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News on Nurses in the Media
May 2006 Archives

Is stress a bigger threat to nurses than physical injuries?

May 31, 2006 -- Today the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation site posted a short unsigned piece about the stress nurses experience. "Mental strain showing on nurses: union" reports that a new study by Brenda Sabo of Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia) describes the "compassion fatigue" that may afflict nurses after years of developing close caregiving relations with patients. That fatigue can undermine patient care. The piece also relies on Prince Edward Island Nurses' Union president Mary Duffy. She notes that in addition to compassion fatigue, the stress of chronic overwork has caused an increase in long-term disability claims by nurses. The piece is pretty short for such complex and important issues, but it is a helpful look at a serious problem. more...

The golden ratios?

May 25, 2006 -- Today The Boston Globe ran an Associated Press piece by Steve LeBlanc reporting that the Massachusetts House of Representatives had voted to set up a system under which the state would regulate the number of patients hospitals could assign to each nurse. That would make Massachusetts the second U.S. state (after California) to regulate nurse-patient ratios. The AP piece is headlined "Limits are voted on nurse workload: House backs bill on staffing rules." It does a fairly good job of laying out basic issues surrounding the vote, which comes after "almost a decade of wrangling" between hospitals, who oppose ratios, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), a union which has sought them. more...

Take Action!

May 23, 2006 -- The season's final two episodes of Fox's popular "House" featured the usual high level of physician nursing. The show seems to care only about physician diagnosis, but that has never stopped its brilliant physician characters from providing all key bedside care. Here, one physician even helps a post-surgical patient walk around and use the toilet. On the rare occasions when nurses appear, they often seem to be summoned into existence literally out of nowhere by the physicians to silently do a simple physical task. Such "House" nurses are nothing new, and we've referred to them as "wallpaper nurses." But given the metaphysical musings of the season finale--and House's own reference in the prior episode to the number 613 as "Jewish," presumably because the Torah has 613 commandments--these nurses reminded us more of the golems of Jewish folklore. Golems are mute, brainless humanoids crafted from inanimate material for basic tasks by the wisest and holiest, notably early rabbis: assistive creations of the most godlike. Now, can we think of any characters on "House" who might be described as godlike? The May 16 episode, "Who's Your Daddy?", was written by Lawrence Kaplow and John Mankiewicz and had 22.4 million U.S. viewers. Tonight's season finale, "No Reason," was written by series creator David Shore (story by Kaplow and Shore), and it drew 25.7 million U.S. viewers. more and join our letter-writing campaign...

Take Action!
An Inconvenient Truth

May 15, 2006 -- Tonight's two-hour season finale of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" featured a remarkable level of physician nursing, even by the no-nurse standard the show has maintained since its two January 2006 nursing strike episodes. Those episodes now seem like a token effort to get nurses off the show's back, so it could go on with its inaccurate and damaging portrayal, regardless of the central role nurses actually play in hospital care--a reality that seems to be no more than a minor inconvenience to the show. In the finale's main care-related subplots, physician characters do everything that matters, with no nurses in sight. And an enormous amount of what they do would have been done by nurses in real life. Physician characters do all patient monitoring, all patient emotional support, all family relations, all patient advocacy, and virtually all supportive and therapeutic care. When nurse Olivia does briefly appear, she is presented as a timid physician lackey whom senior resident Bailey drags in to take over heart-pumping for intern Izzie, who has lost her heart to transplant patient Denny, and her mind to the show's producers. As in other post-January episodes, no one here directly suggests that nurses are sluts or losers, and perhaps nurses' protests have at least achieved that. The first episode, "Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response," was written by Joan Rater and Tony Phelan; the second, "Losing My Religion," was written by series creator Shonda Rhimes. This initial airing drew an estimated 22.5 million U.S. viewers. read more and send our new 11th instant letter to the show!

