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The 2012 Truth About Nursing Awards for Best and Worst Media Depictions

The Truth About Nursing announces our 10th annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses! The year 2012 featured the popular BBC/PBS series Call the Midwife, which showed skilled and autonomous nurses caring for the poor in 1950's London, as well as valuable new seasons from Showtime's Nurse Jackie and Channel 4's documentary series 24 Hours in A&E in the U.K. golden lamp Mainstream press sources published good items ranging from Tina Rosenberg's excellent New York Times piece about the value of APRN-run clinics, to Julian Guthrie's San Francisco Chronicle profile of UCSF nursing dean David Vlahov, to Ronan McGreevy's Irish Times report about the University College Dublin study of nursing imagery on YouTube, to an Indian Express piece about a recent study on the appalling working conditions that Indian nurses confront. And many nurses advocated strongly for better public health and for better media about nursing, including Massachusetts nurse Wendie Howland, who monitors the "Help a Reporter Out" website to educate journalists when they seem to assume that only physicians can provide health expertise for their stories.

On the other hand, the year also included the usual onslaught of damaging distortions from the media. The U.S. prime time landscape remained dominated by shows with little respect for nursing, including ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Fox's House, each of which featured a slew of strong, expert physician characters providing all meaningful care, while nurses were handmaidens who did little more than fetch things. Fox's new sitcom The Mindy Project focused on quirky but skilled OB-GYN physicians, but also included nurse Morgan Tookers, a goofy ex-convict with little apparent health skill. On The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in a segment about re-integrating military medics into the civilian workforce, the host insisted that the medics were vastly overqualified to be school nurses and mocked school nurses as being all about "kickball" and "tummy aches." And the "naughty nurse" remained a staple of the entertainment industry, appearing in everything from a Dallas Mavericks Dancers routine to an actual job ad from a Swedish hospital. Despite these problems, we thank those responsible for the best media and encourage others to keep trying. See the full awards below...

Ten Best Portrayals

Honorable Mention

Ten Worst Portrayals

The BFF Awards

The Movin' On Up Award

Ten Best Media Portrayals of Nursing 2012


Call the Midwife
Created by Heidi Thomas, from a memoir by Jennifer Worth; BBC and PBS.
Jennifer and Trixie Call the Midwife
    This popular U.K. show offered a dramatic look at skilled, autonomous nurse-midwives caring for poor women and babies in London's East End in the late 1950's.
Tina Rosenberg
New York Times

"The Family Doctor, Minus the M.D.," October 24.
NP with man
    Rosenberg's excellent piece makes the case for empowering advanced practice nurses, which studies show would improve health care and rein in costs; the piece makes clear that clinics run by nurse practitioners provide primary care that is at least as good as care in physician-run clinics.

William Brangham

"Nursing the wounded," segment in "Need to Know" series, June 22.
Nursing the Wounded
    Brangham's report profiled three articulate nurses at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in San Diego, each highlighting a different facet of nurses' expert care for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems.
Stacey Burling
The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Hahnemann boosts use of registered nurses in bid to improve care," February 7.
Hahnemann Hospital
    This report about Hahnemann University Hospital's transition to an all-RN care model explained that the move followed research at the hospital showing that all-RN units had better patient outcomes.
Nurse 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.
Nurse Jackie
    Although this powerful show at times wrongly suggested that physicians manage nurses, lead character Jackie Peyton remained a tough clinical expert despite her serious personal problems, and the show generally presented nurses as life-saving professionals.
Julian Guthrie
San Francisco Chronicle

"Nursing school dean brings his career of caring," March 11.
David Vlahov
    This engaging front-page profile of incoming University of California San Francisco nursing dean David Vlahov explored Vlahov's development as a nurse, including his work as a nursing professor, his time at the Centers for Disease Control, his founding of an AIDS clinic in East Baltimore, and his years on the New York City Board of Health.
24 Hours in A&E  (24 Hours in the ER)
Executive producers Tom McDonald and Nick Curwin;
Channel 4 and BBC America.
Nurse Jen 24 Hours in the A and E
    This compelling documentary series has shown emergency nurses at London’s King’s College Hospital, like the charismatic senior sister Jen Du-Prat, to be bright, articulate professionals who play a central role in patient care.
8. Nurses advocating in the media
    MarySue Heilemann
and the
UCLA School of Nursing

