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April, May and June 2011
News on Nursing in the Media


Lucky Charms

Lucky CharmsJune 2011 -- Recently the drug company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) released a new batch of television advertisements as part of its Campaign for Nursing's Future, which began in 2002 as an effort to address the nursing shortage. The three new 30-second ads, like those released in 2005 and 2007, highlight different aspects of nursing practice and do a good job at promoting diversity. Each of the new ads also conveys something helpful about nursing skill. Unfortunately, each ad focuses mainly on the emotional support nurses give patients, and each concludes with the vaguely uplifting message "NURSES HEAL." One ad features an authoritative ED nurse reacting quickly to a trauma case, but even that ad is dominated by the nurse's returning of a lucky charm to the patient. And the other two ads will strike viewers as being mostly about hand-holding, by a hospice nurse and a pediatric nurse. Thus, despite some positive elements, each ad subtly reinforces the enduring image of nurses as low-skilled angels. The nursing crisis did not happen because people forgot that nurses hold hands. What decision-makers need to know is that nurses are autonomous life-saving professionals who need respect and resources, and in this regard the new ads are actually a step backwards from the 2007 ones. The new ads do at least omit the baby-soft voiceover and sappy music, which undermined the prior ads' good elements with vapid lyrics about how nurses "dare to care." The new ads are also more subtle about promoting J&J itself, though that cuts both ways; it distracts viewers less from the good and bad aspects of the ads. In any case, we thank J&J for its continued efforts to promote nursing, and we urge the company to focus more closely on telling the public that nurses are health experts who save lives. more...


Everything about the hospital

Hawthorne, Bobbie, KellyJune 2011 -- Later this month, TNT's drama HawthoRNe returns for a third season. Last season, which aired in summer 2010, featured more heroics by super-nurse executive Christina Hawthorne and her skilled nursing team, who fight through inept fellow nurses, resistant physicians, and resource shortages to provide good care. After Hawthorne's old hospital in Richmond (Virginia) closed, she and her nurses ended up at a marginal nearby hospital. But Hawthorne remained a strong nurse leader, an advocate for patients and nurses, and an expert direct care nurse. The show was relatively good on nursing autonomy, at least in scenes involving Hawthorne; it showed a nursing chain of command, with the formidable Hawthorne presented basically as a peer of the chief of medicine, both reporting to the hospital CEO. Over the course of last season, Hawthorne got life-saving transplants for addicts and death-row inmates, and she often had time to step in and provide critical bedside care herself. Hawthorne's staff nurses are also patient advocates, and they excelled in psychosocial and technical care. The young pediatric nurse Kelly Epson was especially impressive, caring for patients ranging from a boy with serious burns to a teen with priapism whose adoptive mother was reluctant to reveal his biracial status. Some nurses were better than others, like the physician characters on other Hollywood shows. Hawthorne's "co-director of nursing" was mostly a bitter, can't-do bureaucrat, though she eventually revealed a better side. And some of Kelly's nurse colleagues in peds were lazy and unskilled, with no regard for patients; with them the show may have gone more negative than any current show about physicians. Sadly, the show has never been great on men in nursing or on the wannabe physician stereotype. Staff nurse Ray Stein is not a horrible nurse, but last season he was fairly weak and he still dreamed of medical school, though he failed the MCATs the first time, reinforcing the stereotype of male nurses as men who are not smart enough to be physicians. Still, HawthoRNe continued to tell millions of viewers helpful things about nursing skill and how nurses affect patient outcomes. We thank those responsible. see the full season 2 analysis here...


Los Angeles media covers UCLA's groundbreaking symposium on nursing and Hollywood

May 24, 2011 -- Los Angeles media outlets have run substantial pieces about UCLA's May 12 symposium on nursing portrayals in Hollywood, at which Truth executive director Sandy Summers was a keynote speaker. On May 16, the Los Angeles Business Journal published a strong op-ed by UCLA nursing dean Courtney H. Lyder, "Image Could Use a Booster Shot: Hollywood routinely misdiagnoses the crucial and varied roles that nurses play in health care." Dean Lyder describes the symposium and argues that the entertainment industry should devote as much attention to being accurate about nursing as it does to getting other details right. Today, UCLA Magazine posted a long article about the symposium, Andriana Trang's "The Truth About Nurses" The piece includes descriptions of the presentations by Summers and University of Pennsylvania communications scholar Joseph Turow, as well as comments from UCLA nursing professor and symposium organizer MarySue Heilemann. And the UCLA School of Nursing site posted a long, informative article, "Groundbreaking Symposium Examines Media Portrayals of Nurses," with quotes from Turow, Summers, and others who spoke at the conference.


