

December 12, 2005 -- When you're filling out your holiday cards this season, please save six cards out and send them to the Benghazi Six who are lingering in a Libyan prison. Not only will this mean a great deal to the five nurses and one physician in jail, it will send a message to the Libyan government that the international community remains concerned that the six have been sentenced to death despite the views of independent experts that the health workers were not responsible for the tragic infections of over 400 children with HIV. Please click here and join the Royal College of Nursing's holiday card campaign for the Benghazi Six. Thank you.

Plot devices in scrubs

December 11, 2005 -- The last two episodes of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" are notable for more of the show's now-familiar explicit expressions of contempt for nurses (e.g., "skanky syph nurse"). But they also illustrate how nurse characters serve as convenient plot devices for the show. Nurses are vehicles through which the show's pretty physician heroes confront failure, fate, infidelity, class differences, and, for the women, latent fears about female subservience and their own sexual virtue. In fairness, several scenes in the December 4 episode, Mark Wilding's "Owner of a Lonely Heart" (20.75 million viewers), make a stab at "ER"-style handmaiden portrayals, which would actually be a step up. In these, nurses are minimally skilled subordinates who may detect basic changes in patient conditions, and in one case even predict that a specific treatment will not work. But they are helpless to address serious problems, and they look to the physicians--interns, no less--for all care decisions that matter. And with tonight's episode, Krista Vernoff's "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," it's back to the physician nursing, as the physician characters do all monitoring, all patient interactions, and all key procedures, including defibrillation. The nurses do seem up to catching vomit, though, so that's something. more...

Powerful op-ed explains why Wisconsin nurses back medical marijuana

December 10, 2005 -- Today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a hard-hitting op-ed by nurse Gina Dennik-Champion, executive director of the Wisconsin Nurses Association (WNA). The piece explains why the WNA supports a pending state bill that would authorize medical marijuana use (AB 740, "authored by Rep. Gregg Underheim (R-Oshkosh)"). The well-argued piece is an excellent example of patient advocacy that shows nurses to be serious professionals who are fully engaged with key public health issues. more...

It's better in the Bahamas

December 9, 2005 -- Recent press articles in the Bahamas have reported on a massive and apparently successful sickout by the Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) with respect to the nation's public hospitals. A fairly good piece by Erica Wells in yesterday's Bahama Journal describes the basic outlines of the dispute, which appeared to center on the nurses' demands for higher wage increases and for medical insurance. A shorter and somewhat unbalanced story by Lededra Marche in today's Freeport News reports that the nurses ended the brief sickout after signing a contract that addressed their concerns, including unspecified measures to deal with workplace threats and violence. These articles are notable for several things they suggest, more or less in passing, about factors in nursing practice in the Bahamas, including the status of women, the role of nurses from overseas, and the role of Christian churches in such disputes. more...

A Lump of Coal

December 8, 2005 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's "ER" seemed to mark the final exit of ED nurse manager Eve Peyton, the only significant nurse character ever presented as the clinical peer of the attending physicians. Her departure after six episodes marked such a crude and implausible swerve into extreme battleaxe territory that it's hard not to see it as a dramatic hit against any nurse uppity enough to challenge the senior physicians who dominate "ER." In fact, it could even be seen as a message to any nurse presumptuous enough to challenge the show's own physician-centric vision. Peyton was always a rule-bound micromanager who was considered a "bitch." But she was also a formidable, doctorally-prepared clinical expert who acted as a mentor to lone major nurse character Sam Taggart. She modified decisions that proved unworkable, displayed a sharp wit, and seemed to be a consummate professional. But tonight, Peyton got dumped by her boyfriend; decked an offensive patient dressed as Santa Claus and poured urine on him, with no physical provocation and no regret; was fired on Christmas Eve; and bid farewell to the ED staff with standard PhD-type phrases like "bite me," "screw yourselves," and "you all suck." The episode did at least have Peyton fired by the "nursing supervisor" rather than a physician. But it also began with new chief of ED medicine Luka Kovac sending three of Peyton's ED nurses home because he foresaw a light shift, and calling them "support staff" as he did so, showing once again that even on "ER," you just can't keep a good handmaiden stereotype down. The episode, "All About Christmas Eve," was written by Janine Sherman Barrois, and seen by 15.4 million U.S. viewers. more...