Courtney Lyder, Dean
MarySue Heilemann and Courtney Lyder
      For hosting the valuable conference "Nurses and the Media: A Call to Action" on May 12.
    Karen Giles and
Mary Waters
For the "Don't Be That Guy" campaign
It's not sex...when she's wasted
      These Ontario nurses and their Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre launched the unusually direct awareness campaign mainly to convey that having sex with a woman who is too drunk to consent is rape, drawing the attention of the local Peterborough Examiner, which ran a helpful piece about the campaign on August 29.
    Wendie Howland Wendie Howland
      For monitoring the Help a Reporter Out (HARO) website and educating reporters with health-related queries that the best sources of the information they seek may be nurses, rather than physicians.
    Teri Mills and the National Nurse Campaign Teri Mills National Nurse
      For leading the campaign for the proposed federal legislation that would create an Office of the National Nurse, a promising way to improve public health and understanding of nursing.
    Diana Mason and Barbara Glickstein Diana Mason and Barbara Glickstein
      For HealthStyles, their weekly New York radio show that often relies on nursing expertise in discussing health issues, and for doing media training to help nurses interact better with the media.
    Nancy Rudner Logo Nancy Rudner Logo
      The Florida nurse practitioner writes a regular health column for the Winter Park / Maitland Observer. In writing about health topics, she raises public awareness that nurses have high levels of education and health expertise.
    Elizabeth Winslow
"We Silence Our Profession When We Fail to Identify Ourselves as Nurses."
Elizabeth Winslow
      For a piece published in the August issue of the American Journal of Nursing arguing that nurses should ensure that nursing gets credit for the work and expertise nurses provide to the public.

Patricia Lane
"More patients now assured of help"

Patricia Lane
      This nurse wrote a persuasive June 4 op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the Affordable Care Act.
9. Media reports on nursing research
    Alexandra Van Den Heuvel of the University School of Milwaukee in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
National History Day documentary

"Counting the Dead," June 15.
Nightingale at Scutari

This documentary placed first in the junior division of the National History Day competition. The 2012 theme of Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History provided the framework for Alexandra to discuss Nightingale's revolutionary work on research, statistics and public health-- measures that saved countless lives.

    Linda Friedel
The Kansas City Community News

"Sitting down on the job stands out with patients," March 8.
nurse sitting on bed

This report described a study done by nurses Jennifer Moran and Joan K. McMahon at the University of Kansas Hospital showing that, when a clinician sits at the bedside rather than standing, patients are more satisfied and actually believe that the clinician has spent more time with them.

    Agence France-Press (AFP)
Ronan McGreevy
and The Irish Times
Reports on the University College Dublin study of the nursing image on YouTube, July.
University of Dublin
      AFP did a basic, widely-run July 16 report on the study by nursing professor Gerard Fealy and colleagues that found that the most popular nurse-related YouTube videos stereotype nurses as stupid sex objects; McGreevy's July 24 article in the Irish Times was a longer report with more detail.
    The New York Daily News
"Pakistani nurses vulnerable to sexual harassment,"
August 5.
Unconscious Pakistani nurse
      This piece (based on one in the Dawn (Pakistan)) reported that studies by instructors at Karachi nursing schools (Shanila Jalaluddin and Rozina Somani) showed Pakistani hospitals had made little progress in reducing the violence and sexual abuse nurses suffer, despite a 2010 law aimed at curbing sexual harassment in the workplace.
    Hayden Donnell
The New Zealand Herald

"NZ nurses battling 'moral distress' - study," August 14.
Emotional distress
      This report described a recent study by Martin Woods and others at Massey University that found high rates of "moral distress" among Kiwi nurses; 48 percent had considered leaving a job because of issues "beyond their control," which included performing unnecessary treatments and delivering poor care because of pressure to cut costs.
    Don Sapatkin with Meeri Kim
The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Penn study examines link between nurse burnout, care," July 31.
Jeanne Cimiotti
      This piece discussed a study by Jeannie P. Cimiotti and others at the University of Pennsylvania that linked worse nurse staffing and higher rates of infection, finding that the the burnout associated with poor staffing played a critical role in higher infection rates, taking lives and costing money.
    Laura Donnelly
The Telegraph
"Nurses look after 15 patients at a time," August 5.
understaffing equals death
      This report described a new study of staffing at National Health Service (NHS) hospitals by nursing researchers at Kings College London finding that nurses had an average of eight patients during the day and 11 at night (in some places 15 patients at night); not surprisingly, most of the nurses did not have enough time to do their work.
    The Indian Express (New Delhi) and
Thiruvananth-apuram press agency

