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October, November and December 2013 Archives
News on Nursing in the Media


December 2013

November 2013

October 2013


December 2013 Archives


golden lampFrom experts to stooges

Better late than never:
The 2013 Truth About Nursing Awards

The Truth About Nursing announces our 11th annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses! The year 2013 featured the BBC/PBS television series Call the Midwife, with its skilled, autonomous nurses caring for the poor in 1950's London. Other highlights included an excellent New York Times column with expert advice on cancer from nurse Julia Bucher; news reports showcasing U.K. nursing innovations; pieces on the importance of beleaguered U.S. school nurses; another season of Showtime's Nurse Jackie with strong elements; and even a fine episode of NBC's Parks & Recreation, in which nurse Ann Perkins persuaded a difficult colleague to make a lifestyle change! On the downside, many popular Hollywood television shows presented a dismal vision of nursing to viewers around the world. Notable examples included ABC's Grey's Anatomy, with its brilliant surgeons doing everything important and its nurses virtually nothing of interest; Fox's The Mindy Project, with its quirky but skilled OB-GYN physicians and their three stooge-nurses; A&E's The Glades, with its wannabe-physician nurse character; damaging episodes of ABC's Modern Family and Fox's Glee; and of course, MTV's notorious travel nurse reality show Scrubbing In, which reinforced unskilled and naughty nurse stereotypes but also sparked a huge, partially successful protest by nurses in Canada and the U.S. Despite all the problems, we thank those responsible for the best media and encourage others to keep trying. See the full awards!


London Bicycle Club

The BBC's Call the Midwife offers more great care from 1950s nurse midwives

Call the Midwife cast bikingDecember 29, 2013 -- The second season of the BBC drama Call the Midwife, capped off by the Christmas special that aired tonight in the United States, featured more portrayals of skilled, autonomous nurse midwives caring for a poor community in late 1950's London. The 8-episode regular season was broadcast in the U.S. on PBS between March and May 2013. It included several notable examples of the nurses' work, which ranged from skilled birthing to managing community-wide issues, with a good deal of spirited patient advocacy. In one April episode, the midwives cared effectively for a pregnant woman whose twin sister favored traditional remedies and was very hostile to the midwives' modern health practice for most of the episode. In that same episode, nurse Jenny Lee was temporarily assigned to an understaffed local hospital, where a bullying surgeon showed disdain for her operating room skills. Yet Jenny caught a nearly fatal error by that same surgeon, who had failed to run a test that would have enabled proper diagnosis of a patient. And Jenny later informed her receptive nurse manager that the surgeon might have neurological issues, which seemed to be confirmed after the surgeon apparently removed himself from practice. In an early May episode, Sister Bernadette joined physician colleague Patrick Turner in advocating persuasively before a local health authority for X-ray equipment for much-needed community tuberculosis screenings. And in the May season finale, nurse Chummy astutely diagnosed preeclampsia in a woman who was not even her patient, allowing a healthy birth. The show's nurse characters occasionally display undue deference to physicians, but we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those scenes given the time period involved. In fact, the show probably has the best overall portrayal of nursing autonomy of any major health-related series shown in the United States in recent years. So far, Call the Midwife has avoided suggestions that the nurses report to physicians. Instead, the junior nurses report to senior ones, and for the most part, they provide skilled care on their own in the community. The show was created by Heidi Thomas, who wrote some of this season's episodes, and based on a memoir by Jennifer Worth. more...


