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The Truth About Nursing Decade Awards
Rank Best and Worst Media Portrayals of 2000-2009

Three New Nurse TV Shows Among "Best"

Veteran Hollywood Dramas Lead "Worst"

 Ten Best Portrayals

Honorable Mention

Most Improved

Ten Worst Portrayals

I'm Saving the World, So It's OK If I Trample Nurses on the Way! Awards

Ten Best Portrayals

  1. Nurse Jackie -- created by Evan Dunsky, Liz Brixius, and Linda Wallem; executive producers Linda Wallem, Liz Brixius, John Melfi, and Caryn Mandabach; Showtime; 2009.

    New York ED nurse Jackie Peyton was a tough clinical virtuoso who, despite ethical and personal issues, used new and effective ways to help patients lead better lives or find lasting peace.

  2. Mercy -- created by Liz Heldens; executive producers Gail Berman, Lloyd Braun, Liz Heldens, Gretchen Berg, and Aaron Harberts; NBC; 2009.

    Lead character Veronica Callahan, a troubled Iraq War veteran with PTSD, leads a crew of young Jersey City hospital nurses who display advanced psychosocial skills and fight for patients in innovative ways.

  3. "Critical Care: The Making of an ICU Nurse" -- Scott Allen (reporting), Michele McDonald (photographs), Georgia Peirce (publicity), Boston Globe, October 23-26, 2005.

    This four-part chronicle of the eight-month training of a new intensive care nurse by a relentless 20-year veteran at Massachusetts General Hospital gave readers an unusually vivid sense of the complexity and importance of highly skilled nursing at a major hospital.

  4. "The Rookies" -- first episode of "Lifeline: The Nursing Diaries"; producers Richard Kahn and Linda Martin; Discovery Health Channel and CBS News Productions; November 2004.

    This television documentary's engaging first part, set at Massachusetts General Hospital, deftly showed autonomous nursing actions that the media often ignores or assigns to physicians, including life-saving interventions, patient education, and family support.

  5. Angels in America -- directed by Mike Nichols, screenplay by Tony Kushner, HBO, 2003.
  6. The film version of Tony Kushner's epic play placed nursing at the center of AIDS care, particularly in its portrayal of nurse Belize, who balanced skill and determination, cynical wit and tough love, as he fought to keep his friends alive and sane.

  7. Media by Diana Mason -- various formats, 2000-2009.
  8. Mason co-produced and co-hosted HealthStyles, a weekly WBAI (New York) radio show that provided cutting-edge health information using nurses as health experts, and she also improved public understanding of nursing as editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Nursing, in part by garnering mainstream press coverage of important nursing research.

  9. HawthoRNe -- created by John Masius; executive producers John Masius, Glen Mazzara, Jamie Tarses, Mikael Salomon, and Jada Pinkett Smith; TNT; 2009.

    Although this show reinforced some stereotypes, its portrayal of strong, expert chief nursing officer Christina Hawthorne and several skilled staff nurses at a Richmond hospital was generally helpful.

  10. Media by Theresa Brown -- newspaper columns and blog posts, 2008-2009.

    In her pieces in The New York Times, including the prominent "Well" blog, and elsewhere this new oncology nurse offered powerful, articulate commentary about her nursing experiences and her perspectives on key health policy issues, including U.S. health care financing reform.

  11. Media by Suzanne Gordon -- various media, 2000-2009.

    For Nursing Against the Odds: How Health Care Cost-Cutting, Media Stereotypes, and Medical Hubris Undermine Nursing and Patient Care (2005), and other books and press pieces, journalist Gordon explained the nature and value of nursing, the denursification of developed world health care, and the associated nursing shortage.

  12. Media by the California Nurses Association and the Massachusetts Nurses Association-- various formats, 2000-2009.

    These leading nursing unions advocated aggressively and creatively for nursing through mass media campaigns, explaining the value of the profession to support their arguments for better staffing and improved working conditions, and at the same time presenting nurses as articulate, holistic advocates for public health.

Honorable Mention

  1. Newspaper columns by Ronnie Polaneczky-- Philadelphia Daily News; 2003, 2006.

    During each of these two periods, the columnist wrote several excellent pieces about labor disputes involving local nurses, highlighting the role nurses play in the survival of patients, advocating for safe staffing, explaining the roots of the nursing shortage, and arguing that nurse practitioners provide excellent, cost-effective primary care.

  2. Reporting by Integrated Regional Information Networks -- 2000-2009.

    This U.N. news agency ran powerful articles, many reprinted on the Reuters Foundation website, about the challenges nurses face in the developing world, from extreme resource shortages and HIV/AIDS in Africa to the effects on nurses of ongoing violence in Iraq.

  3. Nurses -- produced by Summer Productions; Helen Holt, executive producer; Discovery Health Channel; 2002.
  4. This five-part television documentary about nursing at Johns Hopkins Hospital was an accurate and interesting look at the profession, with hour-long episodes focused on oncology, neo-natal intensive care, critical care, pediatrics, and psychiatric care

  5. Wit -- directed by Mike Nichols; screenplay by Emma Thompson and Nichols; HBO; 2001.

In the film version of Margaret Edson's play, nurse Susie Monahan works to protect a tough literature professor with terminal cancer from research physicians who are pushing chemotherapy without regard to the patient's best interests.

Most Improved

  1. ER -- executive producers David Zabel, John Wells, Christopher Chulack, Janine Sherman Barrois, Joe Sachs, Michael Crichton; NBC; 2005-2009.
  2. In its final years, the veteran hospital drama remained physician-centric, but it also included fine depictions of nursing, with nurse Sam Taggart at times operating with some autonomy and real clinical skill.

