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January, February and March 2009
News on Nursing in the Media



The extubating babysitter

Sam TaggartMarch 29, 2009 -- This Thursday, April 2, NBC's "ER" will broadcast its series finale, after 15 years of the popular, intense prime time drama about a busy public ED in Chicago. The show has always been physician-centric, with only one major nurse character to balance its 8-10 lead physicians. It has persistently suggested that ED nurses report to physicians, rather than nurse managers. And it has featured a great deal of physician nursing, in which the physician characters provide care that nurses really do, from defibrillation to triage to psychosocial care of patients and families. The show's relative realism and overall dramatic quality has only made these flawed depictions more persuasive to millions of viewers around the world. However, particularly in the last few years, the show has also included some of the best depictions of nursing ever seen on prime time television. Its major nurse character has at times operated with startling clinical skill, and even minor nurse characters have played roles in care that are clearly more important and realistic than those seen on any other recent network show. Episodes broadcast over the last few months illustrate all of these features. So on the occasion of the show's farewell, we discuss several of these plotlines as a tribute to what may well have been--for all its flaws--the best major U.S. network show ever for nursing. more...see film clips from the three episodes!


Robo nurseROBONURSE:
Serve the public trust
Protect the innocent
Uphold public health

March 25, 2009 -- Today Agence France-Presse reported that Japan planned to develop safety standards for the "robot nurses" it hoped would soon assume a significant role in caring for the nation's aging population. The article was headlined "Japan plans robo-nurses in five years: govt." These "service robots" may play an important role in future health care in industrialized nations, probably even by doing some tasks that fall under the general category of "nursing," such as lifting patients. But "robo-nurses" are not college-educated professionals who save lives with their critical thinking skills. Real nurses are. And the media's chronic misuse of the term "nurse" to describe the robots undermines the profession that actually plays a central role in health care. more...


Think different

Think Different commercialMarch 2009 -- This month we found an unusually high number of press articles from the U.S. and U.K. highlighting nurse-led innovations in health care. A March 1st  Birmingham News (AL) story by Anna Velasco profiles a nurse who has founded and managed a health clinic for the homeless under an interstate highway bridge. A March 21 BBC News article by Jane Elliott describes the achievements of a pioneering nurse researcher who showed how to treat deadly bedsores in the 1950's. A March 23 article by Chris Segal in the Panama City News Herald (FL) reports that a local nurse appears on national television annually to raise awareness of the dangers posed by Spring Break, especially those associated with alcohol abuse. And Dee Adcock's March 24 report in the Dorset Echo (U.K.) discusses the work of a group of nursing students to raise awareness of post-natal depression. Some of these pieces are brief, and some have minor problems, but all convey that nurses are critical thinkers who create and implement new care systems that improve patient outcomes. We salute those responsible for the articles. more...


Against everything she has been taught

dirty syringesMarch 22, 2009 -- Today the Sunday Times (U.K.) ran a long feature by Amy Turner about the harm that used needles cause in India, where they kill an estimated 300,000 people each year. Most of the piece is devoted to general discussion of the problem, with comment from corporate and non-governmental officials involved with global safe injection efforts. But there is also the story of a nurse at a Delhi hospital who is deeply distressed because she regularly gives injections with used needles she knows are unsafe. Apparently she does so because she feels it would be pointless--and endanger her employment and social situation--to question the revered physicians and hospital managers who insist on the practice. The report does not explore potential measures to address that power imbalance, focusing instead on technological efforts to reduce the epidemic, mainly "auto-disable" syringes. It would have been useful for the reporter to interview not just a guilt-ridden nurse, but also a physician who might defend the use of such needles or otherwise comment. But the piece does highlight one striking example of the harm to global health that occurs when nurses feel they lack the power to advocate effectively for their patients. We thank Ms. Turner and the Sunday Times. more...


The Disease Care Industry

Kathleen BartholomewMarch 17, 2009 -- On February 15, 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an op-ed by nurse Kathleen Bartholomew that used recent layoffs at a local hospital as a vehicle to urge the public to rethink the way the United States provides health care. The op-ed is "We all hurt when hospitals shrink themselves into budgetary compliance." It says that the layoffs of "200 personnel" and the elimination of the chief nurse position at Swedish Medical Center will greatly undermine the infrastructure on which already-stretched direct care nurses and physicians depend. Bartholomew argues that essential support for health practice is crumbling in hospitals because the U.S. regards health care as a business rather than a right, and because the nation misallocates precious health care resources. Results include "long-term higher costs along with health care workers and leaders losing heart," with nurses bearing much of the burden. Sadly, one month after Bartholomew's op-ed appeared, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer itself shrank into budgetary compliance, and the paper delivered its last print edition today. We thank Bartholomew and the Post-Intelligencer for this powerful op-ed, which also shows that nurses are strong, expert patient advocates. more...


