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The 2010 Truth About Nursing Awards

The Truth About Nursing Awards rank the best and worst media portrayals of nursing that we've seen in 2010.

Ten Best Portrayals

Honorable Mention

Ten Worst Portrayals

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

Ten Best Portrayals

  1. Nurse JackieNurse Jackie -- created by Evan Dunsky and Liz Brixius & Linda Wallem; executive producers Linda Wallem, Liz Brixius, Richie Jackson, Christine Zander, Mark Hudis, and Caryn Mandabach; Showtime.

    This show at times wrongly suggested that physicians manage nurses, but the lead character, New York ED nurse Jackie Peyton, remained a tough clinical virtuoso who used creative and effective ways to help patients lead better lives or find lasting peace, despite her own ethical and personal issues.

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

    This show struggled in portraying nurse-physician relations, but lead character Veronica Callahan, a troubled Iraq War veteran, ably led a crew of Jersey City hospital nurses who displayed strong psychosocial skills and fought for patients in innovative ways; sadly, the show was canceled in May at the end of its first season.

  3. Nurses advocating in the media
  4. Laura Stokowski, Medscape, "A Letter to Hollywood: Nurses Are Not Handmaidens," March 12;

    Veneta Masson, Health Affairs, "Why I Don't Get Mammograms," October, excerpted in The Washington Post, "No more mammograms for me," October 12, and reprinted widely;Welsh nurses in new uniforms

    The 36,000 nurses of Wales, for adopting distinctive, professional uniforms, as reported in "Nurses start wearing national uniform in Wales: Nurses and midwives at a hospital in west Wales have become the first to start wearing new national uniforms," BBC News, April 8;

    The New Zealand Nurses Organisation, for smoking cessation advocacy, as reported in "New Zealand Nurses Organisation celebrate World Smokefree Day," Channel 9 TV (Dunedin) web site, May 28;

    The Egyptian Nurses Union, for efforts to reduce nursing stereotypes on television, as reported in "Nurses Union demands Ghada Abd Al Riziq's drama be stopped," Al Bawaba (Amman, Jordan), August 16; Seat on the board

    The Nursing Times (UK), for its "A Seat on the Board" campaign, which seeks to ensure that at least one nurse sits on the board of each National Health Service consortium, as described in "Back our fight to get nurses onto boards," Jenni Middleton, The Nursing Times, December 7;

    Diana Mason and Barbara Glickstein, WBAI New York, HealthStyles, weekly radio show that often relies on nursing expertise in discussing key health issues.  

  5. Theresa Brown -- The New York Times "Well" blog, various posts throughout the year; CNN web site, "More nurses mean more patients live," May 12; Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between, book published June 1.

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

  6. Reports on nurse innovators

    Stacey Burling, The Philadelphia Inquirer, "More nurses, less death," April 20;

    Katie Weidenboerner, The Courier-Express (DuBois, PA),"NICU nurse invents baby aid," April 10;

    Jane Elliott, BBC News, "Bringing music medicine to the NHS," January 1;

    ABC-15 TV (Phoenix, AZ), "How a 'cooling blanket' is saving lives at Valley hospital," April 15;

    Renee Dudley, The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), "Nurse's influence has wide reach: Dean of nursing college takes mental health curriculum to Liberia," December 12;

    Tony Allen, publicist for the University of Nevada School of Nursing (UNLV), for placing a number of pieces in the media about nursing in Nevada, especially articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

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

    Although this show continued to occasionally reinforce nursing stereotypes, its portrayal of strong, expert chief nursing officer Christina Hawthorne and several skilled staff nurses at a Richmond hospital remained generally helpful.

  8. Reporting and commentary on the importance of nursing errors

    Sunnie Bell, Readers Digest, "She whispered, 'When is my doctor coming?' 'Soon, I lied,'" and other parts of "Doctors Confess Their Fatal Mistakes," Joe Kita, October;

    Chris Brooke, The Daily Mail (UK), "Woman, 26, died of DVT after being 'fobbed off' by nurse who relied too much on computerised guide," November 20.

  9. Bae Ji-sook, The Korea Times, "Shortage of nurses aggravating," June 22. This report powerfully describes the plight of under-staffed nurses asked to assume crushing workloads, portraying a workplace in which nurses are "virtually isolated from the other part of the world because after work, all [they] can think about is getting enough sleep."
  10. Milt Freudenheim, The New York Times, "Preparing More Care of Elderly," June 29. This long article on the future of geriatric care spends plenty of time on physicians, but it also focuses to a large extent on the roles and views of geriatric care nurses, quoting nurse practitioners and nursing leaders and scholars.
  11. Reporting and commentary on the value of advanced practice nurses in this era of health reform
  12. Cindy George, The Houston Chronicle, "Sunday Q&A: Heat gets to you? Here's how to survive," June 13;

    KJ Lewis, Today (University of Central Florida news site), "Former ‘Dr. G’ Cast Member Becomes Nurse," August 2;

    Pauline W. Chen, The New York Times, "Nurses' Role in the Future of Health Care," November 18;

    Carla K. Johnson, The Associated Press, "Doctor shortage? 28 states may expand nurses' role," April 15.