90 pounds and the truth

May 15, 2006 -- This week's Newsweek had a very long, admiring piece about Dr. Peter Piot, the Belgian director of the United Nations' Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Geoffrey Cowley's "The Life of a Virus Hunter" uses the story of Piot's 25 years fighting AIDS to examine the global response to the disease over that period. The narrative is driven by the efforts and expertise of prominent physicians like Piot, reinforcing the prevailing sense that virtually all clinical and policy leadership on AIDS flows from them. But the piece also devotes most of its excellent first two paragraphs to telling how, two decades ago, Kenyan nurse Elizabeth Ngugi first pioneered programs that empowered poor Nairobi sex workers to adopt safer sex practices. Ngugi's methods drastically reduced HIV transmission, preventing thousands of infections there each year, and inspired rising star Piot to take her ideas worldwide. Ngugi is now a doctorally-prepared member of the community health faculty at the University of Nairobi, and a leader in AIDS care who has been indispensable to international AIDS research for years. One 2000 science magazine profile dubbed her "the ambassador of research" for her work in connecting scholars with poor communities. Yet the Newsweek piece presents her only as "an ebullient, 90-pound nurse named Elizabeth Ngugi." Of course, many mainstream stories would have given her no credit at all. So we thank Cowley, Newsweek, and, on the assumption that he is ultimately responsible for the inclusion of Ngugi, Dr. Piot. And we hope to soon see an equally massive piece about Dr. Ngugi in a national U.S. news magazine. more...

Q: What Scares Nurses? A: Who Cares?

May 14, 2006 -- Last week two prominent U.S. news entities ran pieces whose basic theme was that not even health professionals are safe from the health threats posed by...hospitals. TIME magazine's May 1 issue featured a cover story by Nancy Gibbs and Amanda Bower called "Q: What Scares Doctors? A: Being the Patient." The piece's all-physician vision of hospital care, based on expert comment by 12 physicians, excludes nurses so completely that readers can be forgiven for wondering if nursing is in the final stages of being phased out. At one point, the piece plaintively asks who will be the "sentinels" and "advocates" in hospitals now that family physicians have been excluded from the role. Meanwhile, Rosalind Feldman, RN, DNSc, published a good piece in The Washington Post on May 2 describing the inept, surly and dangerous care she received at the hands of her fellow nurses and others when she was hospitalized for a femur break. Unlike the TIME piece, Feldman's "Get Me Out Alive" provides a balanced account of the actual nature and risks of a hospital stay, with comments on nurses, physicians, physical therapists, nursing assistants, and the "independent sitters" whose use is driven by short-staffing. We commend Dr. Feldman and the Post. But the TIME cover story, following the vast but nurse-free "Medical Heroes" feature the magazine ran late last year, suggests that the leading U.S. news weekly remains in thrall to an extreme "heroic physician" narrative that is misleading millions of readers. Of course, TIME is hardly alone; major stories in today's New York Times and Baltimore Sun display a similar lack of regard for nurses' expertise and central role in health care. more...

Girls and Boys

May 13, 2006 -- Today the Islamic Republic News Agency (the official Iranian news agency) posted a short unsigned report headlined "Pakistan to consider banning female nurses looking after male patients." It suggests that Pakistani government officials may be considering the move because of male patients' continuing harassment of the nurses. Such a measure might provide some welcome short-term protection for female nurses in a nation which is often strongly criticized for its poor treatment of women. But the measure would also seem to respond to gender discrimination by punishing the victims, male patients who do not harass, and male nurses, who would presumably be asked to care for several times more patients than they do now. The move could also lead to some female nurses losing their jobs, since they would presumably have only about half their current patient loads. more...

International Nurses Day: "Safe staffing saves lives"

May 12, 2006 -- The International Council of Nurses' theme for the 2006 International Nurses Day was: "Safe staffing saves lives." In extensive materials we assume were distributed worldwide, the ICN explained why safe staffing matters to patient outcomes, and even included a short discussion of staffing ratios. The materials also discussed what might be done to improve staffing, including aggressive public advocacy by nurses themselves. The ICN's Nurses Day campaign received press coverage across the world, including in the Imphal Free Press (India), the Gulf Times (Qatar), and the Nation News (Barbados). We commend the ICN for using the annual celebration, which has often meant little more than angel-oriented lip service, to highlight one of the most critical issues in nursing worldwide. And we salute the Nation News in particular for a piece whose hard-nosed focus on improving working conditions strikes us as a fine way to pay tribute to nurses today. more...

