Nurses urge corporate giants to divest from NBC's "ER"
March 24, 2005 -- The Center for Nursing Advocacy has launched a campaign asking 23 major corporate sponsors of the NBC/Warner television drama "ER" to refrain from placing further advertising on the popular show worldwide until it dramatically improves its portrayal of nurses.
"'ER' is the most influential purveyor of the 'handmaiden' image of nursing," said Center Executive Director Sandy Summers, noting that the show was hugely popular across the world, and that it recently marked its 240th original episode. "For years the show has refused to address nurses' concerns, despite repeated requests," Summers said. The Center argues that lack of public understanding is a key factor in the global nursing shortage.
The Center has made its divestment requests to 23 advertisers on recent U.S. "ER" broadcasts, with a focus on companies with health-related businesses and on frequent sponsors. The companies are: American Express, Apple Computer, DaimlerChrysler, Eli Lilly, Ford, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, H&R Block, Honda, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Merck, McDonald's, Novartis, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Schering-Plough, Sprint, Toyota, Verizon, Victoria's Secret, and Wyeth. The Center has also asked PhRMA, the powerful pharmaceutical industry group, to urge all its members to stop placing ads on the show.
The Center cited evidence that the nursing shortage is one of the biggest threats to global health. "Though most people regard nurses as physician helpers," said Summers, "nurses are autonomous professionals with years of college-level training who play a central role in care. But nursing is poorly understood, and so it remains underfunded. Short-staffing is taking lives and driving nurses from the aging workforce. Developed nations are now draining poorer nations of their most skilled nurses, leaving fragile health systems in chaos."
Summers stressed that the Center was not faulting any of the sponsors. "We're only asking that these multinationals help us send a message to 'ER' in this time of crisis. 'ER' is one of the most expensive ad placements on TV, and it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for NBC and Warner Brothers each year. Since the show won't listen to the heartfelt concerns of the hundreds of nurses who've written to them since we began our efforts, we're now trying to reach those responsible in a different way."
The Center offered a list to illustrate the vast gulf between "ER" and reality:
"ER": Physicians hire, fire and manage nurses.
"ER": Physicians provide all significant care and receive all credit for outcomes.
"ER": The show has about 10 major physician characters but only one nurse.
"ER": Physician training is a huge focus, and nurse training does not exist.
"ER": Nurses pursue graduate education only in medicine.
Summers cited recent research showing that entertainment media products have a significant effect on health-related views and actions. "This is the basis for entertainment education, a key public health pursuit," said Summers. She pointed to one recent study showing that "ER" had the most striking influence on U.S. youngsters' views of nursing, and that consistent with the show's message, youngsters wrongly saw nursing as a technical job for girls and one too lowly for private school students. "'ER' itself has claimed credit for positively affecting health care," said Summers, "yet denied the obvious corollary: that its inaccurate portrayal of nursing has an equally strong--but negative--effect."
The Center also urged the sponsors to withhold ads from other Hollywood health care shows, including Fox's "House," NBC's "Medical Investigation" and "Scrubs," and Lifetime's "Strong Medicine." It said those shows' depictions of nursing were generally even worse than "ER."
The Center stressed that it had tried for years to influence "ER" through informal persuasion and other media campaigns. The Center noted that over 800 nurses, including many top nursing leaders, had written to the show's producers over the last year and a half urging improvement. But the show has refused to consult expert nurses in the development of scripts, or to make any other meaningful changes.
"The 'ER' producers haven't really argued that they portray nursing accurately," said Summers. "They cite their 'dramatic license.' But since that always seems to mean a license to glorify physicians and marginalize nurses, it's like saying a tossed coin is fair even though it always comes up heads."
There is more information on the Center's long-running "ER" campaign on our "ER" action page.
The Center for Nursing Advocacy, founded in 2001, is an international non-profit that seeks to increase public understanding of the central, front-line role nurses play in modern health care. The focus of the Center is to promote more accurate, balanced and frequent media portrayals of nurses and increase the media's use of nurses as expert sources.
For more information on the "ER" sponsors campaign, contact:
Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
The URL for this page is www.truthaboutnursing.org/press/releases/2005/er_sponsors.html