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News on Nursing in the Media

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Infirmières Sans Frontières

December 3, 2006 -- Recently, the Nobel Prize-winning Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) launched a U.S. tour of an exhibit highlighting the global aid group's vital work in conflict zones. "A Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City" features MSF aid workers guiding visitors through a model of actual relief facilities. The exhibit explains the challenges MSF faces in providing care, nutrition, and decent living conditions. This is a perfect time to thank the group for its admirable work--and to note that its continuing use of the name "Doctors Without Borders" sends an inaccurate message about who is doing that work. We understand nurses are the most numerous health professionals among MSF workers, and they play a central role in the group's efforts. Yet when journalist Suzanne Gordon suggested to a physician MSF leader that the group consider adopting a name that did not slight its nurses, the leader said that she hoped MSF would never be so "stupid" as to do so. The Center has tried to discuss the matter with MSF for two months, but we have gotten no real response. The group's name seems to reflect the undervaluation of nursing that is undermining health worldwide, particularly in the developing nations MSF tries to help. We doubt that MSF would suffer by phasing in a similar name, like "Soins Sans Frontières" ("Health Care Without Borders"). We urge MSF to give its own nurses the credit they deserve--and that nurses everywhere need to help their patients. Read more or go straight to our letter-writing campaign!

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"People always joke about nurses looking saucy so it's fun to be the real thing."

November 29, 2006 -- Over the last two days, the U.K. tabloid the Sun has run a prominent "naughty nurse" pictorial. The Sun is the most popular English-language daily in the world, with an estimated 7.8 million readers. The theme of its lingerie pictorial is that the models really are nurses. Unlike the paper's regular Page 3 feature, this one stops short of nudity. The light soft-porn text is credited to Lucy Hagan. The pictorial promotes sales of a calendar called "100% Real Nurses 2007." Two of the models in the Sun are said to be "plastic surgery nurses," and we also see a "student nurse," a "dental nurse," and a "nurse" who works at a "vet's surgery." The feature is a gleeful mess of naughty nurse stereotyping, along with a few angel references. In small separate photos, it also shows the models in real-looking nurse uniforms, as if to dispel any doubts that they really are nurses. But many of the photos show the "nurses" stripping out of racy versions of nurse uniforms, apparently in actual health care facilities. What we can't figure out is why a recent survey found that nursing was the most sexually-fantasized-about job in the U.K. Anyway, we urge the Sun to consider whether it might somehow entertain readers without reinforcing a stereotype of workplace sexual availability that inhibits nurses' ability to get the resources they need to resolve the global nursing crisis. Read more or go straight to our letter-writing campaign!

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"Is this all nurses do?"

November 21, 2006 -- Fox's "House" generally ignores nursing or shows physicians doing it, but recent episodes have included troubling comments on nurses' autonomy and skill. In Thomas L. Moran's November 7 "Que Sera Sera" (16 million viewers), a police officer pursues lead character Greg House for possible crimes related to his prescription drug abuse. In response to one taunt from House, the officer notes: "I think working around a bunch of nurses has given you a false sense of your ability to intimidate." Tonight, in Pamela Davis's "Whac-a-Mole" (15.2 million viewers), physician Eric Foreman prepares to take a sample of spinal fluid from a patient. When the patient's 11-year-old sister offers to help, Foreman agrees, noting that it's "quicker than calling a nurse." When Foreman instructs her to hold her brother's legs still, the girl asks: "Is this all nurses do?" Foreman responds, with a wry smile: "My boss [House] doesn't trust 'em to do anything else." The show is not explicitly endorsing these comments. But they are a fair summation of its portrayal of nursing, and it has never done a thing to rebut the attitudes they reflect. Viewers are likely to conclude that the vision the comments present of nurses as timid, unskilled physician subordinates is harsh, but essentially correct. more...

