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"We're Bringing Nursing Back" (2006)

Nurse Recruiting Video

Starring Lauren Barone, Michele Bronson, Bianca Hernandez, Peggy Kong, Tara Kwilecki, Desiree Madaje

Produced by Licorgo "Cloak" Pulido


Nursing rating 2 stars

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating 2 stars


In late 2006, some nursing students at Binghamton University's Decker School of Nursing posted this 5-minute video on YouTube. As of early 2008, the video had been viewed more than 180,000 times. The video features the nursing students dancing and extolling the virtues of the profession in an adapted version of Justin Timberlake's recent electrofunk hit "SexyBack." The students don't make as many missteps as they might have in adapting a song about dirty sex in order to promote nursing. The video sends some helpful basic messages about key nursing roles, and the students emphasize diversity (though all are female). Unfortunately, too much of what the video conveys is problematic or inadequate. It includes a few echoes of the naughty nurse stereotype, and it fails to get across that nurses use advanced skills to save lives, instead suggesting that nursing history and theory are boring. We do give the students credit for attracting so much attention to this audacious, innovative effort to reach young career-seekers--like JT and his producer Timbaland, they get an "A" for energy and ambition, if not the final result.

Maybe the first thing to note is that with a few exceptions discussed below, the students actually do avoid reinforcing the naughty nurse image. This is so despite the focus of the backing music, and the students' efforts to track the structure and occasionally the actual words of the original lyrics. Of course anyone familiar with the original song may have trouble watching this without thinking of Timberlake's somewhat strained club sex fantasy. But the students dress in standard scrubs, and their dancing is not really suggestive. They're mostly just out to show you that nurses can be hip and fun, not just a bunch of stodgy old "nursing advocates" blathering about the nursing process or whatever.

The video opens with a short segment in which a young nursing "professor" delivers a super-boring "what is nursing" lecture to a small group of the students in a classroom. The "professor" stresses that nurses promote health, prevent illness, and "nurture" and care for all. Their roles, she says, include those of communicator, teacher, counselor, researcher, and advocate. Bor -ing. And of course, the professor notes, nobody "could get out of" nursing school without hearing about Nightingale, "actually the founder of modern nursing," whose "first famous contribution came during the Crimean War." Meanwhile, the students are giggling and writing notes, like mediocre high school students. The professor finally notices this and asks evenly: "Am I boring you guys?" The camera swings over to the students. They are all asleep. Then the Timbaland groove starts, the students awaken and arise, and they start doing the real education.

This is kind of awkward. The "professor"'s words sound more like a student's weak simulation of what a real professor might say. It's hard to imagine the parts about Nightingale coming from a real professor, especially the bit about how no one could "get out of" hearing about her (no, the line was not delivered ironically). But still, it's OK to suggest that college lectures, in nursing or anything else, can be dull.

Unfortunately, what's being mocked here isn't some obscure theory or historical development that is irrelevant to the work of most nurses. Instead, it's central to what skilled nurses do every day. So this scene presents the profession as being populated by twits who aren't even interested enough to learn the basic nature of their own profession, to learn why their work is more than just a series of mechanical supportive tasks, or even to muster enough interest to learn what they need to get by in a class. We suppose students of other professions might present themselves this way as a joke, but if they did, they could rely on a baseline of respect that nursing can't. Med students can act like idiots and know there's little harm done to their profession. We're less sure about nursing.

One irony here is that Nightingale was far more of a social and intellectual radical than pop star Timberlake, with his generic, unconvincing naughtiness. Maybe someone was asleep during that part of the nursing school lecture on ol' FN! Timbaland, of course, is a great producer, and there is a fairly catchy groove driving this recruiting video, but the song isn't much compared to his best work with, say, Missy Elliott.

Anyway, the five students who awaken and start recruiting are admirably diverse ethnically, though they are all female. They begin by chanting:

We're bringing nursing back
There is a nursing shortage, that's a fact
We gotta make up for the ones we lack
So come on join us and get so much back...
Take 'em to the nursing school!

This last is adapted from the original "Take 'em to the bridge!" The students' delivery is sometimes a bit stiff, but there is none of the robo-distortion or faux menace of Timberlake's original--the students sound genuine. We cut to a scene in which one of the students is caring for a "patient." The students adapt the following actual JT lyrics:

Dirty babe
You see these shackles baby I'm your slave
I'll let you whip me if I misbehave

Can you sense trouble? As one of the students mock-sponges the patient's arm, assesses the patient's skin, and playfully shakes her finger, we hear:

Dirty babe
You need a bath and baby I'm your slave
Check your skin turgor, make sure you're OK
I won't tuck you in if you misbehave
Like a nurse can!

Well, we like the skin turgor part, which vaguely suggests some skill and responsibility, though we're not sure how much the average viewer will get out of it. But keeping the sex and bondage overtones of the original is not so good, given the enduring "naughty nurse" stereotype. The student doesn't play it in a very sexual way, but a passing suggestion that there are some kinky power games in the nurse-patient relationship, and in sponge baths in particular, is unhelpful. The tucking in part also trivializes bedside care.

