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Boston television reporter disrespects nurses

March 4, 2003 -- A gossip column in the February 12 Boston Herald entitled "Smock-clad Sara Edwards nurses her role on 'ER'" included comments by a local television reporter that showed disrespect for nurses. The column described the appearance of Sara Edwards, an "entertainment reporter" for the Boston NBC affiliate, and other television reporters as extras on the February 13 episode of NBC's "ER". According to the column, when the "ER" prop room gave Ms. Edwards a floral scrub top to wear for her role, she said: "Ugh, I look like I should be scrubbing floors in that smock." The newspaper column also quoted Ms. Edwards as stating: "I was so jealous that some reporters got to be doctors, the one from L.A. got to be a victim with blood all over her face, and I look like I should be cleaning toilets.''

In response, the nurses in a neuro/oncology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital wrote Ms. Edwards a powerful letter. The nurses objected to Ms. Edwards' "uninformed" comments, and asked her to make amends by visiting their unit for a day.

Ms. Edwards responded: "WOW! do you have any kind of sense of humor? I was just kidding about the outfit…" Ms. Edwards insisted that she had merely been making "self deprecating" humorous comments because that particular smock happened to be unattractive on her, and apologized for any offense caused. She did not respond to the nurses' invitation to spend a day on the neuro/oncology unit.

Unfortunately, even allowing for Ms. Edwards' comic talents, we feel that her comments reflect no real appreciation for nursing or housekeeping. Registered nurses like those depicted on "ER" typically have 2-6 years of college-level education in nursing. They save lives every day. As it happens, many nurses feel that patterned scrubs do not promote the professional image nurses deserve. But Ms. Edwards' point was not that the uniform was unworthy of nurses, but that it was unworthy of her—and by extension, playing a nurse was unworthy of her. Her comments also show contempt for the housekeepers who actually do clean toilets, scrub floors and do other important work to maintain the hygienic environment that is critical to the recovery of hospital patients.

We were not surprised that Ms. Edwards would rather have played a physician on "ER," given that show's tendency to deify physicians and disregard nurses. But we were intrigued by her jealousy of the reporter who played "a victim with blood all over her face." It might be more interesting to play the bloody victim than one of the faceless nurse extras the "ER" cameras blow past as if they actually were the wallpaper some feel their patterned smocks resemble. Still, we couldn't help noting the dark humor in a television reporter announcing that she would rather play a badly wounded patient than a nurse working to save the patient's life. We can't think of a better illustration of how the media generally treats nurses, and how it contributes to the nursing shortage that now threatens the health of all.

Our letter-writing campaign on this is now closed. Collectively, we sent many emails to Sara Edwards asking her to make amends to the nursing profession by visiting the neuro/oncology unit or other nursing units at Mass. General for three days to learn what the nurses (and housekeepers) do--as reporter Joel Dresang did before he wrote the wonderful articles about nurses that recently appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.