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Between the Boob and the Tube

September 28, 2006 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's "ER" marked the return of writer Lisa Zwerling, MD, to the County General NICU. Zwerling's January 2004 episode followed a rough NICU rotation by then-medical student Abby Lockhart. This time, physician Lockhart is the mother of a premature infant in the unit. Like the 2004 episode, this one presents the NICU as a physician-intensive care unit. Smart, caring physician characters do everything that matters, including key psychosocial care that nurses generally do in real life. But Zwerling and co-writer Janine Sherman Barrois have expanded the NICU nurse repertoire here. The main nurse character to emerge in 2004 was a battle-axe who suggested that veteran NICU nurses are petty martinets who terrorize medical students. In the new episode, the two nurses who actually get a few lines are utterly incompetent. One is a lactation consultant whose comments are idiotic and insensitive. The other nurse dismisses the concerns of Lockhart's mother Maggie about a critical heart monitor alarm. Maggie has to virtually yell at her to get the physicians--you know, the real life-savers. Naturally, it is a life-threatening problem, and the infant is rushed to surgery. "ER" has at times shown physician incompetence. But it's rarely if ever this extreme, it's usually the result of inexperience, and there are always plenty of counterexamples to balance it. That's not the case for nursing in this episode, which drew more than 14 million U.S. viewers. more...

"Are we surprised by the increase of witchdoctors who sacrifice our children?"

August 24, 2006 -- Today the New Vision site (Uganda) posted "Why does MUK admit few nursing students?" by O.E. Bukabeeba. Bukabeeba is the "former secretary for mass mobilisation, Mbarara District." The opinion piece objects to the recent admission of only 18 students to study nursing at Makerere University, and it argues forcefully for more resources for nursing education. Bukabeeba wants Uganda to train more nurses not just to address the nation's own desperate health care situation, but also to exploit the huge market for nurses in developed nations, which could increase much-needed foreign remittances. Whether those goals fit easily together is an open question. more...

"Busy nurses 'leave elderly to starve'"

August 29, 2006 -- Today the Telegraph (U.K.) site posted a piece by Celia Hall reporting that a charity had claimed some elderly hospital patients in the U.K. are starving because nurses do not have time to help them eat. Age Concern's report said that most older hospital patients were at risk of malnutrition, and that 90% of nurses said they sometimes did not have time to help patients eat. To its credit, the Telegraph includes reaction from a Royal College of Nursing advisor, who says the report underlines how serious nurse short-staffing has become. Indeed, recent U.S. research suggests that such care is just one type of activity nurses may feel forced to omit in a desperately understaffed environment. Even more difficult issues the piece does not explore include the correct priorities of nurses who must choose between helping an elderly patient eat and other vital care. more...

Residency status

August 28, 2006 -- Today the Belleville News-Democrat (Illinois) ran a generally good piece by Scott Wuerz about a new nurse training program that has reportedly helped a local hospital retain more first year nurses. The article says that St. Elizabeth's Hospital has hired Los Angeles nonprofit Versant to implement an 18-week program that includes mentoring, classroom work, and training in different areas of the hospital. The piece could have been clearer in some respects. But it ably explains some of the difficulty of the first year of nursing practice, and some of what the new program does to address that. While the program is not as extensive as physician residencies, we are encouraged to see this recognition that nursing is difficult and important enough to merit serious clinical training following graduation. more...

Do Androids Dream of Being Nurses?

September 11, 2006 -- A fairly good piece by Nikki Cobb in today's San Bernadino County Sun highlights the reaction of California nurses to their hospitals' growing reliance on monitoring technology. "Nurses seeking final say: Contracts limit equipment's input" reports that nurses are starting to place provisions in their contracts stating that the nurses' judgment will prevail in any conflict with such technology. The piece relies on quotes from management and union nurses. It makes the point that such technology can be useful, but excessive reliance on it can threaten patient care. The piece might have provided more specifics about the nurse-machine conflicts and the contract provisions that address them. It might also have explored the extent to which technology could constrain nursing practice in the future, and whether it might be used to justify reductions in nurse staffing. more...

Improving circulation

August 22, 2006 -- Today the Mid-Hudson News Network site reported that New York Governor George Pataki had vetoed a bill that would have required a circulating nurse to be present during surgeries in the state. The short item consists almost entirely of comment from the bill's author, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, a nurse. Gunther does a good job of explaining the specific things OR nurses do to coordinate surgical activities and advocate for patients. Her bill seems to present a variation on the unit-based nurse:patient staffing ratios enacted in California, since it links nurse staffing to a specific activity, the operation. Presumably this reflects the distinct nature of the OR, where patients do not stay 24/7. more...

