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News on Nursing in the Media

Update on the Benghazi Six

November 9, 2005 -- As of today, the fate of the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian physician who face execution for allegedly infecting over 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus remains unclear. International experts have concluded that the tragic infections were not due to intentional acts of the prisoners, but to poor infection control systems at the hospital. A wide range of governments, international organizations, and health care groups have expressed grave concern as to the conviction of the health workers. (See our initial piece on this issue.) The Center believes that nurses should not be scapegoated because of their proximity to systemic health care problems, which could inhibit efforts to improve care and promote better access to skilled nursing. Press stories indicate that negotiations between the Libyan government and concerned entities are ongoing, but accounts of the progress of negotiations vary. Some suggest that a deal to free the health workers may be imminent, perhaps involving the transfer of resources to help the infected children and their families, or the transfer to Libya of a man convicted of involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The Center thanks the 200+ supporters who have written to Libyan leaders as part of our campaign urging the release of the prisoners. And we urge all who have not written to do so now in a polite, respectful way that expresses concern for the plight of the infected children, over 40 of whom have now reportedly died. The Center and some allied organizations have also considered other methods of advocacy, but those plans have been put on hold for now due to tactical considerations. We urge all concerned to watch closely, as we understand that the Libyan supreme court is due to consider the health workers' final appeal on November 15. Click here to send a letter now, and click here to see the press articles.

As I Lay Dying

October 23-26, 2005 -- This week the Boston Globe ran Scott Allen's major four-part special report, "Critical Care:   The Making of an ICU Nurse." We understand that the report was the result of persistent efforts by Massachusetts General Hospital to persuade the paper to help increase public understanding of the expertise of its nurses. Allen's report does that. It provides an in-depth chronicle of the intense eight-month ICU training of new nurse Julia Zelixon by 20-year veteran nurse M.J. Pender. Michele McDonald's photographs give a sense of the focus required of the nurses, and the staggering amount of technology they manage. The piece actually shows the primacy of nursing care for ICU patients, and reveals the extent to which resident physicians rely on the nurses' expertise. Despite some focus on patient advocacy, at some points the report does not reflect a full grasp of nursing autonomy. The piece incorrectly suggests that nursing is essentially a subset of medicine, and that physicians have the final say on all aspects of care. But readers who make it through all four parts get an unusually vivid sense of the complexity and importance of highly skilled nursing in a major hospital, with a few hints of the stress that the nursing crisis has put on such critical health systems. We commend Mr. Allen, Ms. McDonald, the Globe, and Mass. General for their impressive work. more...

Peyton Place

October 20, 2005 -- The October 6 and 13 episodes of NBC's "ER" introduced hardcore ED nurse manager Eve Peyton (Kristen Johnston). Peyton is the first real nurse manager the show has portrayed in any depth since the 1990's, and perhaps the most clinically expert nurse character to ever appear on a major prime time U.S. show. These episodes present her as a kind of nurse manager / clinical nurse specialist hybrid, a smoother, funnier Margaret Houlihan who takes the ED nursing staff firmly in hand and injects herself into their care, doling out advice, sending nurses here and there, stepping in when she feels needed, and not being shy about telling senior physicians how they're screwing up. The show stresses Peyton's professionalism and autonomy. It's funny to watch the other characters react, at times speechless, as "ER" tries to bring its audience somewhat up to speed with features of nursing that are common in the real world. However, the show still indicates that Peyton reports to chief of medicine Kerry Weaver, rather than upper level nurse managers. Peyton's management style does not seem ideal, and the other characters at first regard her as something of a "bitch." But given the show's tradition of annoying physician managers, we are not too concerned yet. Johnst on does not appear in the show's credits, which would signal that Peyton was a major character. And we are concerned that in her absence, the show would likely revert to its overwhelmingly physician-centric depiction of care, as tonight's Peyton-free episode suggested. Indeed, even with Peyton, the physician characters still dominate. Even so, we thank episode writers David Zabel ("The Man With No Name") and R. Scott Gemmill ("Blame It on the Rain") for these serious efforts to address some of the nursing issues that the Center has been raising with the show for years. more...

"Patients want pretty, skirt-clad nurses!"

October 4, 2005 -- Today the Hindustan Times (India) site posted a short item reporting that a hospital in Firule, Croatia had ordered its nurses to "go back to wearing skirts instead of trousers after complaints from patients." In the item, based on an Ananova piece, the hospital director was quoted as noting that the skirts' length, "be they mini skirts or otherwise," is up to the nurses. The Hindustan Times item jacked up the relatively neutral Ananova piece with suggestions that "pretty nurses" actually do "bring a cheer to even the most woefully ill patients." more...