"Indian nurses still an exploited lot: Study," October 14.
Sreelekha Nair
      This story described a study by sociologist Sreelekha Nair finding that Indian nurses confront appalling working conditions, including understaffing; abuse from employers, colleagues, and patients' families; very low pay; and workplace restrictions that seem to approach servitude.
10. Obituaries of nursing leaders
    Frederick Rasmussen
The Baltimore Sun

"Elizabeth S. Trump: Longtime director of nurses at Maryland Shock Trauma Center worked closely with founder Dr. R Adams Cowley," June 9.
Liz Scanlan Trump
      This detailed obituary for Elizabeth Scanlan Trump, the longtime nursing director at Shock Trauma, portrayed her as "the first trauma nurse" and the "full partner" of the pioneering surgeon R Adams Cowley in establishing the leading trauma center.
    Daniel Slotnick
New York Times

"Vernice D. Ferguson, Leader and Advocate of Nurses, dies at 84," December 21.
Vernice Ferguson
      This obituary explained that Vernice Ferguson "fought for greater opportunities, higher wages and more respect for nurses as a longtime chief nursing officer" of what is now the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, supervising more than 60,000 nurses.
Honorable Mention
  Laura Landro
Wall Street Journal

"When Nurses Catch Compassion Fatigue, Patients Suffer," January 3.
Angel with compassion fatigue
    Landro's "Informed Patient" column discussed compassion fatigue among nurses, especially those who care for terminally ill patients, and her Health Blog provided more information about the problem, which may contribute to burnout and high turnover.
  Steve Lopez
The Los Angeles Times

"A note of gratitude to nurses," September 1.
Steve Lopez
    Lopez paid tribute to nurses who had cared for him after his heart stopped following knee-replacement surgery at the University of Southern California's Keck Hospital; the sub-head noted that "an alert nurse's quick action save[d] the columnist's life."
  Patti Neighmond
National Public Radio

"Need a Nurse? You May Have to Wait," May 25.
Linda Aiken quote
    NPR's Morning Edition ran this report about widespread nurse understaffing in U.S. hospitals and included nurses' stories of being compelled to care for patients non-stop for their 12-hour shifts, while worrying that understaffing made it impossible to provide safe care.
  Pauline W. Chen
New York Times
"When It's the Nurse Who Needs Looking After," July 5.
Pauline Chen
    This "Doctor and Patient" column by physician Chen described threats to hospital nurses' physical and mental health that can affect patient care, and of course the nurses themselves; the column even relied on nursing experts.
Ten Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing 2012
The Mindy Project
Created by Mindy Kaling; Fox.
Mindy and Morgan
    In this sitcom, Kaling's lookin'-for-love OB-GYN character and other physicians alone provided skilled care; nurse character Morgan Tookers was a goofy ex-convict who showed little health knowledge and resembled The Janitor from Scrubs.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Military medics segment
Created by Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead;
Comedy Central; October 24.
Jon Stewart and 2 medics
    In a segment about veterans returning to the civilian workforce, Stewart insisted that two former U.S. military medics were vastly overqualified to be school nurses and mocked school nurses as being all about "kickball" and "tummy aches."
Grey's Anatomy
Created by Shonda Rhimes; ABC.
Grey's Anatomy, Meredith, Bailey, Chief, Derek, Sandra Oh, Callie
    This popular hospital drama mostly ignored nursing except to show nurses meekly absorbing physician commands and handing physicians stuff; the show's many heroic physician characters regularly performed critical tasks that nurses do in real life.