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Kaiser radio ad: That gargantuan heart all squishy with compassion thumping away!

ad logoMay 2011 -- For this year's Nurses Week celebration, the major U.S. managed health care group Kaiser Permanente put together a 60-second radio ad. The ad certainly offers a glowing portrait of nurses, but it's also one of the most extreme and relentless presentations of angel imagery that we have ever seen. The ad doesn't just extol nurses as "noble" and "selfless." It goes on and on about their "colossal" "capacity to care," their "superhuman" "sympathy," their "heart" of "compassion," their "love," and how the self-effacing caregivers endure their exhausting, disgusting jobs (with frequent exposure to various "bodily fluids") without complaint. There is a passing reference to being "tough," but the ad also embraces the use of "nurse" to mean "breastfeeding." The angel imagery here is so strong, and so undiluted by any hint that nurses are educated professionals who save lives, that the ad might even work to undermine the claims of Kaiser's 45,000 nurses to adequate resources, persuading them that their highest aspiration is to endure the unendurable. In any case, the ad seems likely to reinforce the damaging female angel image of nursing in the minds of nurses and lay people alike. Some nurses love the ad; we guess it's hard to see what's wrong with a series of gushing compliments, especially when they play into what society has long told nurses sets them apart. But as long as nurses are defined solely by their "gargantuan heart all squishy with compassion thumping away"--yes, the ad script really says that--nurses will not get the respect or resources they need to save lives. We urge Kaiser to aim higher. more...


Let's make a baby King!

baby kingMay 8, 2011 -- Today the New York Times published a good op-ed about physician bullying by oncology nurse Theresa Brown, a regular contributor to the paper's Well blog. Under the headline "Physician, Heel Thyself," Brown describes a recent incident in which a physician invited a patient to blame Brown for anything that went wrong. Another physician reportedly dismissed a nurse's complaint by saying:  "I'm important." Brown explains that most nurses experience some form of abuse from physicians. And she notes that even though most physicians are "kind, well-intentioned professionals," the abusive ones have a major impact, causing nurses and other clinicians to pass the aggression on and disrupting vital communications, which can lead to deadly errors. Brown urges hospitals to adopt "no tolerance" policies for bullying, and she asks physicians themselves to create an environment in which such conduct is unacceptable. Brown's piece is a helpful call for more respect for nurses and she makes excellent points. Sadly, the piece understates the level of abuse some nurses face and its effect on nursing burnout. It also understates nursing autonomy and power.The op-ed's statement that "if doctors are generals, nurses are a combination of infantry and aides-de-camp" is incorrect. Hospital nurses do not report to physicians. Nor are nurses low-level assistants to physician commanders. Nurses have less power as a class, but they are professionals with their own unique scope of practice and their own legal and ethical duties.Some nurses are themselves generals; one was just nominated to be the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army. Nurses have the power to create change. And nurses can and do confront physician abuse directly.The op-ed links the outsized influence of abusive physicians to their place "at the Tribe power structuretop of the food chain," but it does not question whether physicians should occupy that exalted position. In fact, just as the old food pyramid has been replaced by a plate, we suggest that the relations among health workers should be represented not by a brutal "food chain" image but by the more accurate and helpful model found in the tribe structure (right) promoted by nursing leader Kathleen Bartholomew. In any case, we commend Theresa Brown for raising the issue of physician abuse and the threats it poses to public health. more...


