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News on Nursing in the Media

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine

January 29, 2006 -- Tonight's episode of ABC's hit "Grey's Anatomy" featured the conclusion of the nursing strike plotline begun last week. "Break on Through," written by Zoanne Clack, MD, seemed to be an effort to show nurses some respect, and we give the show credit for that. The episode did manage to convey that the nurses' complaints about short-staffing and forced overtime had merit, that nurse staffing had been sacrificed to short-sighted cost-cutting, and that the hospital needed the nurses in order to run efficiently. Ultimately, the hospital agreed to hire more nurses and the strike ended. Unfortunately, the episode wrongly presented the chief of surgery as managing all the nurses. More broadly, the episode continued the show's tradition of damaging misinformation and unrebutted anti-nurse slurs. Nurses were seen as focused on administration and care tasks that the episode's 18.5 million viewers are likely to find trivial, like changing bedpans, handing things to physicians, minor handholding, and tracking little patient quirks. Physicians were depicted as saving lives, and handling exciting work that nurses do in real life, including all key patient relations, all monitoring, all significant clinical interventions--and of course, managing the nurses. Indeed, since physician characters on the show do all the nursing that matters anyway, the strike made virtually no difference in the episode's clinical scenes. more...

Sweet Little Lies

A lie is the worst thing in the world. Art is the ability to tell the truth, especially about oneself.

                                                                           -- Richard Pryor

January 22, 2006 - Tonight's episode of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" included a surprising (if minor) subplot in which nurse characters complained about short-staffing, began a sick-out, and even threatened to strike--which will actually occur in the Jan. 29 episode. In the Jan. 22 episode, the nurses try desperately to cope, while the hospital ignores their concerns. We haven't seen these issues addressed in any significant way on a U.S. prime time show since a January 2002 episode of Lifetime's "Strong Medicine." We give "Grey's Anatomy" credit for trying. But we also note that: (1) in this episode, the nurses' jobs seemed to consist of managing hospital room occupancies and paperwork, with no hint that they play any important role in direct care; (2) the show's 10 physician stars continued to provide all significant care, including much that nurses do in real life; (3) the episode wrongly told its 21.3 million U.S. viewers that the disgruntled nurses report to the chief of surgery, and nurse managers remained nonexistent; and (4) the episode continued the show's association of the few, unpleasant nurses who do occasionally appear with problems (bureaucracy, infidelity, STDs, failure, strikes, and so on). The show seems to be saying that the nurses are bitter serfs, but if physicians ignore or abuse them enough, they will strike back. The well-named episode, "Tell Me Sweet Little Lies," was written by Joan Rater and Tony Phelan. more...

In landmark ruling, nursing students win right to marry

January 20, 2006 -- Today the New Kerala (India) site reported that the Kerala High Court had declared illegal a state nursing council rule requiring that nursing students be unmarried. The unsigned piece, "Kerala HC says marital status no bar to studying nursing," notes that the court also declared minimum height and weight requirements to be unlawful. We thank the web site for running this helpful story. more...

Newsweek: "Not Enough Nurses"

December 12, 2005 -- This week Newsweek ran a fairly short story by Anne Underwood headlined "Diagnosis: Not Enough Nurses." The piece highlights some important aspects of the current nursing shortage and has some good expert quotes, though it omits the key roles that budget-driven short-staffing and nurses' poor image play in the crisis. One especially good aspect of the piece is its point that "nursing is crucial to patient safety." more...

M. M. Styles, global nursing visionary, leader and scholar

December 18, 2005 -- Today the New York Times published a fairly good obituary for Margretta Madden Styles. Dr. Styles was a renowned nursing leader and scholar who was instrumental in establishing nursing certification standards, and who also served as president of the International Council of Nurses and the American Nurses Association. Jeremy Pearce's short piece about Styles, who died from cancer at her Florida home in November, was headlined: "M. M. Styles, 75; Helped to Define Nursing Standards." The piece does not quite convey the full global significance of Styles' work, but it's pretty good considering how nursing usually fares on obituary pages. more...

