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ONA Original Nurse Activist

May 11, 2005 -- Today the California Nurses Association (CNA) issued a press release vowing to celebrate Florence Nightingale's birthday by staging a protest at the downtown San Francisco offices of Johnson & Johnson, the company known for its massive nursing recruitment campaign. CNA's release argued that the pharmaceutical giant had supported recent efforts to limit the political participation of nurses and other public employees, and that it had also donated huge sums to defeat measures designed to lower drug prices in California. The union called the company's policies "hypocritical," and said its protest honored the "legacy of the original nurse activist." The press release appeared on a few web sites, including Yahoo Finance and, but we have seen no coverage in the mainstream media.

The CNA press release quotes CNA President Deborah Burger arguing that hospitals have "trivialized" nurses day with "free coffee mugs and t-shirts," but that in the CNA's protest, "bed side RNs" will honor Nightingale's legacy in a more meaningful way. (There is no information on whether those the CNA does not consider "bed side" RNs would be barred from participating in the protest, or whether Nightingale herself would have been deemed worthy, since most of her "activism" (and globally influential health innovation) emanated only from her own "bed side.") (See our FAQ: "Is it OK if we keep saying that only nurses who currently work at the bedside are "real nurses?" Demonizing everyone else helps us fight for workers' rights!")

The release goes on to explain that Johnson & Johnson, despite its "much-hyped image as an advocate for nurses," was a "major contributor" to a ballot initiative "intended to silence the voices of nurses and other public employees from participating in the political process." It also suggests that the company contributed funds to defeat a measure to allow Californians to buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, and that it has pledged millions to defeat a pending ballot initiative to "create drug price controls with real teeth." Unfortunately, the apparent lack of press coverage means that the public will not get any independent assessment of the nurses' position, any response from Johnson & Johnson, any information on what actually happened at the protest, or any discussion of the protest's larger significance as to the nursing image or the state of the profession.

Whatever the merits of CNA's specific position, this protest does appear to be the kind of strong patient advocacy that honors Nightingale's legacy as an aggressive public reformer. It also contradicts the inaccurate image of Nightingale--and the nurses who have followed her--as cuddly scut work saints who can be sent back to bed with a glass of water and a pat on the head, like Cindy Lou Who. Unfortunately, the apparent lack of any real coverage from the mainstream media, even local print media, suggests that the dissonance of this in-your-face protest of Johnson & Johnson and the prevailing angel-intensive nursing image was just too much for the media to deal with. But we salute CNA for trying.

See the press release in Biospace.


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