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January 1, 2010



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

Three New Nurse TV Shows Among "Best"

Veteran Hollywood Dramas Lead "Worst"

See The Truth About Nursing Decade Awards

Baltimore, Maryland, USA -- The Truth About Nursing announces its list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses it saw between 2000 and 2009. The Truth's Decade Awards highlight media portrayals from a decade in which the world has faced a deadly nursing shortage fueled in significant part by poor public understanding of the profession. The three new nurse-focused shows that appeared on U.S. television in 2009, led by Showtime's Nurse Jackie and NBC's Mercy, made the "best" list despite their recent appearance, because they have presented millions of viewers with compelling portrayals of skilled nurses fighting for patients. But the nursing group said that on the whole, the global media continues to undermine the profession.

Nurse Jackie led the "best" list. The Truth said nurse character Jackie Peyton was a tough clinical virtuoso who, despite ethical and personal issues, used new and innovative ways to help patients lead better lives or find lasting peace. The Truth also found Mercy's Veronica Callahan to be an innovative clinical leader who, despite some personal problems, provided expert care.

"Only time will tell if the new nurse shows signal a long-term improvement in television's generally awful treatment of nursing," Truth executive director Sandy Summers noted. "These shows are just starting out, their audiences are relatively limited, and otherwise television continues to reinforce the idea that only physicians matter."

In fact, the most popular veteran hospital dramas--ABC's Grey's Anatomy, Fox's House, and ABC's Private Practice --all made the nursing group's "worst of the decade" list. The long-running NBC drama ER also made the "worst" list, but the Truth gave the show a "most improved" award for better portrayals in its final years on the air.

Grey's Anatomy has portrayed nursing as irrelevant to serious care, said Summers, but its bright young surgeon characters have also directed explicit mockery at nurses. In a 2009 episode, one surgeon mocked another's surgical assignment by urging her to "have fun playing nurse."

The nursing group said that House also continued to present nurses as silent handmaidens to the physicians who provide important care, including much that nurses really do. Here the brilliant Greg House handled the nurse mockery, joking in one 2005 episode that picking up fallen patients was why he (as God) had "created nurses."

"Some of the best depictions of nursing appeared in the print press," said Summers. She pointed to Theresa Brown's powerful commentary, including posts on the New York Times' "Well" blog, describing her thoughts as a new oncology nurse. The Truth also cited the 2003 HBO film Angels in America, which included powerful portrayals of AIDS care nurses, as well as the excellent work of nursing advocates Diana Mason and Suzanne Gordon.

Not all of the "worst" depictions appeared in the entertainment media. The Truth singled out the American Medical Association for its repeated but baseless public attacks on advanced practice nurses. And the nursing group noted that the "naughty nurse" stereotype remains popular in global advertising, not only for companies like Virgin Mobile, but even in charitable work. Summers said that the Lung Cancer Alliance had used naughty, submissive "nurses" in a 2009 rap video featuring "Dr. Lung Love" that was made to raise awareness of lung cancer.

The Truth even gave a special "worst" award to Doctors Without Borders for a physician-centric 2009 documentary called Living in Emergency and for the Nobel Prize-winning group's refusal to consider changing its name to one that would not suggest that physicians provide all the group's health care, when nurses are actually its most numerous health workers. The award was called the "I'm Saving the World, So It's OK If I Trample Nurses on the Way! Award."

"The Truth About Nursing congratulates those responsible for items on the 'best,' 'honorable mention,' and 'most improved' lists," said Summers. "Some of the best accounts of nursing were created by nurses themselves, or by journalists who consulted nursing experts. This shows that nurses everywhere must speak out about the value of their profession, particularly in view of the ongoing nursing shortage and the current economic crisis."  

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

The Truth About Nursing

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.

See The Truth About Nursing Decade Awards for 2000-2009

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