Pink ghetto unfabulous

December 6, 2005 -- Today career columnist Carol Kleiman had a piece in the Chicago Tribune headlined "Pink-collar workers have own barriers to break." The piece examines how women can escape the "low wages" and "lack of a career path" in the "pink ghetto" of traditionally female jobs, including nursing and teaching, and move into "demanding" "professional" careers like law and accounting. We agree, of course, that women should not be excluded from careers on the basis of gender. But the column assumes that traditionally female jobs are menial and insignificant, and defines success solely in terms of the money, prestige and obvious power available in some traditionally male jobs. The author and the consultant who is her main source seem unaware that some of the jobs they hold in such contempt are vital, autonomous professions, many of whose members hold graduate degrees, nor that a world without nurses and teachers would also lack the lawyers and accountants they value so highly. Nurses use their years of college-level science training to save lives and improve patient outcomes every day, many as clinical leaders. Many nurses are underpaid, but the average annual US nursing salary was recently reported to be well over $50,000. As nurses confront a deadly shortage rooted in part in a lack of understanding of their work, press pieces like this one are very damaging. And use of the phrase "pink ghetto" will be especially unhelpful for attracting men to nursing. more...

Talking health care

December 5, 2005 -- A UPI item released today reports that nurses have again topped Gallup's annual poll on the "honesty" and "ethics" of various professions. A reported 82% of U.S. respondents rated nurses at least "high" in those categories; physicians came in third, with 65%. If everyone loves nurses so much, why has a global shortage rooted in a lack of resources and understanding been taking lives worldwide for years? Because what this poll measures seems to have little to do with real respect, and little to do with how economic and social resources are allocated. We recall Bob Dylan's lyrics from "Talking New York" (1962):

The man there said he loved m' sound,
He was ravin' about how he loved m' sound;
Dollar a day's worth.

See the Center's FAQ "Why aren't you more excited that public opinion polls often put nurses at the top of the list of "most trusted" and "most ethical" professions?"

UPDATE -- "Today" quick clinic campaign on fire

December 4, 2005 -- Over the past two weeks, 3500 nursing supporters have sent letters to NBC's "Today" show. They have objected to the November 14 segment in which nurse practitioner (NP) care at "quick clinics" was portrayed as fast, cheap and out of control, and in which AMA President Edward Hill was allowed to deliver unfounded criticism of the quality of NP care, with no response from an NP. Letters came from every part of the United States and abroad, from nurses in rural clinics, major teaching hospitals, and the military, and from patients and physicians. An astonishing 42% of the letters were original. Because of this outpouring of concern, the Center has been able to establish a contact with a "Today" show producer. He has promised to work with us on presenting accurate information about nurses through "Today" and possibly other venues. We plan to continue to push the show to take steps to repair the damage caused by the Nov. 14 segment. We understand that a statement about this segment from the "Today" show is forthcoming, but it was not available in time for this news alert. We plan to set up a working group of nursing organizations to pitch story ideas about nurses to the show on a regular basis. To learn more about being part of this working group, please contact us. If you have an idea for the show, please send a one paragraph summary to AMA President Hill has not responded to the 3500 letters the AMA has received, and he has failed to return our many calls asking for a dialogue. Please click here to send our new letter to the AMA asking it to base policy positions about nurses on research, rather than bias or economic self-interest. Thank you. See our analysis of the "Today" quick clinic segment here.


December 4, 2005 -- The "Ideas" section of today's Baltimore Sun included a short photo-based item by Elizabeth Malby about two "baby nurses" who are helping a local woman who recently gave birth to quintuplets. A longer November 27 story by Nicole Fuller about the quintuplets also included discussion of these care providers. Both pieces describe them as "nurses," but they appear to be infant care providers who at most have taken a CPR class, not health professionals with years of college-level science training. Of course, such providers often wrongly refer to themselves as "nurses." The main provider profiled here, Meredith Ball, builds much of her web site around the term "babynurse." But this marketing practice and the Sun 's effective endorsement of it reinforce the common view that any caregiving female may properly be termed a "nurse," regardless of her health training or skill. Because that basic misunderstanding is a factor in the nursing crisis, the Sun 's pieces reflect serious reporting and editing failures. more...

Ratched Redux

December 4, 2005 -- She lives. Two recent episodes of popular U.S. television dramas have retooled Nurse Ratched for the feminist (or post-feminist) era. Neo-Ratched still embodies institutional oppression and sexual intolerance. But these new depictions are less plainly misogynist than "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Many of Neo-Ratched's victims are female. And now modern, empowered women are working heroically against her unethical (if not illegal) efforts to enforce what are seen as regressive notions of proper sexual conduct. The season premiere of CBS's "Cold Case," written by series creator Meredith Stiehm and re-aired tonight, followed an investigation into a 1988 case involving an anti-abortion extremist school nurse. This nurse, by unethically manipulating a high school couple into having their baby, set in motion forces that destroyed their lives. The November 2 episode of NBC's "Law and Order," David Slack's "Birthright," focused on an investigation of the death of an abusive mother, who had been jailed for allegedly killing a man who reported her to child protective services. The mother's death was caused by a reaction to an IUD given to her by a nurse practitioner, who was secretly sterilizing inmates she deemed unworthy of having children. The nurses in these plots may seem to take opposite approaches to the reproductive choices of troubled women. But both are denying the women the right to make those choices themselves. Unlike Ratched, the nurses here are motivated by understandable goals. But far beyond merely taking a principled stand against abortion or child abuse, they embrace criminal extremism and a total abdication of their ethical duties to their patients. Law enforcement, if not exactly full of bleeding heart Hollywood progressives, represents the professional tolerance of a modern pluralistic society. Thus, nursing is seen not only as a loser job that smart, ambitious women have left behind, but a backwater populated by medieval zealots. Only a dangerous kook would still be doing such "women's work." more...