Honorable Mention

  1. The Pregnancy Pact, Lifetime, directed by Rosemary Rodriguez, written by Pamela Davis and Teena Booth. In a minor portrayal, this television movie presents a school nurse as a forceful advocate for better preg nancy prevention who takes on the school administration and a "family values" group to try to stem the school's teen pregnancy "epidemic."
  2. Ian Urbina, The New York Times, "Haiti Hospital's Fight Against TB Falls to One Man," February 5. This article tells the story of Pierre-Louis Monfort, a nurse at Haiti's only tuberculosis hospital; after the structure collapsed in the January earthquake and everyone else had died or fled, Monfort tried to carry on the work of the facility's 50 nurses and 20 physicians by himself.
  3. Ghana News Agency, "Unsafe abortion leading cause of birth complications -- nurse," December 31. This short article relies entirely on expert comment and advocacy by a senior nurse midwife in discussing factors in birth complications.

Ten Worst Portrayals

  1. Grey's Anatomy -- created by Shonda Rhimes, ABC.
  2. Despite a couple fleeting portrayals in which nurse characters displayed health knowledge, this popular hospital drama generally ignored nursing except for the occasional insult--and the fact that the show's heroic physician characters regularly performed critical tasks that nurses do in real life.

  3. House -- created by David Shore, Fox.
  4. This year included a few appearances from the snarky nurse Jeffrey, who appeared to have no real clinical role, but overall the show continued to present its nurses as anonymous physician lackeys and to have the brilliant Greg House and his physician team perform important nursing tasks.

  5. Private Practice -- created by Shonda Rhimes, ABC.
  6. This show had one nurse character, the midwife (and receptionist!) Dell Parker, and he occasionally displayed some skill; but the show killed him off in May, in a plotline in which Dell ecstatically announced that he had been admitted to medical school, reinforcing the wannabe physician stereotype real advanced practice nurses face.

  7. The Dr. Oz Show -- "Have Mercy -- Moves to Lose," segment aired November 4.
  8. A woman who had lost weight by dancing appeared dressed in a short white nurse's dress, partly unbuttoned her top, and led Dr. Mehmet Oz and a group of similarly attired "nurses" in some "sexy" dancing, reinforcing a slew of stereotypes, including the handmaiden and the naughty nurse; despite global press coverage of the Truth's campaign about the segment, the celebrity surgeon did nothing to make amends and was able to muster only an off-air statement with a quasi-apology.

