Letter from Diana Mason to Barbara Walters

Ms. Walters:

I have been an admirer of your work for some time. I'm writing now to express my complete surprise and dismay at your comments on 20/20 that were supportive of The View's program last week that so diminished nurses. While you may have found it fun to do, media's continual portrayal of nurses as dim-witted, insensitive handmaidens is contributing to a nursing shortage that has become a public health crisis. It will not seem like fun or humorous when you or your loved ones need health care and discover that too few nurses for too many patients leads to unsafe, poor quality care. The reality is that nurses are the surveillance system in hospitals, picking up early signs of deterioration in patients' conditions and intervening to stave off disability or death. A growing body of research has documented that inadequate nurse staffing leads to higher rates of poor outcomes such as infections, falls, and even death. In the past year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association documented that for every increase of one patient to a nurse's workload, the death rate increases 7%. We are the ones who are with you when you...are in pain, don't have a clue what the doctor just told you, feel devastated by your illness, can't walk, can't even go to the bathroom without support, need to know how to take care of yourself, need information about the medications you're taking, and are in the final days and hours of your life, needing comfort, support, and dignity. This nation continues to rank nurses as the most respected professionals, yet media portrays us as background or demeans us. I urge you to just think about this issue and challenge you to focus programs on both 20/20 and The View on what nurses really do, the challenges nurses confront every day in trying to provide people with the care they need, and what some of the solutions are. I also challenge you to use nurses as experts on health topics that either program does. I have produced a weekly radio program on health here in NYC for the past 17 years and can attest to nurses' skill in communicating information about health matters to the public. I would be happy to provide you with recommendations of nurses from across the country with expertise on almost any health topic imaginable. I further encourage you to use your influence in the industry to get some network (why shouldn't ABC take the lead?) to develop a credible series with nurses as the main characters (and not as sex objects, dimwits, or klutzes). Our daily work is the stuff of incredible dramas and comedies.

Diana J. Mason, RN, PhD, FAAN
American Journal of Nursing
345 Hudson Street, 16th Fl.
New York, NY 10014

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