News on Nursing in the Media
March 16, 2010 -- Recent reports in The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe discuss efforts to address potentially lethal hospital errors, with each piece using as its main example a case in which nurses did not spot a problem until it was too late and a patient died. It is very helpful for the public to hear that nursing (just like medicine) is so important to patient care that such problems can mean the difference between life and death. And we commend the journalists responsible for both of these pieces, which provide serious, thoughtful discussion of some important issues, including systemic factors beyond the nurses' control. But neither piece consults nurses to the extent it should, considering that the problems addressed are primarily nursing ones, and the effect is to undervalue nursing expertise and possibly to suggest that nurses report to physicians in providing the relevant care. Liz Kowalczyk's February 21 Globe report describes events surrounding the tragic death of a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) patient whose heart monitor alarm had been left off. The reporter includes a few helpful quotes from MGH's chief nurse, but none from national nurse experts or direct care nurses who deal with such monitors constantly, instead relying on physician safety experts and engineers involved in improving the safety of such technologies. And Laura Landro's piece in today's Journal discusses efforts to treat the health workers involved in errors fairly, focusing on the well-known case of Wisconsin nurse Julie Thao, who mistakenly gave a pregnant patient a fatal dose of a painkiller and actually faced criminal charges, but who has since worked to improve hospital safety. The story includes a little indirect commentary from Thao, but all the expert quotes are from physicians and other non-nurse safety experts, rather than the nurses who know more directly how and why such medication errors can occur. Perhaps as a result of inadequate input from nurses, neither piece mentions the extent to which nurse-related errors are due to inadequate staffing or other factors in the practice environment, which nursing scholars have shown remains a threat to U.S. patient safety. Nor does either piece discuss nurses' relatively low level of power, which discourages nurses from speaking up about problems, an issue on which Johns Hopkins physician Peter Pronovost has rightly focused in his efforts to improve safety. more...
August 2010 -- Five episodes from the sixth season of ABC's Grey's Anatomy (2009-2010) illustrate the two main stereotypes that the hit show continues to reinforce: that nurses are physician handmaidens, and that they are low-skilled workers worthy only of contempt. As always, the show's 12 main characters--all surgeons--provide all the health care that matters, including vital care that nurses do in real life. In one episode, after senior surgeon Derek Shepherd asks female surgical resident Lexie Grey to monitor his own health during a marathon surgery, a male resident mocks Lexie by telling her that it sounds like she will be Shepherd's "bitch" and urging her to "have fun playing nurse." Lexie will have her revenge on her Seattle Grace colleague, but the show makes no effort to defend nursing. Another episode flashes back to 1982 to show surgical pioneer Ellis Grey (Meredith Grey's mother) as a resident fighting off a male colleague's claim that she is just a "nurse" who has no business defibrillating, though even in 1982, nurses did plenty of defibrillation. Again, there is no defense of nursing. Two other episodes include brief but damaging appearances by nurse Tyler, a bitter lackey who could not care less about patients and views his role as doing as little as possible to help the physicians who actually provide expert care. And still another episode features a rare prime time mention of nurse practitioners. Not surprisingly, it is an insult, as Shepherd suggests that another surgeon is wasting her time doing after-care since a "nurse practitioner can do this." Grey's seems to have made little progress since the anti-nurse insults of its first episodes five long years ago (e.g., "Did you just call me a nurse?"; "You're the pig who called Meredith a nurse!"). As in the early days, the show wants us to feel the pain of brilliant female physicians who must fight to avoid being mistaken for nurses, members of the backwards servant class of health care. We urge the show to consider if it could pursue its apparent mission of deifying physicians without attacking nurses quite so directly. more, please join our letter-writing campaign ... and see the film clips from 5 notable episodes!
March 12, 2010 –Today the New York Daily News ran an item based on a Reuters piece reporting that a Dutch nurses union had launched a national campaign to remind patients that sexual services were actually not part of nurses' professional duties. Apparently, a young female nurse had recently complained that a disabled man had demanded that she provide sex as part of his care, then threatened to have her fired when she refused. And what might have given this Dutch patient the idea that sex was part of nursing? Well, we might point to that enduring global naughty nurse stereotype, but it also seems that the complaining nurse saw "some of her peers performing sexual acts with the patient." The short Daily News item by Ethan Sacks is a fair statement of the basic issues, though the accompanying photo (right)--of a hot model dressed in a regressive nurse's dress with cap, staring provocatively and directing a stethoscope at the camera--doesn't exactly counter the idea that nurses are mainly sexual objects. And the report might also have noted that sexual harassment is a major problem for nurses worldwide and a significant factor in nursing burnout. We thank those responsible for the basic report. more...
August 2, 2010 -- The Journal of Christian Nursing recently posted a substantial article about nursing's media image by Hila J. Spear, RN, PhD. The article appears to be forthcoming in the journal's fall 2010 issue. Ms. Spear discusses the treatment of nursing in current Hollywood television shows and what nurses might do to improve their public image. In doing so, she cites the Truth About Nursing web site and the book Saving Lives as valuable sources of information. see the article...
Right now we are offering guest lectures by Sandy Summers by conference call, Webex, or other electronic means at no cost to any class that is discussing nursing's media image and using Saving Lives as one of its texts. Just email us at email@example.com to set up a dynamic and engaging guest presentation. Thank you!
August 6, 2010 -- Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk now available in paperback, with a new foreword by bestselling nurse author Echo Heron! This edition is revised and expanded, discussing Nurse Jackie and the other new nurse shows in detail, and featuring updated information throughout. You can get an author-signed copy of the book when you become a member of the Truth or renew your membership for $30 (click here!). Please help support the Truth's effort to change how the world thinks about nursing today.
This affordably-priced paperback edition (under $12 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble) makes a great Nurses Day gift for colleagues, students, or even to help family and friends understand the value of what nurses do. All royalties for the award-winning book go directly to support non-profit nursing advocacy work. Thank you for your support!
Media images of health care--like the ones on ABC's popular Grey's Anatomy-- have an important effect on the nursing profession. Many nurses and nursing students feel frustrated when influential media products undervalue nurses. But how can we change what the media tells the public about nursing? Sandy Summers has led high-profile efforts to promote more accurate and robust depictions of nursing since 2001. She has shared her insights in dynamic presentations to groups across North America. She empowers nurses and teaches them how to shape their image into one that reflects the profession's true value. When nurses get the respect they deserve, they will attract more resources for nursing practice, education, and research, so we can resolve the nursing shortage. Sign Sandy up for your next conference, nurses' week celebration, or gala event! Click here for more details.
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The Truth About Nursing is an international non-profit organization based in Baltimore that seeks to help the public understand the central role nurses play in health care. The Truth promotes more accurate media portrayals of nurses and greater use of nurses as expert sources. The group is led by Sandy Summers, co-author of Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All At Risk.
Thank you for supporting the Truth About Nursing's work!
Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH
Founder and Executive Director
The Truth About Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21212-2937
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