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July, August and September 2012 Archives
News on Nursing in the Media



September 2012 Archives


Saving Hope at Physician Med

Fall 2012 TV Preview: Nursing in the Media

Call the MidwifeSeptember 2012 -- More new health-related shows arrive in the fall U.S. television season, and there is actually one new nurse-focused show--the six-part BBC drama Call the Midwife, which focuses on Anglican and lay nurse midwives (apparently eight of them!) who care for poor women in 1950's London. The show, a big hit in the U.K. earlier this year, will air on PBS (premiering Sept. 30). Hollywood-wise, there do seem to be a couple sidekick nurse characters, but the primetime landscape will still be dominated by physician characters--we count 47 physicians to 2 nurses. This year, the four new network shows have different spins on Hollywood's health care portrayals, but none seems likely to question the prevailing view that only physicians really matter in health care. Fox's The Mob Doctor (Sept. 17) tells the story of one of the nation's "most promising young surgeons" who is "caught between two worlds as she juggles her promising medical career with her family's debt to Chicago's Southside mob." Right. And although the surgeon's "protective best friend" is nurse Rosa Quintero, the other three hospital characters are all physicians. In Fox's sitcom The Mindy Project (Sept. 25), created by and starring The Office veteran Mindy Kaling, the lead character is a romantically challenged OB-GYN; in addition to the four physician characters, there is a "male nurse" who is a "reformed ex-con." NHSIn the new NBC drama Do No Harm (mid-season), the lead neurosurgeon character has a "dangerous alternate personality," but aside from that unusual concept, the show seems to be dominated by its five physician characters. The CW's Emily Owens, MD (Oct. 16) sounds like the most conventional new show. It's not just the name; with all six major characters apparently pretty young surgeons struggling valiantly to grow up, it's Grey's-tastic! And speaking of which, among veteran shows, ABC's Grey's Anatomy (Sept. 27) still has about 14 surgeon characters and no nurses as it starts its ninth season. A few episodes last season did feature "Nurse Eli," the boyfriend of star surgeon Miranda Bailey and a nurse who displayed some health care skill and patient advocacy, but even that plotline ultimately confirmed that nurses are physician subordinates, with Bailey dumping Eli in a way that implied it was because he was just a nurse. The Grey's spinoff, ABC's Private Practice (Sept. 25), limps back for what may be its last year with plenty of heroic physicians but no significant nurse characters. ABC's Body of Proof (mid-season), about an elite surgeon-turned-medical examiner, returns for a third season having lost all its police characters, but none of its four physicians. The CW's romantic comedy-drama Hart of Dixie (Oct. 2) returns for a second season with the concept of a cute young New York physician who finds herself in a small Southern town. Lest we forget the one bright spot on premium cable, Showtime's powerful Nurse Jackie (spring 2013) will return early next year for a fifth season of Jackie's clinical expertise and creative patient advocacy, and if last season is any guide, some unfortunate suggestions that nurses report to physicians. On the whole, Hollywood looks set to continue telling viewers that health care is all about smart, commanding physicians, and nurses are their low-skilled helpers. See more details on the shows below!

Call the Midwife Do No Harm The Mob Doctor
The Mindy Project Emily Owens, MD Grey's Anatomy
Private Practice Body of Proof Hart of Dixie
Nurse Jackie Conclusion  