New Zealand Herald: "Nursing in terminal decline"

December 3, 2005 -- Today the New Zealand Herald ran a generally good nursing shortage piece by Vikki Bland that was not quite as distressing as its headline (above). The piece does offer an unflinching look at some of the problems nursing faces, including its ongoing image problem with career seekers. But it also offers some cause for hope in discussing recent initiatives aimed at improving conditions. Unfortunately, the piece does not convey that nurses save lives and greatly improve patient outcomes. That is arguably the most important single piece of information that the public needs to know about the gravity of the current crisis and would seem to be a key way of attracting career seekers. Even so, the piece has many helpful elements. more...

Duck Soup

December 2005 -- Mattel, the world's leading toy maker, has just released as part of its Furryville Collections (Series 2) a small doll called the "Nurse Quacktitioner." The doll is a soft duck wearing a white lab coat and a white cap with a red heart on the front. Furryville dolls are on sale at Target, Wal-Mart, and other major toy retailers and supermarkets, just in time for the holiday season. Selling a doll called "Nurse Quacktitioner" would seem to reflect little regard for nurses or public health. That's because the name suggests that nurse practitioners (NPs) are "quacks," a term that has long been understood to refer to untrained persons who pretend to be physicians and dispense medical treatment. Mattel says it did not occur to the company that this doll would be taken as an attack on NPs, whose main professional stereotype has been that they are, uh, untrained persons who pretend to be physicians. Mattel--which is also responsible for Barbie--has trademarked the name "Nurse Quacktitioner." That, along with the fact that the doll is a duck, suggests that the name was carefully considered. In any case, while Mattel has stopped making and distributing the dolls because of the standard limited production of this collectible, we are working with the company and major retailers to see that the adorable Nurse Quacktitioners leave the market quickly. We are urging Mattel to recall the dolls from retailers, which it has not yet agreed to do; urging retailers to stop selling the dolls, or sell them back to Mattel, as Wal-Mart is willing to do; and urging everyone to find a lawful, environmentally sound way to rid the world of the dolls. Read our analysis, or see Mattel's initial response and the current status of our campaign.

Keith Anderson's: "XXL"

Bigger is better. "XXL" is country/rock poster boy Keith Anderson's not-so-tongue-in-cheek ode to the Big and Tall, and their ability to get all the hot babes. By an odd coincidence, Anderson himself is reportedly a large ex-athlete, a former college football player and bodybuilder who might have played major league baseball if not for an injury. The song, which Anderson wrote with Bob DiPiero, is a swaggering but fairly bland bit of sleek, radio-ready country/rock, like much of the rest of Anderson's well-named debut album. The first verse describes the singer's birth, where it "[t]ook two nurses to hold me and one nurse to slap me," and the physician informed his exhausted mother that the baby was "off the charts." If it was just this charming creation myth, we could let it go. But unfortunately, there's also the video. That features the famously well-endowed Motley Crue drummer and sex film guy Tommy Lee as the leering "doctor" (any more questions about what "XXL" really means?). Tommy's lab coat says "Dr. Feelgood," and in the delivering room he is on intimate terms with three "naughty nurses," who are spilling out of their tiny dresses as they pose and pout. So, "Dr. Feelgood" is hooking up with several half-dressed babes while they all deliver the "XXL" speaker and care for him and mom. The Freudian weirdness and the ugly association of OB care with sex make the video an even more cynical than usual exploitation of the naughty nurse stereotype. more...

Take Action!
Not sure if you'd rather hit nurses or have sex with them? Do both!

December 1, 2005 -- Recent reports on computer gaming web sites say that two popular wrestling games now being released in new versions--Rumble Roses XX (Xbox, Playstation 2) and WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006 (Playstation 2)--feature an icky mix of violent and sexy "nurse" images. Competing gamers in barely dressed female "nurse" modes can slap, kick and grapple, toss each other on a bouncy bed, rip each other's clothes off and spank each other, and, you know, use the body parts of their victims to create a malevolent cyborg wrestler that will help them rule the world. Yeah, baby. These "nurse" characters are not helpless handmaidens, to say the least. But we do have a problem with the games' mixing of two other key nursing stereotypes, namely the naughty nurse and the battleaxe, in a toxic stew of crypto-sexual assault. We urge Microsoft (Xbox) and Sony (Playstation 2) and game developers Konami and Yuke's to move away from this kind of mindless stereotyping, which degrades a profession in the midst of a global shortage. Click here to read more and join our letter writing campaign!


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