Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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Bad reputation

Egyptian nurses 
August 16, 2010 -- Today the Jordan-based news service Al Bawaba ran a brief, unsigned report of a protest by the Egyptian Nurses Union about a new television show in which a nurse character steals medicines to sell on the black market, "in addition to performing polygamy and going against all the teaching of Islam." The piece says that the head of the union, Fathi Al Bana, believes the writers should have consulted the union about the show, and she says the union's board will meet to decide what actions to take. The article also includes an insightful paragraph about the causes and effects of nursing's poor image, relying on Dr. Nihad Abd Al Salam, a professor at the International Nurses Academy. This professor explains that the media reinforces the widespread perception that nurses are "girls with bad reputations who try to seduce doctors and rich patients," and that this image in turn has caused many families to forbid their daughters to become nurses. We thank Al Bawaba for this helpful, if short, article.

The report says that Fathi Al Bana is demanding that the new drama "Zuhra wa Azwajiha al Khams," in which the "leading Egyptian actress Ghada Abd Al Riziq" plays a nurse, be discontinued because of the poor image of nursing that it conveys. Al Bana is quoted as saying that early episodes, which show

a nurse that steals medicines from hospitals to sell in the black market, give...a bad reputation to the profession of nursing, [and the episodes also show the character] performing polygamy and going against all the teaching of Islam.

Al Bana faults the writers for not consulting the nurses' union first to see if the scenario was "suitable and appropriate," and she says that the union's board will have an emergency meeting to consider what actions to take.

We agree that those who create television dramas should consult nursing experts (not physicians) to understand if what the shows are telling the public bears any resemblance to reality, and in particular, whether it will reinforce harmful stereotypes. We would not argue that television producers should be compelled to do this, or that no negative images of nursing should be allowed. We have no problem with media depictions of nurses as flawed human beings (as on Nurse Jackie), or with criticism of nursing generally, as long as the media does not rely on false but enduring images of nurses as unskilled handmaidens, naughty nurses, or battleaxes, as globally popular shows like Grey's Anatomy often do. But producers should consult with those who understand the nursing image if they want to avoid exacerbating public health problems by spreading dangerous disinformation, just as many media creators try to avoid reinforcing damaging ethnic, religious, and other stereotypes.

Indeed, the last paragraph of the Al Bawaba piece provides an important explanation of why the nursing image matters:

Dr. Nihad Abd Al Salam, who is a professor at the International Nurses Academy said that nurses in Egypt suffer from numerous problems like low wages and the perception of nurses by society, which sees them as girls with bad reputations who try to seduce doctors and rich patients, an image created by the media and branded in the minds of people. Nihad added that this image that has been created has caused many families to forbid their daughters to become nurses fearing they will be looked down upon.

The piece might have noted that this professor is a nurse (some might assume it is a physician because of the title "Dr."), but overall this is a pretty good short explanation of how nursing is still seen in too much of the world:  as work performed by women who are mostly about sexual aggressiveness, if they are not actually prostitutes. This image need not have been "created" by the media in order for the media to "brand" it in the public consciousness. And although this paragraph cannot get into all the harmful effects of nursing's poor image, it does at least stress that the image discourages many from becoming nurses--who wants to be "looked down upon"? Of course, ideally the public would not regard nurses as totally pure, virtuous females either, which would reinforce the idea that nurses are just angels who don't have advanced skills or need adequate resources, and also the idea that men should not be nurses. The piece might have also explained that nursing's troubled image plays a key role in the bad working conditions (including "low wages") that many nurses face, in the lack of educational and research resources for nursing, and ultimately, in dangerously poor care for patients.

After all, why devote scarce resources to work that is apparently done by unskilled bimbos?

See the article "Nurses Union demands Ghada Abd Al Riziq's drama be stopped" posted on Al Bawaba (based in Amman, Jordan) on August 16, 2010.