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January 9, 2020



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The Truth About Nursing Decade Awards

Best and Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing 2010-2019

Popular Television Shows Among "Best" and "Worst"

News media offers some great coverage of nursing, but continues to ignore profession in health reporting overall

See The Truth About Nursing Decade Awards for 2010-2019

Baltimore, Maryland, USA -- The Truth About Nursing has announced its list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses it saw between 2010 and 2019. The Truth's Decade Awards highlight media portrayals from a decade in which the world has continued to face a deadly nursing shortage fueled in part by poor public understanding of the profession.

Several nurse-focused television shows, notably Call the Midwife (BBC) and Nurse Jackie (Showtime), were on the group's "best" list. They were recognized for compelling depictions of skilled nurses fighting for patients. The Truth also gave the new sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola (CBS) a "promising newcomer" award. Marvel received a "Nurse to Superheroes Award" award for nurse Claire Temple's appearances in several Netflix shows. And the nursing group cited the surprisingly strong portrayal of an advanced cybernetic "nurse" in the animated film Big Hero 6.

But many Hollywood products continued to ignore or actively undermine the profession, the Truth said. It pointed to popular shows created by prominent producers Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy (ABC)), David Shore (House (Fox) and The Good Doctor (ABC)), and Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project (Fox/Hulu)) for presenting a wildly distorted vision of health care in which only physicians matter. On those shows, the group said, physician characters are often seen doing nursing work.

"It's true that in this decade, we have seen more bright spots in television's generally poor treatment of nursing," Truth executive director Sandy Summers noted. "But only time will tell if this is part of a trend and the industry will continue to develop shows that come closer to portraying the true life-saving value of nursing."

The "best" list also included many pieces from the print press. These ranged from long features on specific nursing fields in The New Yorker to reporting by Allana Akhtar in Business Insider on the challenges nurses face today. The Truth also praised media created by nurses themselves, citing radio shows hosted by nurses, including Maureen McGrath's Sunday Night Health Show in Vancouver, as well as media advocacy by Kaci Hickox, Mona Shattell, Theresa Brown, and Pam Cipriano, former president of the American Nurses Association.

The Truth About Nursing also gave "Best Efforts to Make Amends Under Pressure Awards" to those who tried to address their own poor portrayals of nursing. Recipients of that award — many of whom had been subjects of advocacy campaigns by the Truth — included The Dr. Oz Show, Hooters, and NY Times columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.

The "worst" portrayals of nursing appeared in a wide variety of media. The Truth singled out items in the news media that undermined nursing, including op-ed columns in The New York Times by physician Sandeep Jauhar. Comedians Hasan Minhaj and Jon Stewart were cited for disparaging school nurses, as was Amy Schumer for a sketch that reinforced most major nursing stereotypes. The worst list also included "naughty nurse" imagery in advertising, including spots for Klondike Kandy Bars and Subway, as well as in media created by popular music figures including Mariah Carey and Cardi B.

"There may be somewhat less naughty nurse imagery in advertising than a decade ago," Summers noted. "We'd like to think our work has had some impact, but this apparent shift may relate to the larger social forces in the last few years."

The Truth gave a special "worst" award to the National Institutes of Health. The director of the massive federal health research agency was given the "Most Glaring Failure to Recognize Nursing Autonomy Award" for selecting an interim director of its National Institute for Nursing Research who was not a nurse but a dentist, and later appointing a biologist to the interim position.

Another special award went to nurses who made notable efforts to explore the media's effects on the profession. Recipients included Professor Diana Mason and colleagues at George Washington University, for their landmark Woodhull Study Revisited documenting the news media's failure to consult nurses in health stories, and UCLA's Professor MarySue Heilemann, for orchestrating conferences to bring Hollywood and nursing together, as well as giving a presentation at the United Nations on nursing in the entertainment media.

"The Truth About Nursing congratulates those responsible for items on the 'best' list," said Summers. "Some of the best accounts of nursing were created by nurses themselves, or by others 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."

Summers added that she hoped those on the "Worst" would learn about nursing skill and autonomy, and then consult with nurses about their work. "Media creators can learn how to be part of the solution instead of the problem," she said. "Hollywood could start by at least having nurse characters do the nursing."

See The Truth About Nursing Decade Awards for 2010-2019

Best Media of the Decade

Most Improved

Worst Media of the Decade

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.

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