Emily Owens, M.D.
Created by Jennie Snyder Urman; the CW.
Emily Owens cast
    This failed Grey's imitation did not manage to stay on the air as long as its inspiration, but it did capture the older show's disdainful portrayal of nurses and tendency to show surgeons providing all bedside care, including things that nurses really do.
Created by David Shore; Fox.
Greg House
    This drama, hugely popular around the world, finished its eight-year run much as it began, presenting nurses as anonymous physician lackeys to the brilliant Greg House and his physician team, which provided all important care including important tasks that nurses do in real life.
Private Practice
Created by Shonda Rhimes; ABC.
Nurse Stephanie Kemp Private Practice
    A few appearances by skilled labor and delivery nurse Stephanie Kemp (girlfriend to one of the physician characters) stood in contrast to the handmaiden portrayals of the show's other nurses, who--on the rare occasions when they appeared at all--did little more than obey physician commands.
NY Med
Produced by Terence Wrong; ABC.
Marina Dedivanovic nurse NY Med
    In this reality series about New York Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, there were occasional appearances by ER nurses and some indication of the challenges they face, but those segments were really just brief diversions from the long scenes presenting physicians, especially surgeons, as heroes.
The naughty nurse
For appearances in all media worldwide throughout the year, including these especially notable examples:
    The Dallas Mavericks Dancers
Performance of Robert Palmer's "Bad Case of Loving You."
Dallas Mavericks Dancers
      On February 28, at a Dallas Mavericks basketball game, the Mavericks Dancers entertained the crowd and a large television audience at half-time by dressing in naughty nurse outfits and doing a sexually-oriented dance. After a Truth campaign, the Dancers agreed to retire the nurse routine.
"National Hooky Day," March 17.
Nurse Ashleigh Hooters Ad
      The restaurant chain declared the day in honor of the start of the U.S. men's college basketball tournament. The company's ads featured naughty nurse "Ashleigh," who sent you a "Doctor's Note" so you could take the day off to recover from "Basketball Fever" and enjoy a free appetizer.

Stockholm's South General Hospital
For seeking "hot nurses," February.

hot nurse Stockhoms South General Hospital
      This Swedish hospital earned gleeful press coverage around the world when it sought to hire "TV-series hot nurses." Nurse managers then stressed that they were just trying to "catch people's attention" -- mission accomplished! -- and that nursing skills were what really mattered to them.
A Gifted Man
Created by Susannah Grant; CBS.
Holt and Rita
    In this short-lived show, elite New York neurosurgeon Michael Holt resided atop a pyramid of health expertise, gazing down with contempt at all the other health workers; physicians did everything that mattered and nurses barely registered.
10. Tom Joyner Tom Joyner
    Years after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agreed to change the name of its annual minority health campaign to "Take a Loved One for a Checkup Day," the popular ABC radio host continued to insist on calling it "Doctor Day," excluding the nurses who provide a great deal of primary care to the patients the campaign targets.
The BFF Award
  For television dramas that present nurses as good friends of smart, commanding physicians; the nurses give the physicians life advice and help them with health care logistics but display little health expertise of their own or any important role in care.
  The Mob Doctor
Created by Josh Berman and Rob Wright; Fox.
Mob Doctor
    On this canceled show, Grace Devlin, "one of the country's most promising young surgeons," worked for the Mafia to pay off her brother's gambling debt. Grace's "protective best friend" was nurse Rosa 'Ro' Quintero, who spent the season looking worried and covering for the overextended Grace, but never displayed much health expertise of her own.
  Hart of Dixie
Created by Leila Gerstein; the CW.
Addie Pickett Hart of Dixie
    This successful drama is about Zoe Hart, a young New York physician who finds herself taking over her dead father's family practice in Bluebell, Alabama. A few 2012 episodes featured the practice's down-home nurse Addie Pickett, who acted as a kind of older sister to the fish-out-of-water Zoe, but who did not seem to provide much actual health care.
The Movin' On Up Award
  The Glades
Created by Clifton Campbell; A&E.
Callie Cargill and Jim Longworth
    In another show about an urban Northerner in the small town South, Chicago detective Jim Longworth moves to Florida. His girlfriend is nurse Callie Cargill, who shows skill but has always been a medical student, making it likely that viewers will attribute her ability to medicine and reinforcing the false view that able nurses want to become physicians.



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