The students continue:

Go 'head kids (go be a nurse!)
Come to the school (go be a nurse!)
Check BP (go be a nurse!)
Palpate me (go be a nurse!)
You'll love who you're workin' with (go be a nurse!)
No men is a myth (go be a nurse!)
You'll make them smile (go be a nurse!)
Go head child (go be a nurse!)
Get your nursing on (go be a nurse!)
Get your nursing on (go be a nurse!)
Get your nursing on (go be a nurse!)
Get your nursing on (go be a nurse!)

Here the word "nursing" replaces "sexy" from the original chorus. Is that a problem? We report, you decide. The line about men, during which the students hold up signs to underline the point, makes up somewhat for the lack of men in the video, as do a couple later references to attracting both "girls" and "boys" to the profession. The BP line suggests some skill, and maybe the palpate line would as well, except that here we see another erotic connotation--it's not "palpate the patient," but "palpate me."

Next, another student gives some practical reasons to consider nursing:

I'm bringing nursing back
I work three days a week and that's a fact
There's a nursing shortage, there's a high demand
You will be making more than 60 grand
Now what part of that don't you understand?

As she delivers the "60 grand" line, she reaches into her scrub top pockets and scatters fistfuls of paper money, just in case there was some part of that we didn't "understand." This may seem a little crass, but the job outlook and work benefits of nursing are helpful things for the public to know, especially given the nation's current economic situation. Of course, it's not clear that stressing that you can make $60K for three days a week of work is going to attract the best and the brightest to nursing over the long haul.

Another student emphasizes the importance of the "communicator" role the boring professor mentioned:

As a nurse you'll talk to patients every day and night
So it's important that you do it right
Communication is a way of life
Take it to the patients!

This is a good idea, though very general--what must be communicated? Why is it so important? Does it make a difference in patient outcomes?

The students return to the chorus:

Come here girl (go be a nurse!)
Come here boy (go be a nurse!)
B.S.N. (go be a nurse!)
P.H.D. (go be a nurse!)
You can be a patient advocate (go be a nurse!)
Personal relationships (go be a nurse!)
Have a family (go be a nurse!)
Go on care (go be a nurse!)
Get your nursing on (go be a nurse!) (repeat)

There are some good elements here, including the mentions of the nursing degrees and of patient advocacy, though these may not be well understood without explanation. The "personal relationships" line coincides with one of the students seeming to provide support to a pregnant patient.

Unfortunately, we're not done with the sexual overtones. As the music breaks down to a sexy funk guitar figure, we see one of the students prepare to use a rectal thermometer on another, who lies on a bed. The students are full clothed, but they coo the following lyrics:

Student as nurse:   You ready? ... You ready?
Student as patient:   Yeah...

(We were reminded of a scenario from Prince's "Computer Blue"--"Wendy? Yes, Lisa. Is the water warm enough? Yes, Lisa. Shall we begin? Yes, Lisa.")

You'd have to be really skilled to show two nurses having this kind of flirty interaction with a rectal thermometer and not have it blunder into the naughty nurse thing, if that would be possible at all. The makers of this video did not manage it.

Another student actually refers to the recruiting efforts of which this video is a part, pointing to a Johnson & Johnson "Be a Nurse" poster as she mentions the "commercials, posters, and shows on TV." It's not clear what, if anything, the students are actually saying about these other media images.

The final verse restates some of the main points:

Come to Decker
Come here girl (go be a nurse!)
Come here boy (go be a nurse!)
Good money (go be a nurse!)
You'll thank me (go be a nurse!)
It'll be real cool (go be a nurse!)
Meds in school (go be a nurse!)
Treat the child (go be a nurse!)
With a big 'ol smile (go be a nurse!)
Get your nursing on (go be a nurse!) (repeat)

With the "money" line, the same student who emphasized that factor before picks up another wad of cash. The students chant and dance their way to the end of the video.

There are some good things here. Obviously the video conveys that nurses have some sense of fun, that nurses play varied roles in patient care, that they get college degrees, and that there are real benefits to choosing a nursing career today. But far more could have been done even with limited resources, as Craig Barton showed in his amusing, effective 2004 rap recruiting video. And the Decker video doesn't do enough to outweigh the anti-intellectual, "class is boring" message in the intro scene or the naughty nurse blunderings in the remainder. In particular, though there are a few passing mentions of skilled tasks, the video gives no real sense that nurses save lives and measurably improve patient outcomes. Nor does the video do much to illustrate the varied nursing roles it mentions, such as that of the patient advocate, the teacher, or the researcher. Viewers are left with a sense that nurses are fun, diverse people with some practical skills, but not necessarily serious professionals.

Despite these problems, we applaud the makers of the Decker video for their creative basic idea: using a current pop culture touchstone and the YouTube vehicle to tell a particular target audience about nursing. We hope more nursing advocates will follow their lead in reaching out to the public with compelling information about the profession.

Watch the "We're Bringing Nursing Back" video on YouTube.


Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed 2007

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.


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