The Real World

September 14, 2005 -- Today the CTV site posted a short unsigned Canadian Press piece about a New Brunswick government plan to start having emergency department nurses "assessing, treating and discharging patients who don't require the immediate attention of a physician." The plan to give nurses "a lot more responsibility" is reportedly intended to reduce waiting times in crowded EDs. The piece has good quotes from the provincial health minister and the head of the New Brunswick Nurses Association, though it might have included comment from an ED physician as well. It might also have explained more clearly the roles of ED nurses and physicians, since parts of the piece may suggest that nursing is merely a subset of medicine. more...

"Grey's Anatomy" doesn't care about nurse people

October 23, 2005 -- I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a nurse, it says, "she's naughty." You see a physician, it says, "she's saving lives." Tonight's episode of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" marked an unwelcome return to series creator Shonda Rhimes' own writing about nurses. The popular series debuted earlier this year with Rhimes-penned episodes that featured female surgical interns furious that one of them had been compared to a nurse. Now Rhimes is back with more faux-feminist contempt. Tonight's episode, seen by 18.4 million people, suggested that naughty nurse video p*ornography was a viable pain management tool. It even featured tough intern Cristina Yang reluctantly composing a verbal naughty nurse scenario for an afflicted man when a storm knocked out the hospital's television system. Regardless of whether such female-focused p*orn is misogynous, as Yang suggests at one point, naughty nurse imagery like that this episode offers up mainly for laughs continues to be a factor in the devaluation of nursing. Indeed, in this season "Grey's Anatomy" nurses seem to pop up mainly as degraded tools in the show's ongoing sex farce (fulfilling sex stereotypes, spreading STD's, getting dumped for more attractive physicians), while the heroic, brilliant physicians provide all important care. In this episode, we did not see a nurse character utter a single line. more...

Support Staff, RN, MSN, PNP

October 2005 -- This month's Child magazine includes a lengthy piece about the results of a large reader survey, Sandra Y. Lee's "What Makes a Great Pediatrician." Sadly, the story reflects the magazine's physician-centric vision of health care and its overall lack of respect for nurses. In particular, the piece effectively reinforces the apparent views of many survey respondents that pediatric nurse practitioners (NPs) are "support staff" who perform routine tasks and act as marginal fill-in personnel for pediatricians. more...

Messages from the Center's Executive Director

Law and Order -- On November 2, 2005, NBC aired a "Law & Order" episode that reportedly featured an advanced practice nurse inserting a toxic IUD in a child-abusing prisoner in an effort to sterilize her; the patient apparently died. If you have recorded a copy of this show in any format, please let us know. We would like to report on the episode, but cannot effectively do so without reviewing the show.

Please sign up to be a media monitor -- We need volunteers to help us monitor shows such as "ER," "Grey's Anatomy", "House," and "Strong Medicine." We cannot watch every show, and if you do follow any of these shows closely, you can help us by recording each episode, and reporting back if you think we need to address it. If necessary, we will ask you to send us the episode on tape or DVD (at our expense) so we can review it. Volunteers who monitor at least one show every week from now until the end of the current television season (Spring 2006) will receive a free 5-part "Nurses" video series. Sign up now by emailing me at

Center update -- we're making a difference, but we need your help today!

Please help us bring you a more respectful image of nursing by supporting our work. We are funded solely by your member donations. We can have great success when we all work together. (Click here to see our recent successes.) I hope that you will consider making a gift to the Center so that we can better advance public health by building a larger, stronger organization. The more you support us, the better we can work to help nursing gain a more accurate professional image. Thank you very much for helping. Please click here to become a member. And your tax-deductible donation will earn you cool free gifts (pictured below) including our new RN patches with credentials. In a few weeks we will also be getting in new patches: "RN, MSN", "RN, PhD", "RN, DNSc", "RN, BScN", "LPN" and"LVN". Sign up now and we will send you your requested patches when they arrive. Click here to learn more.

Thank you for helping us to improve nursing's media image. Please circulate our news alerts to your colleagues or post them on a bulletin board at work or school if you can, to help empower other nurses and/or students, and encourage them to take a leading role in working to educate the world about the value of nursing. Thank you.

Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH,
Executive Director, The Truth About Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore, MD USA 21212-2937
office 1-410-323-1100
fax 1-410-510-1790


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