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The 2009 Truth About Nursing Awards

The Truth About Nursing Awards rank the best and worst media portrayals of nursing that we've seen in 2009.

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.

    New York ED nurse Jackie Peyton is a tough clinical virtuoso who, despite ethical and personal issues, uses 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.

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

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

  4. Theresa Brown -- The New York Times "Well" blog, various posts, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Dear senators: Listen to the patients; nurses hear health-care horror stories day in and day out," December 6.

    This new oncology nurse continues to offer powerful, articulate commentary about her nursing experiences and her perspectives on key health policy issues.

  5. Pauline Chen -- The New York Times, "When Doctors and Nurses Can't Do the Right Thing," February 6.

    In this astute piece, physician Chen explains the problem of "moral distress," relying mainly on the experiences of underempowered nurses (including a "brilliant and articulate" friend of hers) trying to protect their patients; she even consults a nurse expert.

  6. Nurses advocating in the media

    Kathleen Bartholomew, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "We all hurt when hospitals shrink themselves into budgetary compliance," February 15;

    Linda Record Srungaram, Houston Chronicle, "When nurses are prosecuted for advocacy, we all lose," August 22;

    Toni Inglis, Austin Statesman, "Health reform must address primary care shortcomings," September 11;

    Diana Mason and Barbara Glickstein, WBAI New York, HealthStyles, weekly radio show.  

  7. Reports on nurse innovators

    Patti Singer, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), "Device assesses infant pain: Professor's invention used to translate hurt into colors," December 1;

    United Press International, "Nurses: Pain affects everything else," September 14;

    Jane Elliott, BBC News, "How one nurse helped stop killer bedsores," March 21;

    Teresa Mears, Miami Herald, "Changing diets on nine-inch plates," December 15;

    Joseph Shapiro, National Public Radio, "Transitional Care Cuts Hospital Re-Entry Rates, Costs," July 26;

    Tony Allen, publicist for University of Nevada School of Nursing, for placing a number of pieces (123, 4, 5, 678, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16) in the media on nursing in Nevada.

  8. Zara Nicholson -- Cape Argus, "Nurses also victims of poor health care," March 28.

    It's sadly common for South African media pieces to report that some nurses abuse their patients, but this one also explains why the horrific conditions in which the nurses work may help to explain such conduct, relying on the compelling account of a veteran nurse insider.

  9. Erin Thompson -- USA Today, "More than half of ER nurses have been assaulted on job," August 4.

    This report describes an Emergency Nurses Association study detailing the high level of abuse emergency nurses suffer, providing a helpful look at the dangerous conditions many nurses confront and a fine example of press coverage of nursing research.

  10. Reports on school nurses -- especially regarding responses to the H1N1 flu:  

    Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press, "NYC school nurse recounts swine flu triage," July 9;

    Ryan Blackburn, Athens Banner-Herald (GA), "School nurses: A lot more to it than band-aids," May 8;

    Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times, "School nurse's response to flu wins applause," April 28;

    Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News, "Front-line nurses question how massive swine flu vaccination plan will be executed," September 2.

Honorable Mention

  1. Cynthia McCormick -- Cape Cod Times (MA), "Spiritual talk by nurses spurs soul-searching," April 17.

    This sensitive report describes the challenges nurses face in discussing spiritual issues with patients, particularly those who are dying, getting expert input from a local hospice nurse who is also an ordained interfaith minister.

  2. Tony Maghirang -- Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Double life: Rapper wants to be a nurse," April 6.

    This article tells the story of popular Filipino rapper Gloc-9--a name based on the Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol--and his experiences as a nursing student, describing how his "twin lives as artist and nurse inspire each other."

Most Improved

  1. ER -- executive producers David Zabel, John Wells, Christopher Chulack, Janine Sherman Barrois, Joe Sachs, Michael Crichton; NBC.
  2. Ending after 15 years on the air, the veteran hospital drama remained overwhelmingly physician-centric, but in its final years the show included some of the best depictions of nursing ever seen on prime time television, with nurse Sam Taggart operating with some autonomy and startling clinical skill.

Ten Worst Portrayals

  1. Grey's Anatomy -- created by Shonda Rhimes, ABC.

    This popular hospital drama generally ignores nursing except for the occasional insult (like the October episode in which one surgeon mocked another by urging her to "have fun playing nurse"), and the fact that the show's heroic physician characters perform many critical tasks that nurses do in real life.