All pros

Columnist Steve Lopez pays tribute to nurses who saved his life

Steve LopezSeptember 1, 2012 -- Today the Los Angeles Times ran a good tribute by prominent columnist Steve Lopez to the nurses who recently cared for him after his heart stopped following knee-replacement surgery at the University of Southern California's Keck Hospital. The piece has its share of generic help 'n' comfort imagery, referring to the nurses with phrases like "dedication and compassion," "noble profession," and "uncelebrated soldiers." Those tend to reinforce the angel image of nursing, masking the fact that nurses are college-educated professionals who save lives and arguably undermining nurses' claims to the tangible resources they need. Fortunately, the column does a lot to counter that impression, not least of which is the sub-head's statement that "an alert nurse's quick action save[d] the columnist's life." In addition to explaining how that happened--CPR by a post-op nurse--Lopez discusses the professional and personal histories of three nurses who cared for him, in the process giving readers a sense of nurses' professional training and skills (e.g., counseling patients and "translating doctor-speak") as well as their gender and cultural diversity. Lopez even notes that one of the nurses is about to start a master's degree program to become an "acute care nurse practitioner." So on the whole, despite some lingering sense that nurses are lofty spiritual beings, Lopez's "note of gratitude to nurses" really is a fitting tribute to the profession. We thank him and the Los Angeles Times.


August 2012 Archives


Join this Public Health Campaign!

"Just because she's drunk . . . doesn't mean she wants to . . ."

Canadian nurses create bold awareness campaign to prevent rape

Just because she's isn't saying no...Doesn't mean she's saying yes.August 29, 2012 -- Today an article by Sarah Deeth in the Peterborough Examiner (Ontario) reported that nurses at the local Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre had launched the "Don't Be That Guy" campaign to raise awareness among men about what constitutes rape, primarily to convey the message that having sex with a woman who is too drunk to consent is rape. The campaign targets not only potential rapists but also bystanders who may be in a position to step in to prevent assaults. The campaign's posters have unusually direct tag lines, among them "Just because you help her home . . . doesn't mean you can help yourself"; "Just because she isn't saying no . . . doesn't mean she's saying yes"; and the priceless "Just because she's drunk, doesn't mean she wants to f**k." The piece briefly explains the campaign, relying on strong quotes by Centre "sexual assault examination nurses" Karen Giles and Mary Waters. The Peterborough area seems to include a large number of university students, and Waters points to recent research about the special risks to first-year female university students and the belief among many young men that sex with a woman who is too drunk to consent is not rape. The campaign coincides with the start of classes at the universities, and the nurses plan to speak to students about sexual assault and drugs. The report might have done a better job explaining what the nurses do for patients clinically; it merely notes that they have recently "helped" several sexual assault victims. But on the whole, the piece is a great example of nurses taking the lead in aggressive public health advocacy and education on behalf of their patients. At the same time, it presents the nurses as autonomous experts in an important health context. We thank Sarah Deeth and the Peterborough Examiner. more... 


Our hearts are wrong

"New Zealand Herald" on the moral distress nurses face

Emotional distressAugust 14, 2012 -- Today the New Zealand Herald ran a fairly good report by Hayden Donnell about a new Massey University study that found high rates of serious "moral distress" among Kiwi nurses. The study of more than 400 nurses nationwide found that 48 percent had considered leaving a job, and 16 percent were considering leaving their current job, because of issues "beyond their control." These included delivering poor care because of management pressure to cut costs; doing things that "unnecessarily prolonged the dying process"; and carrying out "physician's orders" for what the nurses believed were unnecessary treatments and tests. The use of the word "orders" in this context is always unfortunate since it wrongly suggests that nurses report to physicians and must do whatever they want. In fact, nurses are ethically bound to decline to carry out physician prescriptions if the nurses believe they are not in a patient's interest. Of course physicians do (wrongly) have more power, so this is a factor in the distress under consideration. Fight the powerOn the upside, the piece quotes lead researcher Martin Woods, identifying him as "a nursing ethics and education expert," though oddly not as the lead researcher. It does refer to him as "Dr. Woods," and we hope that readers will understand that refers to his PhD in nursing rather than a medical doctorate. In any case, Dr. Woods explains that some nurses consider leaving not just one job but the entire profession, and he does a good job of emphasizing the gravity of the findings, which can lead to "depression, burnout and stress." The piece rightly (if minimally) notes that "results were similar to overseas studies." The article might have benefited from a little more detail on that, as well as from some information about the causes of and potential solutions to the nurses' moral distress. On the whole, though, the piece provides a helpful look at serious issues in New Zealand nursing today. more...  