Cat People

A cat has absolute emotional honesty:   human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.

                                                        Ernest Hemingway

House castMarch 16, 2009 -- The main patient in tonight's episode of Fox's House was a nurse who believed that a cat tended to sit with those who were about to die--including, recently, the nurse herself. That may not sound like a promising vehicle for House to improve its abysmal portrayal of nursing. But the show actually presents the nurse as someone with health knowledge. And her search for meaning in faith, for some reason in tragic events, is a real counterpoint to House's cold rationality. Indeed, despite the obvious potential for mockery in the cat angle, the mighty House treats the nurse with considerable respect--he seems to care what she thinks, or at least to find her views unnerving. Of course, the nurse plays no real clinical role in the episode, and no other nurses do either. So the episode suggests, as usual, that physicians provide all important care in hospital settings, including all meaningful psychosocial and physical care. Still, any suggestion that intelligent life resides in a nurse is a welcome departure for House (and for the episode's writer Peter Blake, who also penned a November 2005 House episode that was notable for its physician glorification and its casual contempt for other health professions). Tonight's episode, "Here Kitty," drew 13.1 million U.S. viewers. more... see the relevant film clips... and please join our letter writing campaign!


Take Action!

A Short History of Dr. Feelgood

Motley CrueMarch 16, 2009 -- Today the veteran metal band Motley Crue got coverage in the rock press by arriving for a New York City press conference to announce its summer 2009 Crue Fest 2 Tour in a classic Cadillac ambulance with two women dressed in naughty nurse outfits. The ambulance and nurses underlined a central theme of the tour, which is that the band will play its popular 1989 album Dr. Feelgood all the way through at every show. But it's still a predictably lame reinforcement of the naughty nurse stereotype, which despite being a "joke" degrades nursing in the public consciousness and undermines nurses' claims to adequate respect and resources during a critical nursing shortage. Why predictable? Because the band has not been able to resist the naughty nurse in recent publicity efforts, including as a 2007 promotional theme for frontman Vince Neil's West Palm Beach club "Dr. Feelgood's," as well as in drummer Tommie Lee's appearance as "Dr. Feelgood" in Keith Anderson's 2005 "XXL" video. It's not clear if the naughty nurses will be along for Crue Fest 2. But since the band is stressing that its shows are a way to help fans cope with the lousy economy, maybe it would consider applying that laudable concern for public wellbeing to the nursing crisis, and leave the bimbo nurse part out. more... and please join our letter-writing campaign!


Saving Lives book jacket

Saving Lives -- Educating society about the value of nursing

March 13, 2009 -- Our new book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk uses striking examples and an irreverent style to explore nursing stereotypes from TV shows to the news media. We hope every nurse will read it and consider the role the media plays in nursing today--and how we can improve the profession's public image. But the book also explains nursing in compelling terms to the public and decision-makers. We want as many non-nurses as possible to read it. Click here for some ideas to spread the word about nursing and the media.


"The first nurse who saved my son's life": Newsweek reviews Saving Lives

newsweek logoMarch 9, 2009 -- This week's Newsweek includes an excellent "Health Matters" article by senior editor Jerry Adler headlined "The Nurse Will See You Now." Adler's focus is how the care his son received for years after his birth with a malformed jaw, which included more than 40 significant surgeries, showed Adler how critical nurses are to health care. Adler writes that "over the years we saw firsthand the truth behind a new book, Saving Lives, by Sandy Summers and Harry Jacobs Summers: that nurses, in fact, perform much of the direct patient care that the media, especially hospital shows on television, routinely attribute to the much more glamorous profession of doctor." Adler notes that many collaborative professions do not receive their due from the popular media, "[b]ut Saving Lives has a serious point, that the devaluation of nursing--both by overlooking nurses' contributions to positive outcomes for patients, and more subtly by emphasizing their devotion, compassion and self-sacrifice over their lifesaving skills--discourages students from the field and contributes to a critical nursing shortage." Adler even "tests" and confirms our thesis with an examination of the physician-centric anthology of interesting cases in surgeon Sherwin Nuland's The Soul of Medicine. Adler closes with a "small tribute to the nurses who kept my son alive for so long" in the recovery room, ICU, and pediatric floor after his many surgeries, most at the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at New York University (we might add that OR nurses kept his son alive during the surgeries). We thank Adler for his perceptive and heartfelt article. see the article...