Scrubs series review updated for start of new season

November 30, 2006 -- Tonight, as NBC's "Scrubs" launches its sixth season, we have updated our series review to include the fifth (2005-2006) season. "Scrubs" has been better for nurses than most current serial television, though it remains fairly poor for nursing overall. The show has one major nurse character, the tough Carla Espinosa. Carla has, on occasion, displayed nursing expertise. She is probably the most prominent Latina nurse character in modern US television history. Over the years, a few of the show's plotlines have had surprisingly thoughtful takes on nursing issues. These include the decision to become a nurse practitioner, bigotry towards male nurses, nurses' informal teaching of residents, and nurse-physician tension. But on the whole the show portrays nurses as peripheral health workers with limited skills who report to physicians, who in turn provide virtually all meaningful health care. more...

Enter the AJN's 2007 Faces of Caring: Nurses at Work photography contest!

December 2006 -- Are you the next Dorothea Lange? The American Journal of Nursing's new photo contest encourages all to take photos of nurses at work, to help highlight the important work of nursing. It is co-sponsored by the New York University College of Nursing, with support from the Beatrice Renfield Foundation. First prize is $2000, 2nd prize is $1500, and 3rd prize is $1000. Winning photos will appear in a special exhibition and on the covers of AJN. Submission deadline: March 1, 2007. For information or an application, contact Ruke Hidraj at or 646-674-6609. See our review of the 2005 exhibit.

Join our new Chapters!

December 3, 2006 -- The Center has started chapters in major media markets. Initially, we have started U.S. chapters in Allentown, Ann Arbor, Austin, Los Angeles, and and Canadian chapters in Hamilton, Toronto and Vancouver. If you are interested in joining any of these chapters, please click on the chapter links above for more information. And please let us know if you would like us to choose your media market for our next chapter.


What will Center for Nursing Advocacy Chapters do? We envision meetings every month or two. At the meetings, members will brainstorm and work together to improve media coverage of nursing around the world--but most especially within their home media markets. For instance, members might talk about nursing achievements, events, problems, or issues that they wish to ask the local media to cover. Or they might discuss giving organized feedback to a media entity for a nurse-related product it has created. See more on our chapter mission and activities page.


Can you kick off a chapter formation by hosting a local meeting of like-minded nurses and nursing students?

Please join all our campaigns!

Please join all our letter-writing campaigns, especially our American Medical Association campaign, which encourages the AMA to stop impugning the care delivered by advanced practice registered nurses, and our Johnson & Johnson campaign, which addresses the company's focus on emotional "angel" imagery in its influential television ads. Thank you!

If you value what the Center does, please donate a corresponding amount to help us continue our work. The Center needs your support!

In order to continue speaking honestly about media images of nursing--even if it displeases major corporations and their nursing allies--the Center needs your help. Help us show that there is a place for independent voices in nursing. Help us overcome the limited "angel" and handmaiden images that have contributed to the nursing crisis. We must tell the public that nurses save lives and improve patient outcomes, so we can get the resources we need to resolve the nursing shortage. Please help us do that by making a contribution today.


The Center for Nursing Advocacy fights inaccurate media images of nursing because those images affect how decision-makers and members of the public value the profession. For most people, the media is the major source of information about nursing. But because the profession's image is so inaccurate and degraded, decision-makers tend not to fully fund nursing clinical practice, education or research. Short-staffing is one result. If we want to resolve the global nursing crisis, we must change the way the world thinks about nursing. Nurses save lives and improve outcomes every day, but few people outside nursing know that. Right now the Center has the resources to address a few of the most influential images of nursing. But we need far more funding to do what really needs to be done, including working proactively to create better images.

The Center stands ready and willing to lead that effort. But the tiny staff that donates almost all of its Center labor cannot do this without your help. We need money to pay for office supplies, internet fees, and other expenses. Most importantly, the long-term sustainability of the Center depends on core staff receiving a living wage. Please help us improve the nursing image by making a generous contribution to the Center today. And when you join, you will get cool free gifts, including t-shirts. Please join or renew your membership today. Thank you for your help. When the Center has a success, all of our supporting members should feel very proud, because we absolutely cannot do this without you. See our free member gifts.

Distribute our brochures to your colleagues and students

Can you help us by circulating our brochures and asking your colleagues and friends to become donating members of the Center? If so, please email me and let me know how many brochures you would like, and we'll send them out to you. 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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