"How to help nurses practice at the top of their game"

U.K. and U.S. media cover new research on deadly understaffing

understaffing equals deathAugust 5, 2012 -- Recent press items report that new research has revealed critical aspects of nurse understaffing in the United States and the United Kingdom. On July 31, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a generally good piece by Don Sapatkin (with Meeri Kim) about a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania that used 2006 data from 161 Pennsylvania hospitals to analyze the link between worse staffing and higher rates of infection. The study focused on the burnout associated with poor staffing, which researchers found played a critical role in higher infection rates, taking lives and costing money. The Inquirer article quotes two of the nurses responsible for the study, as well as nurses from the American Nurses Association and elsewhere as outside experts. Although its account of the study findings is not totally clear, the report does give a sense of why having enough skilled, engaged nurses plays such an important role in patient outcomes, particular because of good input from a Pittsburgh union leader. And on July 31, the Telegraph (U.K.) published a good article by Laura Donnelly about a new study of staffing at 46 National Health Service (NHS) hospitals by nursing researchers at Kings College London. That study found that nurses had an average of eight patients during the day and 11 at night (in some places 15 patients at night). Not surprisingly, most of the nurses did not have enough time to do their work. The Telegraph piece is more about the government's responsibility for the poor staffing amid an ongoing public inquiry into the 2009 Stafford Hospital scandal, and the piece does not quote the researchers, though it does include key findings and quote two nursing leaders. The article stresses that understaffing is closely linked to the growing use of less-qualified support staff. The piece could have done more to explain what nurses do to save lives (like detecting infections) that other staff cannot; instead, we hear mostly about custodial care and "compassion." But both the Telegraph and the Inquirer convey the importance of nurse staffing and show that nurses can be academic and health policy leaders. more...


Thanking the nurse

"New York Daily News" on abuse of Pakistani nurses

Protesting Pakistani nursesAugust 5, 2012 -- Today a New York Daily News piece (based on one in the Dawn (Pakistan)) reported that research showed Pakistani hospitals had made little progress in reducing the violence and sexual abuse that nurses suffer, despite a 2010 law aimed at curbing sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The short article was based mostly on two recent studies conducted by instructors at Karachi nursing schools. A survey by Shanila Jalaluddin of the Liaquat College of Nursing reportedly found that more than 31 percent of nurses at three Karachi hospitals had experienced "physical violence, and verbal and sexual harassment" in the preceding year, but only three percent reported the incidents, because they "feared retaliation and lack of support." Similarly, a study of Karachi hospitals by Rozina Somani of the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery found that nurses tended to suffer violence and bullying at public hospitals, while verbal abuse "dominated" at private hospitals. According to that study, the perpetrators of the violence were patients, families, and other staff. But the incidents were "under-reported due to fear, shame and guilt." The Daily News commendably names both lead researchers, although the report does not explore possible reasons for the abuse or the atmosphere of impunity, such as gender bias and the low level of respect for nurses in particular. Even so, we thank those responsible for this troubling piece, which suggests that abuse of hospital nurses is common and that the nurses reasonably believe reporting it would result only in retaliation against the nurses themselves. more...