"Obama against foreign nurses"

March 8, 2009 -- Many reports about the White House Forum on Health Care held on March 5 described key elements of the continuing U.S. nursing shortage and some proposals to address it in the early days of Barack Obama's presidency. Today Will Dunham's generally good Reuters piece discussed remarks that President Obama made about the importance of nursing and the need to resolve the critical faculty shortage. "U.S. healthcare system pinched by the nursing shortage" also included comments from U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, who is a nurse, as well as from nursing work force experts. A March 6 report on India's Sify News site had some of the same basic information, with a stronger focus on the effect proposed measures might have on nurses who have been emigrating from Asia to the U.S. to take jobs available during the shortage. The Sify article was shorter, but it did have quite a headline: "Obama against foreign nurses." In fairness, Obama appears to have said only that it makes no sense for the U.S. to "import" foreign nurses. But reports like this do suggest the complex global nature of the nursing shortage. more...


Striving for greatness

hourly calendarMarch 3, 2009 -- Today The Huntsville Times (AL) ran a generally good story by Steve Doyle headlined "Hourly nurse rounding is a growing trend around the country." The piece focuses on local hospitals that have established programs to check patients on set schedules for comfort, positioning, and other needs. Some programs include requirements that care givers actually introduce themselves and explain to patients what they are doing! The programs reportedly improve patient outcomes, for instance by reducing falls and bedsores, and they also increase patient satisfaction. The article quotes two nurse managers, in addition to "customer service" directors; it might have also consulted the direct care nurses who actually do the rounding. We thank Doyle and the Huntsville Times for a helpful report on these promising trends, which also have the potential to increase the visibility of nurses and public understanding of the importance of what nurses do. more...

February 2009 News on Nursing in the Media

Start out as a nurse and become a health policy expert!

Mary WakefieldFebruary 26, 2009 -- Recent press items have reported that President Obama has named North Dakota nurse and rural health expert Mary Wakefield to head the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). HRSA is a federal agency that works to improve access to care by underserved populations, in part by overseeing roughly 7,000 community health centers. The agency is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and it will reportedly receive $2.5 billion of the new economic stimulus package to improve health care infrastructure and training. Obama's choice and the press coverage send a great message about the contributions of nursing leaders, though some items suggest troubling underlying assumptions. The Washington Post and Reuters pieces provide a good look at Wakefield's new job and her qualifications. The Associated Press and Houston Chronicle items also have helpful elements, but they include subtle suggestions that her expertise is not a natural outgrowth of her nursing (perhaps it's something she developed after she stopped being a nurse and got serious). However, there is nothing incompatible between nursing and leadership, and the kind of community health work Wakefield does is a major part of the nursing tradition. We congratulate Dr. Wakefield on this exciting new position. more...


The 2008 Truth About Nursing Awards
Rank Best and Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing

Truth About Nursing logoFebruary 16, 2009 -- The Truth About Nursing announces its annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses. Recipients of the Truth About Nursing Awards include NBC's ER, which aired one of the best portrayals in its final year on the air, as well as ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Fox's House, which were singled out for especially poor performance. The Awards highlight media portrayals from around the world that the nursing advocacy group believes deserve attention, for better or worse, during the deadly nursing shortage. See the entire press release or go straight to the full list of awards...


Take Action!

Throw them out there

AP logoFebruary 15, 2009 -- Today many press outlets ran a very good Associated Press story by Rasha Madkour about nascent efforts to keep new nurses at the bedside through nurse residency programs. The San Diego Union-Tribune headlined the piece "Amid nurse shortage, hospitals focus on retention." But the article really focuses on the particular problem of helping new nurses adjust to the intense demands of practice through formal, hospital-based training programs. The report gives a good basic sense of some of the major types of residency programs and how they can reduce the remarkably high 20% attrition rate for new nurses in the U.S. The article might have included more detail about features of the longer nurse residencies--which are still just one year--and more context regarding the far more extensive physician residencies, including the billions of dollars in federal government support those receive. We thank Madkour and the AP for this very helpful report on an important but often overlooked factor in the nursing shortage. more...and please join our letter-writing campaign!


Doing the right thing

Rita HayworthFebruary 6, 2009 -- Today the New York Times ran a remarkably astute "Doctor and Patient" piece in which Pauline W. Chen, M.D., explained the problem of "moral distress," when nurses and physicians feel that they cannot do what is right for patients because of the "competing demands" of the health system that surrounds them. The most remarkable part is that Chen relies mainly on the experiences of nurses trying to protect patients in settings in which physicians and others have more power. Chen describes one of her "closest friends, a brilliant and articulate" nurse who still feels she must resort to indirect statements to express her concerns about the care plans of physicians. Chen even consults a nurse expert on moral distress in I.C.U. settings, referring to her as "Dr. Hamric" (!). The expert, Ann Hamric, urges all concerned to recognize and discuss moral distress, because "[n]o one is going to stay otherwise." We thank Dr. Chen and the Times. more...