Screen Savers:  UCLA symposium on Hollywood images of nursing to feature
                            noted Penn scholar Joseph Turow and Truth director Sandy Summers

HollywoodMay 5, 2011 -- On May 12, the UCLA School of Nursing will host an exciting symposium, "Media Images & Screen Representations of Nurses," featuring keynote presentations by University of Pennsylvania communication scholar Joseph Turow, PhD, and Truth executive director Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH. Professor Turow is the author of Playing Doctor:  Television, Storytelling, and Medical Power, and an expert on the history of health-related television imagery. Panel discussion participants will include New York Times Well blog contributor Theresa Brown, RN; UCLA nursing professor and oncology expert Linda Sarna, RN, PhD; Larry Deutchman, executive vice president of the Entertainment Industries Council; and Richard Harding, producer of an upcoming film about the Bulgarian nurses wrongly accused of infecting 400 Libyan children with HIV. Symposium creator MarySue Heilemann, RN, PhD, an associate professor of nursing at UCLA, called the gathering an "opportunity to bring those in the media together with nurse leaders for a dialogue on how to more accurately portray the vital role nurses play in society today." The Nurses Week symposium has already received significant media attention. As Laura Perry noted on, on May 12 "a group of the nation's leading media analysts, journalists, authors, and film and television experts will come together at UCLA to discuss, for the first time, controversial portrayals of nurses and nursing in the media." And Alison Hewitt's Symposium to challenge nursing stereotypes on 'ER,' 'Grey's,' 'House,' published May 5 in UCLA Today, features extensive quotes from Summers as well as Professors Heilemann and Sarna. Register for the Los Angeles symposium here!


Rolling on the river: Truth's first conference a big success!

RiverboatApril 15-17, 2011 -- This weekend nursing supporters from around the world participated in The Truth About Nursing's first conference, held at the beautiful Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans. Participants reported that it was one of the most empowering and informative nursing conferences they had ever attended. They said they got many good ideas for moving nursing forward and a renewed sense of hope about the profession's future -- as well as having a great time! (See some of their comments here.) And those of us who gave presentations learned a lot from those who attended the conference about the challenges and opportunities for nursing practice around the world. Thank you! see the full recap...


Instrumental and often overshadowed: Ronald Reagan's nurses on the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt

Reagan shotApril 2011 -- Some recent press items about the 30th anniversary of the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan have, surprisingly, highlighted the key role nurses played in the care Reagan received in the days following the Washington, DC shooting. On March 28, the Washington Post ran a substantial article with the excellent headline, "30 years later, nurses recall their role in saving Reagan's life." The piece, written by Del Quentin Wilbur based on his recent book about the shooting, starts off by emphasizing the hand-holding and "hovering" aspects of the care by the nurses who treated Reagan at George Washington University Hospital. But perhaps because the writer took such a close look at the shooting for his book, the piece goes on to reveal some of the specific, substantive things the nurses did to help save Reagan's life, like skilled monitoring, placing IVs, and education and psychosocial care of the gravely wounded president. And on April 8, the Saratogian (Saratoga Springs, NY) ran an article by Glenn Griffith about local bookstore owner and former GW nurse Robyn Ringler, who also cared for Reagan. That piece is more about Ringler's work since the 1999 Columbine shootings to support gun control efforts, including a recent press DC conference at which she appeared alongside James Brady and other prominent advocates. The report does not convey much nursing skill beyond the fact that Ringler understood that Reagan almost died, nor does the piece link Ringler's advocacy directly to her nursing. But it does at least present a nurse who is a strong advocate; indeed, the best element here is probably the headline: "Nurse to a president fights gun violence." We thank those responsible for both pieces, but particularly the Post's Wilbur, who clearly set out to draw attention to the pivotal role nurses played in Reagan's care. more...


Not playing dead

Gail Ghigna Hallas and Paxton

April 2, 2011 -- Today the News-Press of Fort Myers ran a short item about a march and rally of nurses at the Florida Capitol two days earlier that was led by a St. Bernard. Actually, the Tallahassee march was organized by nurses affiliated with the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), a national nurses' union. The dog, Paxton, came with NNOC member Gail Ghigna Hallas, RN, PhD, who explains in the piece that the nurses were there to seek legislation requiring minimum nurse staffing ratios. The nurses and other hospital workers at the rally reportedly met with Governor Rick Scott and legislators inside the Capitol while Paxton "waited calmly outside." It's not clear if the rally would have earned the media attention without the novelty of Paxton's involvement, but in any case, the piece includes a surprisingly detailed discussion of the research showing that better nurse staffing saves lives and money. We thank the News-Press for this helpful article, Dr. Hallas for her quotes, and Paxton for leading the march. more...


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