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Montel Williams show features nurse filmmaker AND HEROIC LIFE-SAVING SURGEON!

May 12, 2003 -- New York NICU nurse Claire Panke, whose Discovery Health Channel documentary "A Chance to Grow" (2000) explored the experiences of families of NICU patients, was featured on the Montel Williams Show today. The show, entitled "Medical Miracles," included three segments with patients and their

Ms. Panke's segment focused on one prematurely born boy and his mother who were featured in her film, and long clips were shown. Ms. Panke was able to explain why she made the film, and to briefly describe the increasing awareness of the health benefits of kangaroo care, in which a baby spends time against his parent's chest. The show deserves credit for introducing Ms. Panke and her work. However, she was somewhat rushed by the show, and nothing was made of her dual career accomplishments. She was mainly there to frame the story of the mother and son, who rightly received credit for having survived their ordeal. But Ms. Panke and her fellow NICU nurses did not receive credit from the show or from the mother (herself a nurse) or the boy, nor was any interest expressed in the kangaroo care she described. It appeared that the family and the NICU machines had saved

By contrast, the following segment began with a lengthy, reverential introduction of a neurosurgeon who had evidently saved the life of Montel's father single-handedly, without any help from nurses or even other physicians. The show encouraged the audience to share Montel's awe for the great man, and there was much applause. The surgeon was given ample space to describe his cancer research, which was greeted with rapt attention. Finally, Montel coaxed a young boy whose brain tumor the surgeon had removed into calling him "my hero."

Unfortunately, here as on most television shows, the nurses are not heroes. Physicians save lives, but nursing interventions just "happen," and patients recover by themselves. The Montel show did not encourage lengthy clapping for Ms. Panke or her nursing colleagues. The onscreen identifier failed to list Ms. Panke's RN or BSN, while it repeatedly listed Ph.D. or M.D. for the other health professionals who appeared. Likewise, the Montel web site lists the first and last names of the Ph.D.'s and M.D. preceded by "Dr." Ms. Panke is described as "Claire." The reflexive glorifying of physicians, and complementary marginalizing of nurses, remains the peanut butter and jelly of the media's health care menu--a basic staple. An eminent nurse expert on domestic violence was given even less attention when she appeared on Oprah in September 2002. Learn more about Ms. Panke and her documentary A Chance to Grow. Order a copy of the documentary (institutional), or e-mail the director for information on ordering copies for individuals.