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The Gash Cam

December 19, 2005 -- Tonight, CBS' "The Late Show with David Letterman" included a short segment in which a hand surgeon removed several stitches from Dave's hand, which he had injured in a household mishap. Standing by were two giggling, attractive "nurses" in short white dresses and white caps. Letterman gave credit to nurses following his heart bypass a few years ago. But this segment was another tired suggestion that nurses are brainless bimbos, which is especially reprehensible at a time of critical shortage.  

At the start of the segment, Dave explained that he had put a gash between his thumb and forefinger at home trying to fix something. He used a tiny hand held camera--which band leader Paul Shaeffer aptly dubbed the "gash cam"--to give us an uncomfortably close view of the four stitches that resulted. The running joke was that the injury was extremely serious. Now, Dave announced, the audience would be treated to the removal of his stitches by Dr. Robert Hotchkiss, a senior attending hand surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Dr. Hotchkiss strode out carrying his equipment, followed by the young "nurses." Dave shook hands with all three, but spoke only to Hotchkiss, and did not introduce the "nurses." Dave asked Hotchkiss about his work. While one nurse held the gash cam, Hotchkiss examined the wound and played along with Dave's shtick, noting solemnly that it was "the worst injury I've ever seen on a human." The nurses giggled. Dave asked if Hotchkiss minded if he called him "doctor." Hotchkiss asked, as opposed to what? Dave asked if he saw any sign of bird flu. Hotchkiss noted that he was not a virologist. Preparing for the big operation, Dave asked if there would need to be any disrobing. Paul interjected: "Just the nurses!" Hotchkiss took the stitches out and bandaged the wound. The nurses stood by, one still holding the gash cam. Dave asked how long the bandage had to stay on. Hotchkiss said till the end of the show, and Dave laughed. Dave thanked Hotchkiss, and again shook hands with him and the smiling "nurses."

Needless to say, this is a big goof. But it is also the umpteenth presentation of physicians as the smart, witty professionals who give all important care, and nurses as the half-dressed, anonymous twits who stand around looking cute. We assume most of the audience does not really think these were nurses. But even joking associations of nursing with sex and superficiality tend to build up in the public consciousness, after literally hundreds of mass media repetitions with little to contradict them. The seemingly endless parade of naughty nurse images in popular culture undermines nursing. It discourages men and women from entering the profession, demoralizes practicing nurses and encourages people to abuse them, and contributes to an overall atmosphere of disrespect that works against adequate clinical, research and educational funding.

With this in mind, we present:


The Top 10 Ways David Letterman Can Make Amends to Nursing

10.   Since nurses are the wound care experts, consult one on the show about how the hand is healing, while two cute, half-dressed "physicians" just hold the gash cam.

9.   Have Gov. Schwarzenegger on to explain how he's been kicking nurses' butts lately.

8.   Have an experienced ER nurse explain what could happen to those who exceed the speed limit on Connecticut highways.

7.   Take the audience along to a check-up with a cardiac nurse practitioner, since they excel at managing serious heart conditions, and ask if she her patients.

6.   Re-enact the stitches removal segment, but with Dave and Paul playing the "nurses."

5.   Have Worldwide Pants do a new hospital drama, with the ratio of nurse to physician characters the same as in real life (you're not smiling, but this is the funniest one).

4.   Because the nursing faculty shortage threatens public health and emergency response, endow the David Letterman Professorship in Nursing at a college within 20 miles of Ground Zero.

3.   Get CBS News to consult a nurse on every major health care story for which it consults a physician, even if producers think the nurse will pretty much just giggle.

2.   Invite nurse Pat Carroll, a practical health advice expert, on the show to explain how to handle sharp objects in the home.

1.   David Letterman, R.N.


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