Inspiration information

Scottish nurse's clinical outreach program sparks national debate in Denmark

Ronnie Dornan, Clinical Nurse Specialist at NHS Borders SPSP Fellow, GalashielsDecember 31, 2013 -- Today The Southern Reporter (Selkirk, Scotland) ran a short report about the "pioneering" work of nurses at Borders General Hospital who developed a successful program to promote early recognition of at-risk patients. The piece says that the nurses' work sparked national debate in Denmark after it was described on a prominent television news program there. The TV report was a result of interest by Danish consultant anesthetist Jens Stubager Knudsen, who visited Borders General to learn about the work of "specialist nurse Ronnie Dornan (right), who set up the hospital's bespoke Critical Care Outreach service in 2000." The Southern Reporter item could certainly have used some detail about how the outreach program actually works. And the piece subtly reflects the continuing disparity in the perception of nurses and physicians by referring to the Danish physician as "Dr Stubager" but the Scottish nurse as "Ronnie." Still, Dornan himself refers to the physician as "Jens" in noting that the visitors were impressed with the work at Borders General. And Dornan offers a strong one-sentence summary of their success: "As well as having one of the lowest mortality rates in Scotland, the critical-care unit at the BGH [Borders General Hospital] has one of the lowest out-of-hours admissions, length of stay, need for ventilation and need for renal replacement therapy in Scotland." That kind of description of how nursing innovation improves patient outcomes is very helpful. We thank everyone responsible for this report. more...


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Problems with Nursing

Modern Family suggests any idiot can become a nurse

December 4, 2013 - Tonight's episode of the popular ABC sitcom Modern Family revealed that Dylan, the sometime boyfriend of character Haley Dunphy, was attending nursing school. That's great, right? Sweet, attractive Dylan, a straight guy who won't reinforce the stereotype that men in nursing are all gay! Except, umm...Dylan is clueless. Modern Family castActually, he's always been more or less an idiot, and a good match for the superficial Haley. Dylan's reveal about nursing school came at a football game where he also showed Haley some graffiti he'd once written for her on the stands--"HALEY DUNPHY DOME." Dylan said he'd meant that to read "do me," but he'd always had "problems with spacing." Dylan, a musician, also explained that the transition to nursing made sense because whereas he'd once healed with music, he'd now be "doing the same thing with drugs." That's cute, but on the whole, Dylan's pursuit of nursing reinforces the stereotype that any well-meaning dimwit can become a nurse. We would be fine with Dylan suddenly becoming a non-idiot, but assuming that show producers have any interest in continuity--Dylan has been this way since the 2009 series premiere--it seems best for Modern Family to quickly phase out his nursing career, ideally with some plotline emphasizing that (who knew?!) nurses actually have to be intelligent, savvy people with an education. See the film clips or go straight to the petition!


Nurse X confronts a cutting-edge technique

Nurse X confronts a cutting-edge technique

cutting to find bloodDecember 14, 2013 -- Today the Irish Examiner ran a report by Kevin Keane that featured a remarkable piece of patient advocacy by an unnamed nurse:  snatching a scalpel from a physician's hand as he was about to "cut into an elderly patient's vein in order to take a blood sample." The piece describes evidence presented at a recent "medical council inquiry" into allegedly poor care by the physician in 2009 at Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise. The nurse, identified only as Nurse X, had apparently asked the physician to insert and draw the blood from a tube. After she took the scalpel away, he reportedly "mumbled something under his breath and had a blank look on his face." Although it may not have taken a lot of health care knowledge to see that this method of drawing blood was a danger to the patient, it did take courage to take a scalpel away from him, particularly in a setting in which nurses apparently are not permitted to draw their own blood samples. The report includes some additional comments from Nurse X to the effect that the physician "just hadn't a clue how to treat a patient," as well as information from a senior physician along the same lines. The scalpel anecdote is brief, but it's a great illustration of the role that direct care nurses can and should play in protecting patients from any threat. We thank Mr. Keane and the Irish Examiner. more...


November 2013 Archives



Scrubbing Less                                                                          See our press release