  9. The naughty nurse -- for countless appearances in all media worldwide throughout the year, including these especially notable examples:
      Mariah Carey -- for the video of "Up Out My Face," from the star's remix album Angels Advocate, in which Carey and rapper Nicki Minaj appear in skimpy "nurse" outfits, complete with white stockings and high heels, to show an ex-lover just what he will be missing because Mariah and Nicki have moved on;
      Helen Mirren -- For the actress's June 14 appearance on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman to promote her new film Love Ranch, which was about a brothel; Mirren said that "a lot of girls who work in that industry actually come from the nursing industry, which kind of makes sense, because they're used to naked bodies, it's not intimidating to them, you know, the body and the bodily functions, if you like";
      People Magazine and Bret Michaels -- The popular magazine's December 27 issue named the Poison singer and reality TV star as one of its "most intriguing" people of 2010, in a two-page layout dominated by a photo of Michaels surrounded by four naughty nurse models, a reference to his well-publicized recovery from a brain hemorrhage and other health problems;
      The Diamond Bus Company (UK) -- in March, the West Midlands bus company used a large naughty nurse ad, with the clever tag line "Ooooh matron!," to promote its route to the hospital; the company refused to pull the ads, noting that it needed to create a "bright and positive brand" and that the ad had been vetted by a "group of nurses" who agreed it was "funny";
      Accidentally on Purpose, "Face Off," episode aired April 7, written by Kevin Bonani and Jenn Lloyd, show created by Claudia Lonow, CBS -- This episode included a sexy "baby nurse" who turned out to be an actual nurse--and a manipulative nymphomaniac, seducing two of the male lead's friends for a three-some practically on sight, while she was supposed to be baby-proofing;
      Heart Attack Grill (Arizona) and Heart Stoppers (Florida) -- This year these two restaurants engaged in a legal battle over which had the right to use their anti-health themes, which included waitresses dressed as naughty nurses;
      The Mirage Hotel's Jet's Nightclub, Las Vegas, NV -- for a May 17 "naughty nurse" costume contest, which drew a strong on-site protest by the Truth's Las Vegas chapter co-president Dee Riley and other members of the chapter;
      The Sun (UK) -- for "Naughty Nurses Set Pulses Racing," December 13, a promotional story complete with suggestive photos and video about Babes and Boys' "100% Real Nurses 2011" calendar, whose theme is that its lingerie-clad models really are nurses; the Sun ran similar items in 2006 and 2007.
  10. Reporting on the Haiti earthquake that ignored nurses -- most of the mainstream reporting on the January tragedy presented physicians as the only health workers whose thoughts or actions mattered, including the following notable examples:
      Deborah Sontag, The New York Times, "Doctors Haunted by Patients They Couldn't Save," February 12, which explores the psychological effects on U.S. physicians who undertook short aid missions to Haiti following the quake; the report is dominated by four physicians and fails almost totally to consider the roles or views of the nurses and others who worked alongside these physicians;
      Madison Park, CNN, "Haiti earthquake could trigger possible medical 'perfect storm,'" January 13, which explored the grave effects of the quake in a nation whose health system was already fragile, relied solely on physician experts and implied that only physicians were involved in directing responses to the crisis;
      Rahul K. Parikh, Salon, "Sanjay Gupta, The good doctor," January 18, a physician's love letter to the CNN "medical correspondent," who had apparently single-handedly saved the lives of badly injured Haitians by caring for them overnight after U.N. workers were ordered to evacuate, although an unnamed Belgian U.N. nurse did flout the evacuation order and "accompany" Gupta.
  11. Press items that describe hospital care primarily provided by nurses, but give little or no indication that nurses are involved.
      Pauline W. Chen, The New York Times, "Doctor and Patient: Losing Touch With the Patient," October 21, which explores problems associated with the use of contact precautions for vulnerable patients but fails to convey that nurses are the professionals most affected by these precautions; Chen quotes only physicians, and the word “nurse” does not even appear.
      Lesley Alderman, The New York Times, "Patient Money: Aftercare Tips for Patients Checking Out of the Hospital," June 20, which offers some good practical tips on discharge planning, but fails to consult a single nurse and manages to leave the impression that discharge planning is something physicians recently invented, even though nurses have been primarily responsible for it for decades.
  12. Sandra Boodman, The Washington Post, "Medical Mysteries: Nurse solves mysterious ailment that puzzled orthopedists, oncologist," September 27.
      It would be natural to assume that a piece with this headline, about a man who spent more than a year consulting specialist physicians and enduring difficult and painful procedures before "a nurse" at an infectious disease specialist's office suggested (correctly) that he might have Lyme disease, would be a tribute to nursing expertise; unfortunately, the reporter repeatedly dismisses what the nurse did by calling it "simple," "obvious," and "a basic query by a nurse, not the acumen of five specialists," not to mention that in this 1,300 word story about physician thinking, the nurse who actually solved the problem is never named, quoted, or further described.
  13. Boston Med, series aired June to August, executive producer Terence Wrong, ABC.

    This eight-part documentary about the work and personal lives of health care workers at Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, and Children's hospitals was almost as physician-centric as Wrong's previous "greatest hospitals" efforts Hopkins 24/7 (2000) and Hopkins (2008), focusing on two dozen physicians (many of them surgeons) and generally presenting them as the brilliant providers of all meaningful health care; this series did actually include two nurses and allow us fleeting glimpses of their expertise, but it focusing mainly on their personal lives.

  14. Rizzoli & Isles, "I Kissed a Girl," episode aired August 16, episode written by Alison Cross, show developed by Janet Tamaro, TNT.
    This female buddy series focuses on a police detective and a physician medical examiner, but this episode also goes out of its way to mock a male nurse as submissive and unmanly because he's way too in touch with his feminine side and seems to want to play the traditional female role in a relationship with the detective.

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

    1. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, "Behave," episode aired September 29, episode written by Jonathan Greene, show created by Dick Wolf, NBC.
    2. In an episode intended to highlight the nationwide backlog in analyzing rape kits, the long-running crime drama offered a portrayal of a sexual assault forensic nurse; sadly, the nameless nurse was presented as an insensitive technician who carefully collected evidence but uttered not one word to the distraught rape victim, even when she hurt the patient--no warning, no apology, no explanation--while a detective provided the only psychosocial care we saw.



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