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News on Nursing in the Media

Gina Lambert Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow

Angel of death haunts Fox drama!

Worked to death

Reports on the financial pressures that threaten nursing

Hell of a doctor

Nurse on The Glades is dying to get back to medical school

Saving Lives paperback coverA pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray

Glee just can't help insulting school nurses

""What do nurses really do?"

Oxford blog posts quiz based on Saving Lives

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Nurse Mama Sleepy HollowNovember 17, 2014 -- Tonight's episode of Fox's drama Sleepy Hollow featured a strikingly clear example of the angel-of-death image of nursing:  The being who was coercing patients to commit suicide at a psychiatric hospital turned out to be the demonic ghost of a real nurse who had been executed in 1959 for having caused the deaths of 21 patients. The ghost-nurse said she was acting to relieve suffering, but her method, a drug cocktail followed by powerful manipulation, was a display of creepy, monstrous evil. This is not the first time a television drama has adapted the Charles Cullen story -- a prior example is a 2004 episode of the NBC drama Medical Investigation -- but it may be the most explicit use of the angel of mercy / death image. That's partly because of the extreme plot, in which the nurse actually is a supernatural being like an angel, but also because of touches like having the nurse call herself an "angel of mercy." And the episode has no context or positive nurse counterexample. Of course, a few nurse serial killers do exist. But this kind of one-dimensional portrayal reinforces both the angel and battle-axe images. Using the term "angel" tells viewers that nurses should be spiritual beings identifiable by their virtue rather than their health care skills. The contrast between that and murder is what makes the term so powerful. And it is still applied to people like Cullen, even in the news media. At the same time, an angel of death is an extreme battle-axe; even Nurse Ratched herself did not kill dozens of people. At least the Sleepy Hollow nurse did not display the repressed sexuality that often seems to underlie the battle-axe's misdeeds. Maybe she was too busy using telekinesis to slam the show's police characters against walls before they finally managed to banish her with a hex! But as fantastical as such a plotline is, it still reinforces deeply held notions of who nurses are. We urge Hollywood to think carefully before trotting it out again for easy thrills. more...or sign our petition!


Worked to death

Beth JasperNovember 13, 2013 -- Recent news reports have highlighted the financial pressures that can affect nurses' practice settings, threatening patients and nurses themselves. On September 6, 2013, NBC television affiliates reported that Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center had decided to give registered nurses responsibility for cleaning patients' rooms. Kimberly Curth's article indicated that hospital management had defended the shift as consistent with the history of nursing practice, which has focused on a hygienic care environment and a holistic approach to infection control. However, it was pretty clear that this change was driven by budget constraints, not a concern for patients or nursing tradition. There was no indication that nurses' patient loads would be reduced to accommodate this extra work, nor that nursing education was required to mop floors or clean bathrooms. The report noted that at least one nurse was concerned about cross contamination. One bright spot, maybe, was that at least some of the media evidently thought nurses cleaning patient rooms was news, as if nurses don't already do that and might be busy doing something else for patients. Today, CNN's Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley reported that a man had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cincinnati's Jewish Hospital after his wife, a nurse there, had died in a car crash on her way home from work. According to the piece, the suit alleges that overwork contributed to the nurse's death. In fact, it alleges that the nurse's own supervisor had previously warned that she was being "worked to death." The suit says the nurse had often worked extra hours in a "regularly understaffed" unit. And the report includes comment from a representative of National Nurses United, who argues that understaffing is a major issue for U.S. direct care nurses and that it impairs patient health. The article might have noted that research confirms the deadly effects of understaffing. In any case, both pieces suggest that nurse understaffing remains a critical problem in U.S. hospitals. more...


