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The 2014 Truth About Nursing Awards

Ten Best Media Portrayals of Nursing 2014

Most Improved Media

Ten Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing 2014

The Truth About Nursing announces our 12th annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nursing! The year 2014 featured more strong (if imperfect) portrayals of nursing skill and autonomy from long-running television dramas Call the Midwife (BBC/PBS) and Nurse Jackie (Showtime). It even included some good film portrayals—which are more rare—in the form of the Disney animated adventure film Big Hero 6 and Carolyn Jones's documentary The American Nurse. Some of the best news media of the year involved nurses speaking out about the Ebola crisis that dominated global health discourse later in the year, including prominent pieces in The Guardian and elsewhere by public health nurse Kaci Hickox. On the downside, portrayals of nurses as the peripheral servants of brilliant physicians continued to dominate the U.S. television landscape. That was the case not just in veteran health-related shows like ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Fox's The Mindy Project, but in single episodes of shows ranging from Fox's Sleepy Hollow to ABC's Black-ish. The naughty nurse stereotype continued to appear in major corporate advertising worldwide, with damaging imagery deployed to sell Unilever's Klondike Kandy Bars, Subway sandwiches, and McDonald's products in Taiwan. And news media products continued to vastly understate nurses' contributions to public health. There were also some direct attacks, such as a New York Times op-ed by physician Sandeep Juahar opposing the expansion of nurse practitioner (NP) autonomy; that featured the unwittingly doubled-edged headline "Nurses Are Not Doctors." At least nurses persuaded Disney to reconsider a comparable insult in its tween television series Lab Rats, in which one character "joked" that his brother was an NP now since he had "flunked out of med school." Better understanding of nursing is possible—if nursing supporters work together to educate others about the real value of the profession.

Ten Best Media Portrayals of Nursing 2014

  1. Call the Midwife, created by Heidi Thomas, from a memoir by Jennifer Worth; Heidi Thomas and Pippa Harris, executive producers BBC and PBS
  2. The third season of this U.K. drama again portrayed skilled, autonomous nurse-midwives delivering babies and providing a wide range of effective care in 1950s London.
  3. Nurse Jackie, created by Evan Dunsky and Liz Brixius & Linda Wallem; executive producers Richie Jackson, Clyde Phillips, Tom Straw, Liz Flahive Showtime
  4. Despite mind-boggling personal problems and an ominous end-of-season crash, emergency nurse Jackie Peyton and her colleague Zoey Barkow remained fierce and resourceful patient advocates, providing expert, holistic care to many.
  5. Nurses speaking out about Ebola
  6. Ebola placed nurses in the public eye like few other recent events, and many took the opportunity to advocate for patients—and themselves—in major news sources.
    Kaci Hickox, "Her story: UTA grad isolated at New Jersey hospital in Ebola quarantine," Dallas Morning News, October 25; "Stop calling me 'The Ebola nurse,'" The Guardian, November 17.
    Diana Mason, commentary in "Nurses Want to Know How Safe Is Safe Enough With Ebola," by Nancy Shute, National Public Radio, October 14.
    Susan Mitchell Grant, "I'm the head nurse at Emory. This is why we wanted to bring the Ebola patients to the U.S.: These patients will benefit -- not threaten -- the country," The Washington Post, August 6.
    Karin Huster, "Fighting Ebola, and the Mud," The New York Times, October 20.
    Theresa Brown, "Ebola will elevate respect for nurses," CNN, October 23.
    Bridget Mulrooney, Sue Ellen Kovack, Anine Kongelf, "'A teenage girl bled to death over two days': Ebola nurses describe life and death on the frontline," The Guardian, October 13.
  7. Jenny Seifert et al., Madison Magazine, "Madison's Top Nurses 2014", December
  8. This extensive feature, with a long report on the state of nursing and long Q&As with the diverse group of "top nurses," did a lot to debunk the idea that nurses are just nice hand-holders.
  9. Big Hero 6, Written by Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Disney
  10. This animated adventure film, a kind of Guardians of Silicon Valley, featured a heroic robot "nurse" with diverse problem-solving skills, a vast knowledge of health care, and a persistent holistic focus.
  11. 60 Minutes, "The Health Wagon: Affordable Care for Those Still Uninsured", Produced by Henry Schuster and Rachael Kun Morehouse, CBS, April 6
  12. This segment of the long-running news show offered a very good portrait of two nurse practitioners who provide vital health care to still-uninsured residents of rural western Virginia from an old Winnebago called "The Health Wagon."
  13. Rebecca McLaren, "The bedpan ceiling," Capricornia Radio, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, February 17
  14. This article about public misunderstanding of nursing, particularly the common failure to appreciate that it is a complex scientific endeavor, was based on extensive input from James Cook University nursing professor Linda Shields.
  15. Victoria Sweet, "Far More Than a Lady With a Lamp", The New York Times, March 3
  16. In this strong piece, a San Francisco physician told how her views Florence Nightingale evolved, from once seeing the nursing founder as an obedient female to an understanding that she was a brilliant public health innovator.
  17. News items featuring nurses advocating on diverse public health issues
  18. Sarah Jane Tribble, "Measles Outbreak in Ohio Leads Amish to Reconsider Vaccines," National Public Radio, June 24 (about the efforts of local public health nurse Jacqueline Fletcher to contain a measles outbreak).
    Stephanie Gardner, "Family health nurse Sue Colville remember Eureka moment," Sydney Morning Herald, December 30 (a nurse midwife discusses her work to address post-natal depression).
    Sioux City Journal / Des Moines Register, "Sioux City using bar napkins to combat drunk driving," December 29 (about nurse Carla Granstrom's efforts to reduce drunk driving by distributing informational napkins to bar patrons).
  19. The American Nurse, Carolyn Jones, director and executive producer, Lisa Frank, producer, Diginext Films
  20. This fine feature-length documentary, based on the director's 2012 book of portraits, profiles five nurses in practice settings including home health, a prison hospice, outpatient care of military veterans, and hospital labor and delivery.

