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Edmonton Journal article: "U of A Med Show sparks protest letter flood"

Song lyrics about nurses deemed offensive by medical practitioners

Jodie Sinnema   
The Edmonton Journal  

July 14, 2005

EDMONTON - Nurses and physicians across Canada and the United States are bombarding the University of Alberta with letters, complaining about the offensive lyrics sung about nurses at this spring's annual medical students' MedShow.

The letter-writing campaign, launched last Friday by the Center for Nursing Advocacy in Baltimore, Md., has already resulted in 250 letters or e-mails being sent to the U of A. They demand action against students who sang about nurses being "whores," "bitches" and "screwing up meds."

"The sexual violence and imagery, the disdain they had for nurses was obvious," said Sandy Summers, executive director of the advocacy centre, which has 800 members worldwide who want to increase understanding of the nursing profession. Summers heard from U of A medical students who called the song a parody or an innocent roasting.

"This was not a parody," Summers said. "They took the existing stereotypes of nursing -- the naughty nurse, the hand maiden, the incompetent nurse -- and accentuated that. They weren't trying to show how evil these attitudes were. They were just trying to poke nurses in the ribs."

In one letter, Dr. Alan Fein, a professor at the University of Florida, wrote, "You should all be ashamed of yourselves. ... We physicians have a long and checkered history when it comes to our treatment of our nursing colleagues. We cannot provide health care without them. Physicians who treat nurses as 'handmaids' are doomed to be third-rate practitioners."

Leah Joanis, a nurse from Regina wrote, "My husband and myself are both RNs and were in the process of choosing to relocate to Alberta. This absolutely will not happen with these attitudes. ... This embarrasses me to be a Canadian."

Summers became aware of the nursing song from an Edmonton Journal article in May. At that time, the medical students had already sent a written apology, but the dean of nursing found the apology unacceptable.

Tom Marrie, U of A's dean of medicine, said the students will also need to submit a clear, written plan on how they will be accountable for their actions during next year's show. Marrie said the next MedShow will likely be more of a talent show, but some students have expressed reluctance to host the event again.

"They are pretty shaken up by this," Marrie said, reiterating how unacceptable the song's lyrics were. "It's hurt them quite a bit and they feel they have been taken a bit out of context."

Marrie said there is no plan to identify or single out the students who wrote the song. "Most of the time, I'm proud of these young men and women," he said. "This is really an anomaly."

This fall, several small group meetings are already planned between medical and nursing students to talk about the issue.

Summers' advocacy group is calling for all the students involved in the song to send individual apologies and then attend special gender relations training sessions. The group urges the U of A to set up permanent sessions where nursing leaders educate medical classes about what nurses do.

"I'm hopeful," Summers said. "I think there has been a lot of pressure on the University of Alberta. ... I think if they are receptive to the pressures and have a desire to make lemonade out of lemons, they will try to do the right thing and make the University of Alberta into a place where nurses and physicians get along better than anywhere in the world.

"I think they have a great opportunity to set a new standard about how physicians should be educated about their colleagues and how they can work in more collegial ways."

Last year, the Center for Nursing Advocacy launched a letter-writing campaign against Skechers shoe company.

After receiving 3,000 letters, Skechers pulled a provocative advertisement with Christina Aguilera dressed as a sexy nurse.

Other ads, portraying Aguilera as a sexy teacher and a police officer, continued to run.

© The Edmonton Journal 2005

Reprinted with permission.

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