Hell of a doctor

Callie CargillAugust 2013 -- The fourth and final season of TNT's summer drama The Glades traced the ongoing efforts of the able nurse Callie Cargill to become a physician. Callie accepted the marriage proposal of the police detective character Jim Longworth and moved back to the Florida town where Jim worked. That meant leaving Atlanta, where she had been attending medical school! (and practicing as a nurse, ho hum). The show suggested that while in Atlanta, Callie had been supervised by a physician, who became a good friend. Back in Florida, Callie planned to defray wedding costs not only by working at her old nursing job--which she supposedly got back based on a reference from the Atlanta physician--but also by doing a temporary research fellowship with a senior orthopedic surgeon. Initially contemptuous, this surgeon warmed to Callie and asserted more than once that she'd be a "hell of a doctor." And when the surgeon died suddenly, he left her enough money to finish medical school! Callie was probably the most significant wannabe-physician character on U.S. television since NBC's ER. Dell from ABC's Private Practice was also notable, but he only announced his medical school plans in his last couple episodes, whereas Callie was on an epic, series-long journey from nursing to the promised land of medicine. Such plotlines suggest to viewers, correctly, that nurses can be smart and skilled. But their overriding message is that if nurses have those qualities, they want to and should become physicians, which is false and damaging. In fact, nurses are perhaps 100 times more likely to pursue graduate education in nursing, usually to become advanced practice nurses. Of course, the nurse-to-physician transition on Hollywood shows is always cause for undiluted celebration; no one suggests that the character might do as much good as a nurse. And with the cancellation of The Glades soon after the final 2013 episode, nothing can be done about Callie's long march toward medicine or the show's suggestions that nurses report to physicians. more...

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A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray (full analysis)

Penny doing the HeimlichOctober 3, 2013 -- Tonight's episode of Fox's Glee included an abysmal depiction of school nursing. In the Beatles-themed episode (Ian Brennan's "Tina in the Sky with Diamonds"), the McKinley High School principal hired a college student named Penny--who had apparently not yet even begun nursing school--to give vaccinations and perform other school nursing tasks. We started a campaign about this episode soon after it aired; we now provide a fuller analysis and urge everyone to join the hundreds who have written to urge the show creators to do better. The Penny character described her work at the school as part of "an internship" that would help her gain admission to nursing school later, yet she also suggested that she had received two weeks of training in "injections." In any case, although Penny was a nice person, she was dangerously incompetent. She tried to give a vaccination with a needle she had just contaminated by practicing on a sausage, and after taking a urine sample at the same time that she was giving vaccinations, she evidently injected a cheerleader with urine. The principal did temporarily fire Penny for that last caper. And the episode made clear that Penny fell short of what a real nurse could do; she freely admitted that she was just learning. But she was still repeatedly identified as "Nurse Penny," and the overall effect was to make a mockery of school nursing. And although there was really nothing naughty about Penny, she did function as a bumbling temporary romantic object for Glee hunk Sam. Such media imagery, even as a "joke," contributes to the undervaluation that has already led to rampant understaffing of school nurses and now takes the lives of students everywhere. Please urge those responsible to make amends! more...and please join our petition!


"What do nurses really do?" Oxford blog posts quiz based on Saving Lives

December 26, 2014 - Today Oxford University Press posted a short multiple-choice quiz on the OUP Blog based on the recently published second edition of the book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All At Risk. Of course, no one could give a comprehensive account of a profession like nursing in just 10 questions. But the quiz does offer some helpful information about the key role nurses play in modern health care, with a focus on countering common stereotypes. We thank Oxford for this helpful post! Take the quiz!  


Get a copy of the updated second edition of Saving Lives with every $30 donation!

Saving Lives paperback cover Donate $30 to the Truth now, and we will send you a copy of our leaders' newly released book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All at Risk. The first edition of Saving Lives won an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award and an award from the international nursing honor society, Sigma Theta Tau. The book was written for nurses, the media, and members of the public around the world. Many nursing professors use it as a text to discuss nursing in society. The authors donate all royalties to the Truth About Nursing. Order today--paperback or digital--and we will send a copy out to you!


Sandy SummersPlanning speakers? Support the Truth by inviting Sandy Summers to empower your nurses!

Do you have leaders at your institution who do not understand the value of nursing? Sandy Summers can help you turn them around. 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 internationally. 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! All honoraria go directly to support the Truth's operations. When you invite Sandy to speak, you make the Truth's work possible since honoraria are our biggest source of funding. Thank you! Click here for more details.


Place Truth About Nursing posters at your school or workplace

I am your RN poster 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.

Short dresses posterOr 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.

For every dollar that you donate, we'll send you up to 4 posters to hang at your school or workplace. Just email us at to tell us how many you'd like and where to send them. Thank you!


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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
office 1-410-323-1100
fax 1-410-510-1790

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