Most Improved Media Portrayals of Nursing 2014

  • Disney XD
  • A campaign by the Truth and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners protested a 2013 episode of the tween show Lab Rats suggesting that NPs were losers who couldn't hack medical school; Disney apologized and altered the episode to remove the attack.

Ten Worst Media Portrayals of Nursing 2014

  1. Grey's Anatomy, created by Shonda Rhimes, ABC
  2. The veteran show continued to tell the world that nurses are peripheral servants of the surgeon characters who do everything that matters in hospitals, including skilled patient monitoring, education, and advocacy—things nurses do in real life.
  3. The Mindy Project, created by Mindy Kaling, Fox
  4. All the characters are odd and the series isn't really about the OB-GYN practice where they work, but the three minor nurse characters remain especially low-skilled, pathetic, and bizarre underlings of the physicians who call the shots.
  5. Gina Kolata, The New York Times, June 24
  6. ten
    This extensive article about long-term acute care hospitals suggested that physicians provide or direct all meaningful care in this setting, even though nursing is central to that care; the piece did not quote a single nurse.
  7. Black-ish, "The Nod," show created by and this episode written by Kenya Barris, ABC, October 8
  8. This episode of the sitcom about a well-off black family suggested that smart people like the family's anesthesiologist mom and her precocious daughter become physicians, but nursing is a servile job for women—and not men.
  9. The naughty nurse
  10. For appearances in media worldwide throughout the year, but especially these notable examples:
    McDonald's – According to the RocketNews24 website (Tokyo), at least one of the restaurant chain's Taiwan outlets celebrated the new year by having its female staff work in naughty nurse outfits.
    Lionsgate – The film company finally released the erotic thriller Nurse 3D, in which a "vengeful" nurse targets "dishonest" men for severe punishment, reinforcing the naughty-axe stereotype.
    Unilever – The company marketed its new Klondike Kandy Bars with a television ad that featured a sexy candy bar "nurse" whose seduction of a Klondike ice cream bar "patient" ostensibly led to the birth of the new product.
    Hedley – The video for the Canadian pop band's song "Wild Life" included a naughty nurse character who seemed to end up with lead singer Jacob Hoggard.
    Subway – The sandwich chain released an October television ad that used a naughty nurse costume, among others, to encourage U.S. customers to dine at the sandwich chain so as to be able to fit into sexy Halloween costumes.
  11. Sandeep Jauhar, "Nurses Are Not Doctors," The New York Times, April 29
  12. This physician's piece argued against New York State's recent move to expand NP autonomy because NPs supposedly can't provide high-quality, cost-effective primary care on their own—despite the vast body of research showing otherwise.
  13. Sleepy Hollow, "Mama," Episode written by Damian Kindler; series created by Phillip Iscove, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman, Fox, November 17
  14. This episode exploited the angel-of-death stereotype of nursing: The supernatural being coercing patients to commit suicide at a psychiatric hospital turned out to be the ghost of a real nurse who had been executed long ago for killing 21 patients.
  15. Black Box, created by Amy Holden Jones, ABC
  16. This short-lived neurology drama focused on brilliant physicians, with occasional appearances by nurses as handmaidens, sexual playthings, and the Greek Chorus, observing and commenting on the awesome physicians who really mattered.
  17. Baylor Scott & White Health, "Servants" television ads
  18. Hospital staff were presented as faithful "servants," but the apparent nurses were holding hands and wheeling gurneys, changing "hearts," while apparent physicians did research and cutting-edge surgeries, changing "minds"—reinforcing the stereotype that nurses are low-skilled physician subordinates.
  19. NY Med, Produced by Terence Wrong, ABC
  20. The second season of this documentary series offered a few examples of emergency nursing skill, but the nursing scenes were mostly for comic relief, and the show again spent most of its time glorifying heroic surgeons.

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