The 2011 Truth About Nursing Awards
The Truth About Nursing announces the ninth annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses! The year 2011 (yes, we're a bit late, sorry) featured the impressive 14-part U.K. documentary 24 Hours in the ER, as well as strong nursing advocacy in the media from National Nurses United and many other nurses. TNT's HawthoRNe ended its three-season run, offering a few more portrayals of nursing skill and authority, despite some damaging suggestions that physicians really call the shots. The year also featured more of Showtime’s compelling Nurse Jackie, which included some depictions of strong, expert nursing, although the show at times wrongly suggested that nurses report to physicians. And mainstream press sources published good pieces ranging from the New York Times obituary for nursing leader Joyce Clifford, to United Press International items about nurses' public health advocacy on issues like teen suicide, to a South African Press Association report noting that Zimbabwean nurses must sell fruit in order to make ends meet.
On the other hand, the year also included the usual onslaught of damaging distortions from popular Hollywood products and the news media. The U.S. prime time landscape remained dominated by shows with little respect for nursing, including ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice and Fox's House, each of which featured a slew of strong, expert physician characters providing all meaningful care, while nurses were handmaidens who did little more than fetch things. And the "naughty nurse" remained a staple of the entertainment industry, appearing in everything from the new NBC sitcom Whitney to a Halloween-themed show at the family-oriented theme park Busch Gardens. The news media continued to issue "serious" articles about health care that assumed only physicians really matter, such as Harvard physician Jerome Groopman's New Yorker piece about NICUs, where, in reality, nurses take the lead. Even groups ostensibly trying to help nurses fell prey to damaging stereotypes, notably the unskilled angel. Johnson & Johnson released new television ads as part of its Campaign for Nursing's Future, but they relied heavily on emotional themes and did little to convey nurses' real skills. And Kaiser Permanente aired a radio ad for Nurses Week that was nonstop scut-work-saint imagery, as it extolled nurses for their "gargantuan heart[s] all squishy with compassion thumping away." Clearly, we have a long way to go. But we thank those responsible for the best media and encourage others to keep trying.
This 14-part documentary set in the emergency department at King's College Hospital in London paid roughly as much attention to nurses and other staff as it did physicians. The result was an engaging, insightful, and often hilarious look at emergency department patients and staff--including skilled, articulate, autonomous nurses.
Daniel Lane, Sydney Morning Herald, "Star nurses new ambitions," July 10. This report on Olympic swimmer Alice Mills explains that her new nursing career "will require all the discipline and stamina she has developed as an elite swimmer."
Jennifer Swartz, The Daily Reflector (North Carolina), "Scouts zero in on nursing," March 28. This item describes a nursing instructor's annual efforts to introduce girl and boy scouts to nursing through interactive programs. See Gina Ann Woody's video.
Wendie Howland, for relentlessly monitoring Help a Reporter Out (HARO) and educating reporters seeking health experts that the better choices for their stories are often nurses, rather than the physicians they seek;
Dee Riley, for leading the Las Vegas chapter of The Truth About Nursing in a peaceful rally on November 12 in front of the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas to protest the anti-health restaurant's naughty nurse waitress outfits;
Florida nurses seeking staffing legislation, as described in The News-Press (Fort Myers), "St. Bernard from Lehigh leads nurses rally in Tallahassee," April 2, which included a surprisingly detailed discussion of how better nurse staffing saves lives and money;
The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP), for issuing an official position statement opposing corporal punishment of kids in homes and schools, as described on Examiner.com, "NAPNAP calls for an end to corporal punishment of children," Marianna Klebenov, August 25;
Kathleen Bartholomew, for advocacy efforts including an op-ed in The Seattle Times, "Health care: a new civil-rights movement?" October 7;
Theresa Brown, for media about nursing, including New York Times op-eds "Looking for a Place to Die," December 21, and "Physician, Heel Thyself," May 7; Well blog posts "When Nurses Make Mistakes," July 6, "A Hollywood Movie Takes on Cancer," October 5, and "Practicing on Patients," November 16; and an appearance on NPR's Talk of the Nation, June 6.
Although the show at times wrongly suggested that physicians manage nurses, lead character Jackie Peyton remained a tough clinical virtuoso helping patients lead better lives despite her serious personal problems, and the show generally presented nurses as life-saving professionals.
Ten Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing 2011
Despite a few episodes featuring the forceful and skilled nurse Eli, perhaps the best nurse character the popular drama has had, the show eventually dismissed Eli as unworthy of his physician girlfriend and went back to ignoring nurses, while the many heroic physician characters regularly performed critical tasks that nurses do in real life.