July 2012 Archives


Nursing at the Olympics: Florence and the machines

Nurses at OlympicsJuly 27, 2012 -- The opening ceremony of the summer Olympic Games in London illustrated the sweep of recent centuries, from Britain's early agrarian history to the Industrial Revolution to the digital era, with a series of joyous, inventive, and amusing spectacles. Director Danny Boyle simultaneously emphasized the National Health Service and the nation's contributions to children's literature, which he linked with an 11-minute segment built around references to the work of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, who had donated the royalties from his books to a local children's hospital. The segment included a group of real nurses and physicians who dressed in traditional uniforms and danced energetically. The nurses ministered to pediatric patients by pushing them around in big rolling beds, reading to them, and tucking them in. The kids bounced on their trampoline-beds and the nurses danced, while occasionally miming what may have been care tasks, such as giving medications and hand-washing. Finally, the children fell asleep and began dreaming. Cue the entry of huge literary villain puppets, including the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, and of course, Voldemort. But then a skyful of umbrella-toting Mary Poppins's dropped in to the rescue! We were pleased that the nurses were presented as workers of value, right alongside physicians, with at least a suggestion of actual health care, but no obvious indication of subservience, the angel stereotype, or the naughty nurse. There seemed to be a lot more nurses than physicians--just as in real life! We saw no reference to Florence Nightingale, the British founder of modern nursing, who might have been mentioned in a long ceremony that found room for a lot of pop musicians. But we did appreciate the celebration of a national health care system that, despite its flaws, helps nurses care for everyone. The segment did underline the historic association of "nurses' with paid child care, and Poppins, the peerless nanny, actually seemed to be a more effective healer than the nurses. The nurses' tucking and reading, while certainly good psychosocial care, probably did not enhance the public's sense of them as skilled health professionals. But at least they knew how to read! Of course, there is only so much a brief historical depiction can say about nursing today. We were pleased that the ceremony presented nurses as vital health workers to a billion worldwide viewers, and we thank those responsible. more... and see the film clips!


Scantily clad and easily had

Media covers study showing popular YouTube videos stereotype nurses

youtubeJuly 24, 2012 -- This month the global news media ran short reports about a new study from University College Dublin (Ireland) that found that the most popular nurse-related YouTube videos stereotype nurses as stupid sex objects. On July 16, an Agence France-Press item posted on The Telegraph (Australia) and other news sites described basic aspects of the study and included several quotes from the lead author, nursing professor Gerard Fealy. The study found that, of the 10 most popular nurse-related YouTube videos, four portrayed nurses as sex objects, two showed nurses as stupid or incompetent, and only four--all posted by nurses themselves--showed nursing as a skilled and caring profession. All six of the stereotypical depictions were from television products or ads. Today, The Irish Times ran a good longer report by Ronan McGreevy that included more details about the study and the videos, as well as more quotes from Professor Fealy and Geraldine Talty of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. Among the new details were that the most popular YouTube video was a naughty nurse depiction from the 1990s U.S. sitcom Frasier. Another popular video showed a nurse responding to a question about whether she could do anything without a physician's permission by declaring that she could "wipe dirty ass and change diapers." Although it might have been helpful to hear more about the four videos that did not stereotype the nurses as sex objects or idiots, these press reports are generally good. We thank those responsible, as well as the nursing scholars who conducted the study. And we look forward to the day when popular media creators realize that nurses are college-educated, life-saving science professionals of both genders. Nurses can help bring that day closer by heeding YouTube's advice to "broadcast yourself." more...


Oh, Inverted World

"The New York Times" on compassion fatigue

world upside downJuly 5, 2012 -- Today The New York Times ran a very good "Doctor and Patient" piece by physician and regular columnist Pauline W. Chen about threats to hospital nurses' physical and mental health that can affect patient care and, of course, the nurses themselves. Chen uses the story of a back injury suffered by "one of the most respected nurses" in her hospital as a lead-in to discuss the causes and effects of nurses' health problems. Chen cites recent research in nursing journals and repeatedly quotes University of North Carolina professor Susan Letvak--a scholar Chen identifies as a nurse and then commendably refers to as "Dr. Letvak." At a few points the piece is too cautious, notably in suggesting that nurse staffing ratios "are not always standardized" and so "nurses can find themselves in the potentially devastating situation of caring for more patients than is comfortable." "Non-standardized" staffing can make nurses less than "comfortable"? Does Chen mean research shows under-staffing kills patients because nursing is a high-skilled scientific profession that is vital to patient survival? Chen might also have mentioned the add-on effects of compassion fatigue, which has received attention recently, for instance in January 2012 pieces in The Wall Street Journal. Chen does make clear that illness-related nursing errors cost the U.S. health system billions of dollars annually, and as usual, she goes out of her way to avoid stereotypes and convey respect for nursing. We thank Chen for another very helpful report about the challenges that nurses and their patients face. more...


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