Pushing paper

November 27, 2005 -- Today the Observer (U.K.) ran a leader (op-ed) and an article by health editor Jo Revill about concerns over how much time nurses now spend on paperwork. The leader, "Let nurses nurse: Their bedside manners save lives," argues that the government must find ways to reduce nurses' administrative work and get them back to the bedside. Revill's article, "Paperwork mountain keeps nurses from care," reports on a new study that is expected to confirm that some nurses spend as much as 40% of their time on "non-clinical" administrative work. Certainly, at a time of shortage it would seem that nurses should not be saddled with paperwork that does not require their special skills and judgment. And both pieces rightly suggest that the time nurses spend at the bedside affects patient outcomes. But one key theme seems to be that nurses improve outcomes because they "talk" to patients. That is literally true, but without much explanation, many readers will not get that it's because nurses are skilled professionals, not just handholders with "bedside manners." And nurses make many key clinical judgments at the bedside that are not based on talking. The pieces also seem to reflect the assumption that paperwork cannot be part of nursing, as if nurses are just there to be with patients, rather than think and write as real professionals do. But would anyone suggest that nothing physicians do away from the bedside is medicine? Lastly, neither piece mentions the role of the nursing shortage and associated short-staffing in the apparent lack of nurses at the bedside. more...

"I'm here to do your bidding, Dr. Thornton."

October 16, 2005 -- Tonight's episode of Lifetime's "Strong Medicine" included another apparent effort by writers Darin Goldberg and Shelley Meals to highlight the skills of lone major nurse character Peter Riggs. Peter is a nurse-midwife, though he acted as an ED nurse here. One subplot tonight explored power issues between Peter and resident Kayla Thornton, also his girlfriend, in the aftermath of their ED care for a teen who dies of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The episode does manage to show that Peter has significant knowledge and the initiative to act on it to save the lives of others who are at-risk. But it also confirms that at the end of the day, physicians like Kayla are in charge. Elsewhere in the episode, nurses are portrayed, as usual, as marginally skilled physician subordinates who don't talk to patients or families, while physicians provide all important care. more...

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We, the AMA, are controlling transmission.

September 2005 -- Late this month, Slate posted a piece by two Boston medical residents (and clinical fellows at Harvard) entitled "Paging Dr. Welby: The medical sins of Grey's Anatomy." Authors Ingrid Katz and Alexi Wright make some good points about the ABC hit's medical inaccuracies and distortions. But their main theme seems to be that things would be better if the American Medical Association had never lost its tight control over how physicians and presumably all health care events are portrayed, which has supposedly led to unsavory depictions of physicians as deeply flawed humans, rather than the godlike Welbys of yesteryear. This, along with medical inaccuracies generally, assertedly works to undermine vital public trust in physicians. Evidently, the authors would entrust public understanding of health care errors, health financing, scope of practice, access to care, and health policy generally to a lobbying organization representing a small minority of powerful health workers who lack expertise in many key areas of modern health care. The authors also overlook the media's ongoing portrayal of physicians as the heroic (if human) providers of all important health care. And they ignore the enormous influence individual physicians--like them--continue to wield over such depictions, influence that has, sadly, been a significant factor in the ongoing representation of nurses as peripheral subordinates who make no meaningful contribution to health care. more...

"The unique gifts that nurses receive"

December 21, 2005 -- Today the Globe and Mail (Toronto) ran a moving op-ed by Calgary maternity nurse Raewyn Janota. It describes the skilled, sensitive care Janota recently provided to a couple whose baby was stillborn. In taking readers inside this wrenching example of her practice, Janota underlines the importance of her work and shows why, even during the current crisis, career seekers should still want to do it. The piece might have included a bit more about the "gift" nurses receive in knowing that they save lives and improve outcomes in more tangible ways. But the piece is still a powerful look at some key aspects of nursing. We thank Janota for writing it and the Globe and Mail for publishing it. more...

Peter Riggs, CNM (2000-2006)

February 4, 2006 -- On Sunday, February 5, Lifetime will broadcast the series finale of its hospital drama "Strong Medicine" (against the end of the Super Bowl, but maybe Lifetime figures that won't have much impact on this show's fans). So this will be the final appearance of hunky, alternative nurse-midwife Peter Riggs, played by Josh Coxx. The overall portrayal of nursing in Tammy Ader's female physician show has been fairly poor. The show has generally presented nurses as mute, peripheral physician assistants. But Peter has been a positive character in the limited number of episodes that have given him attention. He has displayed initiative, knowledge, and patient advocacy, as two episodes from the fall of 2005 show (September 18 and October 16). Over the show's six years, Peter has probably been the most significant male nurse character on U.S. television, and the only one to display anything like autonomy or serious expertise. Tune in and wish him well. See our series review.

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

A few weeks ago, a CVS television ad was telling many millions of viewers that a pharmacist could educate a nurse in four hours. Now the ad has been pulled. Without the Center, that ad would very likely still be out there. But that is just one of the many troubling images of nursing that contribute to public misunderstanding worldwide. We can't build a strong profession until we build a strong image. Right now we have enough funding to go after a few of the negative images of nursing. But we need far more funding to do the work that 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 do, you will get cool free gifts (as below), 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.

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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