  2. House -- created by David Shore, Fox.

    Despite an intriguing March episode in which the great Greg House showed surprising respect for a quirky patient who was a nurse, the show continued to present its nurses as anonymous physician lackeys and to have its smart physician characters perform important nursing tasks.

  3. Private Practice -- created by Shonda Rhimes, ABC.

    Nurse Dell now appears to have become a nurse midwife, but he evidently still works as the receptionist at the show's L.A. wellness clinic, and to display little real expertise compared to the physicians who dominate; in an embarrassing March episode, he pretended to be a physician.

  4. The Today Show -- "The Perils Of Midwifery," September 11, NBC.

    This unbalanced report by Peter Alexander 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, failing to consult nurse-midwife experts and instead relying solely on physician comment.

  5. Minette Marrin -- The Sunday Times (UK), "Oh nurse, your degree is a symptom of equality disease."

    Columnist Marrin argued that the U.K. government's plan to require all nurses to have a three- or four-year university degree by 2013 would wrongly exclude those who would make "excellent" nurses even though they are "not particularly bright."

  6. The New York Times -- This year's damaging portrayals included:

    Anemona Hartocollis -- for her lengthy December 26 entry in the paper of record's "Months to Live" series, "Hard Choice for a Comfortable Death: Sedation," which wrongly presented hospice care for terminal patients as directed completely by physicians, virtually ignoring nurses as expert sources;

    April 27 Crossword Puzzle, Will Shortz (puzzle master) -- in which the most prominent crossword in the world sought the answer "nurse" with the clue "hospital attendant"--which did not exactly convey that nurses are skilled, autonomous professionals who use years of college-level education to save lives.

  7. The naughty nurse

    Virgin Mobile India -- for its "Think hatke" (think differently) campaign ad featuring a naughty nurse tricked by a supposedly immobilized young hospital patient into reaching around in his pants pockets to help him answer a cell phone;

    Mötley Crüe -- for using naughty nurses at a March 16 press conference to announce its summer 2009 tour, in which it would play its entire Dr. Feelgood album;

    MensMax (Redu, Inc.; Michael Dugan, president) -- for a December online video using a naughty nurse to boost sales of "RestoreMax," an intimate skin care cream.

  8. Three Rivers -- created by Carol Barbee, CBS.
  9. On this new show, elite Pittsburgh transplant surgeons saved lives and gave psychosocial care, but aside from one minor nurse character, the nurses were anonymous physician handmaidens whose dialogue was mostly limited to submissive TV-nurse statements like "Yes, doctor!" and "Right away!"

  10. Mental -- created by Deborah Joy LeVine and Dan LeVine, Fox.
  11. This House-like summer drama presented its one minor nurse character as a peripheral subordinate who kept patients company and performed basic physical tasks for a team of psychiatrists led by a brilliant physician who helped patients using unorthodox, at times outrageous methods.

  12. The robot nurse -- who doesn't actually exist because robots are not college-educated health professionals, but who nevertheless appeared in many press items:

    Relational Agents Group, Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science, and Ivanhoe Newswire, for "Virtual Nurse: Always On Call," December;

    Agence France-Presse, "Japan plans robo-nurse in five years: govt.," March 25;

    Corey Binns, "Twendy-One Nurse Robot Says Sit Up and Eat Your Jell-O," Popular Science, July 8.

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

    1. Lung Cancer Alliance -- for "Waitin' Room Service," public service announcement, November. Laurie Fenton Ambrose, executive producer.

      This prominent charity's media campaign to increase awareness of lung cancer included a rap video in which hot, scrubs-clad "nurses" caressed and danced suggestively with "Dr. Lung Love." In one lyric, Dr. Lung Love informs us that the "nurse just left," so he'll "love your lungs tonight." LCA finally removed the video from its web site, but the group's refusal to take nurses' concerns seriously for weeks was worse than the video itself.

    2. M�decins Sans Fronti�res -- Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, produced and directed by Mark Hopkins.

      This documentary, shown in hundreds of theaters across the U.S. in a December screening and submitted for Oscar consideration, presents the harrowing stories of four MSF physicians working in Congo and Liberia. Sadly, the film reinforces the same egregious misimpression that the group's name does: that heroic physicians are responsible for all of the meaningful health care of the Nobel-winning aid group. In fact, nurses are the most numerous health professionals among the group's workers.









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