  3. "Take a Loved One for a Checkup Day" -- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Minority Health, Assistant Secretary Garth Graham, 2005.

    After a campaign by nurses, HHS changed the name of its annual minority health campaign "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day" to one that did not exclude the nurses who provide a great deal of primary care to the campaign's target population.

Ten Worst Portrayals

  1. Grey's Anatomy -- created by Shonda Rhimes, ABC, 2005-2009.
  2. This hugely popular drama pretended that nurses play no significant role in hospitals, as the heroic surgeons who dominated performed many critical tasks that nurses do in real life. But the show also included direct attacks on nursing, and presented nurses as bitter or fawning losers.

  3. House -- created by David Shore, Fox, 2004-2009.
  4. This hit hospital show ignored nurses completely--except when it showed them as mute, anonymous lackeys to the smart physicians who provided all the important care, and when the brilliant Greg House attacked the nurses as annoying fools who were just there to clean up the mess.

  5. Private Practice -- created by Shonda Rhimes, ABC, 2007-2009.
  6. The show began by mocking clueless nurse Dell Parker--who worked as a receptionist at an L.A. health practice--for his midwifery studies. Although Dell eventually appeared to become a nurse midwife, he showed little expertise compared to the brilliant physicians who dominated.

  7. The naughty nurse -- for countless appearances in all media worldwide throughout the decade, including these especially notable examples: 
  8. Virgin Mobile -- for ads, including a 2008 Indian ad featuring a naughty nurse tricked by a patient into reaching around in his pockets to help him answer a cell phone, and a 2005 Canadian campaign featuring naughty nurse models that kicked off with an event in which Virgin mogul Richard Branson made a superhero entrance and "rescued" three of the models.

    Lung Cancer Alliance -- for "Waitin' Room Service," a 2009 rap video released as part of an awareness campaign that included hot "nurses" caressing and dancing suggestively with "Dr. Lung Love," who rapped that the "nurse just left," so he'd "love your lungs tonight."

    Kelly Ripa -- for comments on LIVE with Regis and Kelly in March and April 2007, in which Ripa suggested that she would act as an erotic "sponge bath nurse" to aid the recovery of co-host Regis Philbin after his open-heart surgery.

    Gzhelka Vodka -- for a 2006 television commercial in which a randy nurse gave an IV containing the Russian company's vodka to an unconscious male patient, then had onscreen intercourse with the aroused but still-unconscious patient.

    The Heart Attack Grill -- for relentless use of naughty nurse imagery, 2005-2009. This cheerfully anti-health Arizona restaurant continued to celebrate its waitresses' naughty nurse attire, despite protests from nursing supporters worldwide.

    Dr. Phil McGraw -- for a November 2004 show in which the clinical psychologist told his television audience that the health care system is full of "cute little nurses" who are out to "seduce and marry" physicians "because that's their ticket out of having to work as a nurse."

  9. The Today Show -- for segments about advanced practice nurses, NBC, 2005, 2009.
  10. For attacks on advanced practice nurses, including "The Perils Of Midwifery," a September 2009 report by Peter Alexander that used the tragic experience of one couple whose baby died in a home birth setting to question the safety of home births and midwives generally, and a November 2005 segment by Janice Lieberman that suggested the care of nurse practitioners at retail-based "quick clinics" was unsafe.

  11. ER -- created by Michael Crichton, NBC, particularly for episodes airing 2000-2005.
  12. During this period the massively popular drama continued its long run as the world's most influential and sophisticated propagator of the myth that nurses are physician handmaidens, often told viewers that physicians perform key care tasks that nurses do in real life, and suggested that the highest aspiration of an able nurse is medical school.

  13. Passions -- created by James E. Reilly, episodes with Nurse Precious, NBC, 2003-2005.
  14. This campy daytime drama featured an orangutan named Precious as the private duty nurse of one of its characters, an evolutionary move that was less amusing to the real nurses who have been told by physicians and hospital executives that monkeys could do their jobs.

  15. Hopkins 24/7 and Hopkins -- executive producer Terence Wrong, ABC, 2000, 2008.

    These multi-part documentary-reality series about Johns Hopkins Hospital relentlessly suggested that heroic physicians provide all important care at the esteemed hospital, while virtually ignoring the hospital's thousands of highly skilled nurses.

  16. Media commentary by the American Medical Association -- for comments about advanced practice nurses, particularly 2005-2007.
  17. Leaders of the powerful lobbying group, including Edward Hill and Rebecca Patchin, placed numerous "expert" comments in the major news media claiming that advanced practice nurses are not qualified to care for patients without physician supervision, despite the wealth of evidence that APRN care is at least as effective as that of physicians.

  18. The robot nurse -- who doesn't actually exist because robots are not college-educated health professionals, but who has still appeared in press items worldwide throughout the decade (as "robo-nurse," "virtual nurse," "nurse robot," "electronic nurse," etc.), reinforcing the view that a "nurse" is anyone or anything that acts as an assistive care-giver.

I'm Saving the World, So It's OK If I Trample Nurses on the Way! Award

Médecins Sans Frontieres -- for Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, a highly physician-centric 2009 documentary produced and directed by Mark Hopkins, and for the international aid group's ongoing refusal to consider changing its name to one that does not suggest physicians are responsible for all the group's health care, when nurses are the most numerous health professionals among its workers.









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