Nursing shortage with Chinese characteristics

May 11, 2006 -- Today the People's Daily web site posted a short unsigned piece from China Daily headlined "Ministry warns of nurse shortage." The article appeared to be based mainly on a press conference held by a Ministry of Health representative, though it also included a brief quote from a nurse working in a provincial capital. She underlined the Ministry's point that many nurses "lack time for patient support." The piece gave some basic information about the scope of the nation's shortage, which includes a nurse-to-population ratio of about 1:1,000. It also briefly explored one potential reason for the shortage: according to "experts," many hospitals prefer hiring physicians to "attract more patients, which leads to higher profits." The piece might have explored other potential reasons for the shortage, such as working conditions, as well as some of the more tangible effects of too few nurses, such as higher morbidity and mortality. The piece also explains that the Ministry has proposed a regulation on nurse staffing and nurses' rights, but it gives no details. Although the item could have used more specifics, we thank those responsible for this generally helpful piece. more...

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Touching the world

May 10, 2006 -- Since last year, Johnson & Johnson has been running new 30-second U.S. television ads with the laudable goal of promoting nursing careers. These sentimental ads are part of the company's massive "Campaign for Nursing's Future" begun several years ago. Their theme is "the importance of a nurse's touch." In them we see caring young nurses helping patients ranging from a newborn to an older man. The spots are certainly well-produced. And they do include a few elements that suggest the nurses have some skill. But sadly, the ads rely mainly on the same kind of unhelpful angel and maternal imagery that infected the Campaign's original "Dare to Care" ads. And that era's four-minute Recruitment Video, complete with the gooey theme song, is still circulating. Of course "caring" is an important part of nursing. But everyone knows that, and we believe that only greater understanding that nurses actually save lives and improve patient outcomes will attract the resources nursing needs in the long term. For a great alternative ad, consider the wacky, infectious rap recruiting video from 2004 by Craig Barton and the ED staff (below) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Fortunately, J&J has done more than disseminate troubling ads and videos. They have also financed a helpful nursing web site (which we helped to create) and raised funds for faculty fellowships and student scholarships. The company has also sponsored the longer 2004 recruiting video "Nurse Scientists: Committed to the Public Trust," apparently made for the Friends of the National Institute for Nursing Research. This helpful 11-minute video features nursing academics discussing their research in key areas like cancer, HIV, geriatrics, and domestic violence. It's not exactly going to enthrall the Total Request Live audience. But it tells the public that nurses can be scholars, and it may help address the faculty shortage that is hampering efforts to reduce the overall crisis. See and join our campaign...

"We're E.R. nurses! Medications we disburses!
When things get their worses--our talents just emerges!"

May 2006 -- In 2004, Craig Barton, RN, and other ED staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham created an irreverent one-minute rap video, in response to a hospital-wide nurse recruitment video contest. They won. Their low-budget video is a clever and infectious slice of the life of an urban ED nurse, with a focus on nurses' life-saving skills. There's nothing angelic, maternal, or handmaidenish in it. And the joyous video gives viewers a better sense of what modern nursing is really like, and what's good about doing it, than any other recruiting video of comparable length that we've seen. more... (and see the video)

Darfur, nursing, and network drama

May 2006 -- On March 27, the Liverpool Daily Post (U.K.) ran a good story by Mike Chapple headlined "City-based nurse joins ER crew in Africa." The piece tells how "expert" nurse Marielle Bemelmans, from Liverpool's School of Tropical Medicine, spent six weeks on location in South Africa advising the producers of the U.S. television drama "ER." The producers needed help with several episodes set in the ravaged Darfur region of Sudan. The story includes significant comment from Bemelmans about African refugee camps, and we salute Mr. Chapple and the Post for the piece. We also commend "ER" for its Darfur episodes, which have now aired in the U.S. They have exposed millions of viewers to basic aspects of that crisis, including the ethnic cleansing and the massive human suffering, in a clear effort to spur the developed world to do more about it. Sadly, the "ER" producers were not inspired enough by Bemelmans's expertise or the key role nurses actually play in such settings to alter their dramatic approach. The Darfur episodes focus almost exclusively on the heroic work of physicians, while the nurses who do appear are relegated to their usual role as skilled sidekicks. more...