The large hospital group exploited the angel stereotype with a 60-second radio ad for Nurses Week that defined nurses solely by their "colossal" "capacity to care" and their "gargantuan heart all squishy with compassion thumping away"--it really said that--but gave no hint that nurses are educated professionals who save lives.
Groopman's "A Child in Time," October 24, offered a physician-dominated vision of the NICU, in which nurses in fact generally take the lead, and Ken Auletta's "Changing Times: Jill Abramson takes charge of the Gray Lady," also October 24, suggested that only physicians played any role in the care the New York Times editor got after a bad vehicle accident, continuing the magazine's sad tradition of ignoring nursing in "serious" articles about health care.
Major character Gaby tried to gain access to the rehabilitation facility where her husband was a resident by flirting with a male nurse, but she failed when the man simply pointed to his chest and said, "Male nurse"--meaning that he was of course gay and so not interested in Gaby.
This season made us wonder once again who could resist a nursing career after seeing this show, on which nursing is all about following physician commands, messing with IV tubing, holding containers for patients to fill with bodily fluids, bleating helplessly as physicians rush past to save lives, and maybe, if you're hot, being propositioned by physicians. Sign us up!
Johnson & Johnson, 2011 "Campaign for Nursing's Future" television commercials.
The three new ads in J&J's long-running campaign to promote nursing did include a few suggestions of nursing skill, but they focused mainly on the emotional support nurses give patients. One ad featured an authoritative emergency nurse who seemed to believe that lucky charms are what matters most in patient care, and the other two ads, featuring a hospice nurse and a pediatric nurse, were nice but mostly about hand-holding, reinforcing the enduring image of nurses as low-skilled angels.
HawthoRNe -- created by John Masius; executive producers Jada Pinkett Smith, Glen Mazzara, Jamie Tarses, John Masius, and John Tinker; TNT.
This show, which aired its third and last season this summer, did present strong, expert nursing leaders and examples of nursing skill to millions of viewers. That continued to some extent this year, but sadly, the show had fewer substantial clinical plotlines, and at times it presented physicians as the real health masters. The formerly gifted nurse Kelly Epson moved from pediatrics to the OR in a long plotline that reduced her to a silly neophyte begging crusty surgeon Brenda Marshall to hire and mentor her, a damaging misportrayal of nursing autonomy and skill.
December 6, 2012 -- The electronic version of the paperback edition of Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk now sells for $7 from Kindle! The B&N Nook and Apple iBook are also available for $10. The hardback and paperback editions of Saving Lives are currently sold out as we are in a transition to a new publisher. All royalties for the multiple award-winning book go directly to support our nursing advocacy work. Thank you!
December 6, 2012 -- Tell colleagues and patients the truth! Our "I Am Your Registered Nurse" poster presents nurses as autonomous professionals on whom patients can rely. The poster explains that nurses are modern science professionals who protect and advocate for patients and empowers nurses to meet those challenges. Designed for the bedside, the poster comforts patients by educating them about the care environment and assuring them that nurses are there to fend for them.
Or consider the Truth's "Can Short Dresses Cause Short Staffing?" poster. This one takes humorous aim at the naughty nurse image that continues to haunt advertisements and other media, especially those aimed at males. The poster connects the naughty nurse image with the broader undervaluation that leads to gross underfunding of nursing education, research, and practice, ultimately threatening patients.
We'll send you up to 20 posters free to hang at your school or workplace. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how many you'd like and where to send them. If you'd like more, they are just 50 cents each! Thank you!
Truth executive director Sandy Summers will deliver the keynote speech at the California School Nurses Organization's upcoming 63rd Annual Conference, to be held at San Diego's Town & Country Resort. Sandy will speak on Saturday, February 9, 2013. See you there!
Check out the Truth's movie "Nursing: Isn't That Sweet?!" It's all about what happens when nurse Wendy encounters her old high school classmate Jim at a restaurant, many years later--after the two have taken their lives in very different directions! Can Wendy and Jim make a new connection? Or will things get a little ugly? Made using xtranormal software for Halloween 2011, the short video explores some chilling stereotypes that still infect public understanding of nursing. And for a different take on nursing stereotypes, check out the Truth's classic 2005 report "Nursing: Who Knew?" about a groundbreaking study in which leading researchers discover nurses' real contributions for the first time! See the video!
Many nursing professors rely on the extensive and varied materials on the Truth's website to help their students engage with critical issues nurses will face in the future, from their public image to key aspects of nursing education, practice, and advocacy. Since 2001, we have explored and analyzed how the global media and society in general has seen the nursing profession. Join your colleagues and use this material to help plan your curriculum! See the full list...
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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