MTV's Scrubbing In agrees to make some positive changes

Cast Scrubbing InNovember 17, 2013 -- Since MTV's 10-episode reality show Scrubbing In premiered last month, tens of thousands of nurses, as well as the Truth and other nursing groups, have worked to persuade MTV to cancel the show or at least reduce the damage it is causing. See our original analysis. After these collective efforts, MTV reached out to The Truth About Nursing to engage in extensive discussions about how to ameliorate the situation. MTV has agreed to take several helpful steps, including airing the show at a less prominent time, some re-editing of episodes, and other efforts to convey accurate information about nursing, although the last six episodes will air. Thank you to those who protested the show's focus on very personal details of the lives of the nurses with little suggestion of nursing skill or knowledge, all of which tends to reinforce nursing stereotypes. Below we explain the five main steps MTV has agreed to take, including a "Day in the Life of a Nurse" MTV website feature. We also ask that you join us in urging Johnson & Johnson and others to stop sponsoring Scrubbing In; despite promises to stop, J&J has continued to place ads for its products on the show up through at least the fourth episode. Please click here to sign the petition to ask J&J to cease its advertising on Scrubbing In and other shows that degrade nursing. Thanks again! more...


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Johnson & Johnson stops advertising on Scrubbing In, but keeps on advertising on Grey's Anatomy

J&J end sponsorshipNovember 25, 2013 -- Johnson & Johnson has sent the Truth correspondence that they have ceased advertising on "Scrubbing In." We checked episode #5 online and broadcast and have verified that all the J&J ads are gone. We would like to thank J&J for this. But we have asked J&J at least 5 times if they would cease advertising on the far more influential Grey's Anatomy and The Mindy Project shows and Andrea Higham, Director of the Campaign for Nursing's Future, responded "I do not have any control on our brands airing in the other shows – they are dramas and are looked at differently than reality shows featuring real nurses." We asked her who did have control over this advertising so we could follow up with that person and Ms. Higham still hasn't responded. We are keeping our campaign wide open to continue to pressure J&J to stop advertising on all media products that degrade nursing. Will you please join us? Here's the link to our petition. Please circulate to friends and colleagues. Thank you!


Worked to death

Reports on the financial pressures that threaten nursing

Beth JasperNovember 13, 2013 -- Recent news reports have highlighted the financial pressures that can affect nurses' practice settings, threatening patients and nurses themselves. On September 6, 2013, NBC television affiliates reported that Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center had decided to give registered nurses responsibility for cleaning patients' rooms. Kimberly Curth's article indicated that hospital management had defended the shift as consistent with the history of nursing practice, which has focused on a hygienic care environment and a holistic approach to infection control. However, it was pretty clear that this change was driven by budget constraints, not a concern for patients or nursing tradition. There was no indication that nurses' patient loads would be reduced to accommodate this extra work, nor that nursing education was required to mop floors or clean bathrooms. The report noted that at least one nurse was concerned about cross contamination. One bright spot, maybe, was that at least some of the media evidently thought nurses cleaning patient rooms was news, as if nurses don't already do that and might be busy doing something else for patients. Today, CNN's Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley reported that a man had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cincinnati's Jewish Hospital after his wife, a nurse there, had died in a car crash on her way home from work. According to the piece, the suit alleges that overwork contributed to the nurse's death. In fact, it alleges that the nurse's own supervisor had previously warned that she was being "worked to death." The suit says the nurse had often worked extra hours in a "regularly understaffed" unit. And the report includes comment from a representative of National Nurses United, who argues that understaffing is a major issue for U.S. direct care nurses and that it impairs patient health. The article might have noted that research confirms the deadly effects of understaffing. In any case, both pieces suggest that nurse understaffing remains a critical problem in U.S. hospitals. more...