What does that M.D. mean?

Scrubs castFebruary 3, 2009 -- The two episodes of ABC's Scrubs aired tonight included plotlines that highlighted physician disrespect of nurses, and that even included references to forced overtime. In a major plotline in the first episode, lone major nurse character Carla Espinosa was caught between her close relations with the show's physician characters and her role as "head nurse," a representative of the hospital's downtrodden nursing staff. The show deserves credit for this effort. Sadly, the plotlines were largely undermined by the show's deeply flawed vision of nursing. Key problems were the usual incorrect indications that the nurses report to the chief of medicine, who even makes nursing schedules; that physicians should and do control patient care plans and have no need to justify them to nurses, even when the nurses present an apparently better option; that physician knowledge is far superior to that of nurses, when nurses actually know far more than physicians about many important aspects of patient care; and that the problem with physician abuse of nurses is mainly that it's not nice and creates bad workplace relations, when in fact it endangers patients and contributes to the nursing crisis. The first episode, Dave Tennant's "My New Role," drew about 4.9 million viewers; the second episode, Debra Fordham's "My Lawyer's in Love," drew about 4.7 million. more...and see the film clips.


A nursing pioneer biography by a guest writer

Clara Barton youngClara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross

By Cole Summers, age 10
(adapted from a class project)

Clara Barton is considered one of the greatest nurses ever. She was a nurse on the battlefield, providing care to soldiers. Clara formed the American Red Cross in 1881. see the full biography...      


Help people think about nursing!

Saving Lives poster Not What They SayWe have created two provocative new flyers, and if you like them, please help us distribute them as widely as possible. The "Not What They Say I Am" flyer sends a message that many media depictions of nurses are not accurate and that nurses object to them, in part because they undermine nurses' claims to adequate resources. This is a key message of the Truth About Nursing, and one explored in detail in our new book Saving Lives. The ironic "Hooray for Hollywood" flyer sends the message that, in our view, Saving Lives poster Hooray for Hollywoodthere has been little for nurses to cheer about in recent Hollywood depictions of their work. Popular TV shows like "House" and "Grey's Anatomy" have repeatedly offered inaccurate and damaging images of nursing, and we hope the flyer will cause those who see it to reconsider those images. The small print on the flyers directs people to our book and The Truth's website to learn more. see the full posters and links for downloading and or request flyers be sent to you...


Saving Lives is released!

Saving Lives dustjacketFebruary 3, 2009 -- Today the book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk was released by Kaplan Publishing. Written by the leaders of The Truth About Nursing, the book uses striking examples and an irreverent style to explore nursing stereotypes from TV shows to the news media. It explains how these images affect   real-life decisions about nursing. And it offers practical ideas to help improve understanding of the profession--and public health. Saving Lives has won high praise from many leaders in nursing and the media. For every $40 donation you make to The Truth About Nursing, we will send you a signed copy of Saving Lives and send an additional copy of the 350-page book to an influential member of the media who needs to hear its message. You can also order Saving Lives at Barnes & Noble or Amazon, or get it at a bulk discount for your classroom or organization. Please consider helping us raise awareness of Saving Lives by distributing our press release to your local media, and sending this news alert to anyone who might be interested. And please join our campaign to distribute 1000 books to the media by making a $40 donation today. Thank you!

January 2009 News on Nursing in the Media

"The nurses have kept me going"

Donald Sutherland and nursesJanuary 10, 2009 -- Today the BBC News web site posted an article by Jane Elliott about the key role "specialist" nurses have played in the survival of one lung cancer patient, and the need for more such nurses to care for U.K. patients with the disease. Most of the piece describes the experience of insurance broker Donald Sutherland, who was given just three months to live following his diagnosis, but has lived for 13 years. Sutherland could not possibly be more glowing about the "excellent care" the cancer nurses gave him. But he could be more specific, since detailed descriptions of what nurses do are far more valuable in educating the public about nurses than general encomiums are. Sutherland does at least convey that the nurses answered his questions and pushed to make sure he was adhering to treatment and getting the attention he needed at the most difficult points. The article also provides data about the prevalence of lung cancer, and the shortage of specialist nurses relative to comparable conditions like breast cancer. It consults two experts from U.K. lung cancer groups who provide some more information about why the nurses are needed--one points to the "information" the nurses provide--but the comments of the experts also could have been far more specific about what the nurses do. Even so, we thank Elliott and the BBC for a generally helpful piece. more...


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April, May and June 2009 archives                                                                             2008 archives


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book cover, Saving lives

A Few Successes —
We Can Change the Media!

Educate the world that nurses save lives!

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