Many surgeons don't listen to nurses, say non-nurses

May 5, 2006 -- Today a number of web sites ran a HealthDay News piece by Karen Pallarito about a new study suggesting that surgeons' OR teamwork is poor. The Johns Hopkins study stresses that the hierarchical structure that can prevail in ORs may discourage nurses from speaking up about errors and other key care issues, endangering patient health. The piece does a fairly good job of bringing out these important findings. However, we can't escape the irony that the piece relies entirely on expert comment from the study's principal investigator, Hopkins surgeon Martin Makary, and a non-nurse project director at a patient care non-profit group--even though one of the other study researchers was Hopkins director of surgical nursing Lisa Rowen, RN, DNSc. In fact, the article was sufficiently nurse-focused that the MSN site's headline for it was "Nurses Give Surgeons Poor Grades on Teamwork in OR." Wouldn't it make sense--in an article about the importance of listening to what nurses have to say--to ask what nurses have to say? One thing a nurse might have noted that the piece does not is that the effects of such poor work environments can extend well past the immediate clinical interaction and contribute to other systemic problems, including nursing burnout and high turnover. more...

"Time to split truth from myth about nursing"

May 5, 2006 -- Today the Ithaca Journal published a strong, well written Nurses Week op-ed by Nancy Banfield Johnson, RN, MSN, ANP. Johnson is a nurse manager at Kendal at Ithaca (a Quaker continuing care retirement community in New York). Her piece argues that nursing remains poorly understood, particularly given the inadequate vision the public gets from the media, and it asks nurses to dispel key myths about their profession. In particular, Johnson points to the common misbeliefs that all members of the nursing team are the same, that nurses are managed by and dependent on physicians, and that nursing is simply a part of the medical profession. In reasonable terms, the piece explains why those are just myths. And it highlights the real importance, diversity, and unique nature of the profession. It's an excellent way to celebrate Nurses Week. And we're not just saying that because Johnson cites the Center web site as a good place to learn more about the challenges nursing faces. more...

"Health in 30": New York nurse launches new Friday health radio show

May 5, 2006 -- Today Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA, will host the second installment of her new radio show, which teaches listeners how to manage their health and navigate the health care system. The 30-minute weekly program, "Health in 30," will feature a range of health topics and experts. Ficarra says: "Many people don't ask questions when they visit their health care professional. They might feel intimidated to do so or simply they don't know how and what questions to ask." Since nurses explain key health issues to patients, they make excellent health show hosts. Sandy Summers, the Center's executive director, is honored to be appearing on Barbara's show today. The show is based in Rockland County near New York City, but you can listen online every Friday from 5:30 to 6:00 (ET) at WRCR. Barbara joins the small league of nurse radio hosts including Diana Mason and Barbara Glickstein, whose "HealthStyles" show airs on WBAI in New York City, and who routinely feature nurse experts. Sign up for free weekly email reminders for "Health in 30" and/or "Healthstyles" by emailing us at Ms. Ficarra is also looking for nurse experts for her upcoming shows, so please add your name to our nurse expert database, so that Barbara and others in the media can contact you when they need help. Thank you. See the full "Health in 30" press release.


May 3, 2006 -- Today Myrtle Beach Online ran a very short unsigned Associated Press piece about The Nightingales, a group of nurses who work to reduce the harmful impact of tobacco, with a special focus on direct protests against major tobacco companies. The AP piece is headlined "Nurses join forces to address Reynolds American." It reports that some members of the group have become shareholders of the tobacco giant "so they can speak out about the tobacco-related problems they see in their work" at the company's annual shareholders meeting. We thank the AP for its coverage of this important example of community-oriented patient advocacy. more...


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