October 2013 Archives


Scrubbing Out

MTV's Scrubbing In undermines nursing

Cast Scrubbing InOctober 24, 2013 - MTV's new reality show Scrubbing In, which premiered tonight, focuses on nine young travel nurses in California, but it isn't really about nursing. Sure, the show created a firestorm in the nursing community before it even aired because of advance indications that the nurses might come off as twits 'n' sluts. The first episode does suggest that the nurses were not selected to appear because of their nursing experience or ability to convey an accurate and comprehensive picture of the profession. Instead, they seem to have been chosen for their strong personalities, physical appearance, and eagerness to embrace reality show culture. The vast majority of the episode is the nurses' personal interactions, with a focus on partying, romance, and sex (e.g., "I have big fake boobs!" "Did you guys bring your vibrators?"). Well, that's a different vision of Nursing's Future for show sponsor Johnson & Johnson, whose Neutrogena products were advertised during the episode, isn't it? The episode's limited depictions of nursing are pretty awful. At one point, two nurses do a passable job caring for a patient who looks like she is faking a seizure for the camera, but the scene does not exactly inspire confidence in their skills or knowledge. Another time, a nurse who is apparently on duty is shown practicing starting IV's in a way that suggests she has little idea what she's doing. Another nurse spends significant time trying to help her and is later chastised (rightly) by his supervisor for abandoning his unit. Two nurses show up in California without California nursing licenses (apparently those DUIs were creating a delay!). A nurse sits on her bed wearing dirty scrubs, heedless of the potential for bringing deadly organisms into her personal surroundings, as another nurse points out to her--and to viewers. There is virtually no mention here of nursing education, practice specialties, research, or policy leadership. Nurses, like anyone else, should be allowed to discuss and engage in social activity in any lawful way; nurses are not angels and holding them to regressive personal moral standards actually undermines the profession. But associating nursing with frank sexuality does risk reinforcing the naughty nurse image that the average reality show participant does not face. And watching several of the nurses giggle about looking for "hot doctors" calls to mind the related stereotype that nurses are physician golddiggers. On the whole, the show fails to convey that the vast majority of nurses are serious professionals who save and improve lives with their advanced skills. And because the show's focus and structure is personal drama and self-reflection among reality-show twenty-somethings, many viewers may conclude that nurses in general are not especially serious about their work--and that they don't need to be. The show is likely to reinforce ideas that have long undermined nurses' claims to adequate resources for education and clinical practice and that now threaten the health of millions worldwide. We urge MTV to cancel the show, and we hope that at a minimum, the producers will try to give some sense of real nursing skill. read more...and please join our letter-writing campaign!


Essential services

Last government shutdown threatened care of D.C. forensic nurses

Forensic nurseOctober 11, 2013 -- Today the Huffington Post reported that the partial federal government shutdown was threatening to stop forensic nurse examiners from helping sexual assault victims in the District of Columbia. The blog post explained that the relevant programs rely on federal funding, and it focused on the worrisome funding outlook. But it also explained that the nurses do rape kits that are critical to the criminal justice system. And it suggested that they act as advocates for victims, helping them through the various aspects of the process. The piece might have done more to educate the public about what the forensic nurses do, particularly their skilled physical and psychosocial care and their forensic testimony in court. But the post did at least signal the importance of having the nurses on call 24-7 to come to hospitals and care for victims. We thank the Huffington Post and political bloggers Amanda Terkel and Jason Cherkis. more...


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A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray

Glee just can't help insulting school nurses

Penny doing the HeimlichOctober 3, 2013 -- Tonight's episode of Fox's Glee included an abysmal depiction of school nursing. In the Beatles-themed episode (Ian Brennan's "Tina in the Sky with Diamonds"), the McKinley High School principal hired a college student named Penny--who had apparently not yet even begun nursing school--to give vaccinations and perform other school nursing tasks. We started a campaign about this episode soon after it aired; we now provide a fuller analysis and urge everyone to join the hundreds who have written to urge the show creators to do better. The Penny character described her work at the school as part of "an internship" that would help her gain admission to nursing school later, yet she also suggested that she had received two weeks of training in "injections." In any case, although Penny was a nice person, she was dangerously incompetent. She tried to give a vaccination with a needle she had just contaminated by practicing on a sausage, and after taking a urine sample at the same time that she was giving vaccinations, she evidently injected a cheerleader with urine. The principal did temporarily fire Penny for that last caper. And the episode made clear that Penny fell short of what a real nurse could do; she freely admitted that she was just learning. But she was still repeatedly identified as "Nurse Penny," and the overall effect was to make a mockery of school nursing. And although there was really nothing naughty about Penny, she did function as a bumbling temporary romantic object for Glee hunk Sam. Such media imagery, even as a "joke," contributes to the undervaluation that has already led to rampant understaffing of school nurses and now takes the lives of students everywhere. Please urge those responsible to make amends! more...and please join our petition!


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