News on Nursing in the Media
May 12, 2010 -- Happy Nurses Day to nurses around the world! Every year around the time of Florence Nightingale's May 12 birthday, nurses are thanked and honored for their work, as they as they deserve to be. In the U.S., nurses get an entire Nurses Week! Check out the adorable sample gift to the right. But as we have often noted, these celebrations can seem like little more than lip service, hollow expressions of thanks to a profession that really does not get the respect and resources it needs every day for clinical practice, education, residencies and research. The celebrations often emphasize the enduring "angel" image, suggesting nurses are noble and self-sacrificing, which discounts the advanced skills that the public really needs to know nurses have, and arguably reinforces some nurses' own unfortunate tendency to sacrifice themselves so much that it runs counter to their patients' and their own best interests. This year the American Nurses Association's theme is "Nurses: Caring Today for a Healthier Tomorrow," which rightly suggests that nurses affect patient outcomes, and the International Council of Nurses' theme is "Delivering Quality, Serving Communities: Nurses Leading Chronic Care," which has a great focus on skill and leadership. Both groups also present some helpful ideas to focus the celebrations on nurses' skills, rather than their virtue. Of course, many have also urged that 2010 be considered the International Year of the Nurse. But on April 27, HealthLeaders Media editor Rebecca Hendren posted a thoughtful and provocative piece called "Do We Still Need Nurses Week?" We can imagine the stir resulting from her humorous discussion of the annual rituals, such as the "parade of suits from the C-suite bringing lunch or snacks to the units," as well as her suggestions that nurses celebrate with activities of greater substance, like raising funds for nursing education or promoting nurses' bedside safety concerns. Hendren suggests, correctly, that other serious professions don't get or need special "weeks" or trinkets because they get actual respect. And yesterday, New York Times "Well" blog contributor Theresa Brown published a good op-ed on the CNN site arguing that if hospitals really wanted to honor nurses, they would provide them with the staffing needed to save more lives (and incidentally, give them the time to eat lunch). Still, we can't resist offering a short list of our own suggestions for celebrating Nurses Day, Week, and/or Year.
March 8, 2010 -- Today The New York Times ran an excerpt from Claudia Dreifus's interview with Johns Hopkins physician Peter Pronovost, who has been acclaimed for his promotion of checklists, hand washing, and other ways to improve hospital safety. Pronovost deserves credit for these efforts and for his calls to empower nurses, since they can play a key role in reducing errors. Unfortunately, in this interview he observes that physicians undervalue the "experiential" perspective that nurses and families have--as if nurses were like lay people we should listen to just because they spend more time with patients, rather than health professionals who use advanced skills and education to catch deadly errors. And Pronovost gets sole credit here, as he often does, for an advocacy focus that nurses have been pursuing for many decades, an apparent reflection of the media's tendency not to notice nursing perspectives until a more respected professional embraces them. Then the ideas are presented as the brilliant health innovations of the embracer, and nurses as merely the workers who implement the ideas. This bias appears in media ranging from news coverage of the Nurse Family Partnership, in which the idea of nurses making home health visits is often credited to a psychologist who founded one admirable program for at-risk mothers, to a recent episode of ABC's Grey's Anatomy that portrayed physician characters as the ones who initiated and even provided skin-to-skin care for a sick newborn. Ironically, by reinforcing the sense that nurses are low-skilled physician subordinates, such media often undermines nurses' claims to the resources they need to do the very work that is being celebrated. Of course, nurses themselves are not blameless. Pronovost reports that some nurses initially reacted to his ideas by telling him that it wasn't their job to monitor what physicians were doing to patients. And the Times interview underlines something very sad: Why has a physician become the leader of a movement to make changes that are so central to nursing's own care model? Don't nurses have what it takes? Or is it that no one would listen to them? more...
April 2010 -- The April 2 series premiere of the CBS drama Miami Medical portrays a senior nurse mainly as a skilled and authoritative administrator who helps the brilliant physicians who provide all important care at a level one trauma center. Nurse Tuck Brody is one of the show's five major characters, albeit the least important. He displays some clinical knowledge, sometimes speaks to patients, seems to be part of the show's "Alpha Team" of trauma surgeons, and has some authority over other nurses, perhaps as "charge nurse," as he is once called here, or "head nurse," as the CBS website says. Brody is closer to the evolved handmaiden portrayal of nursing often seen on NBC's ER than the more extreme passive servant depiction that continues to dominate today's most popular network shows, notably Fox's House and ABC's Grey's Anatomy, though it seems unlikely that Brody will ever make the difference in patient outcomes that ER's nurse Sam Taggart sometimes did in that show's final years. In accord with Miami Medical's overall portrayal of hotshot trauma clinicians, Brody may do more swaggering than any television nurse we've seen. But it seems to be largely vicarious, because Brody is also an eager cheerleader for the show's physician glorification. Brody repeatedly presents his trauma surgeon colleagues as intergalactic gods. Think we're exaggerating? Brody calls them "the best and the brightest," "the envy of the known universe," and not just the "rock stars," but the "Rolling Stones" of medicine. CBS promotion has embraced the rock star angle, and by the second episode, the show's main title theme was the Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown." But oddly, the show seems to have no comment on the skills of the nurses. The minor nurse characters get a few lines (again as on ER), but since Brody is the show's Designated Nurse, it appears that other nurses will rarely play any significant role in patient care, and that in the clinical scenes, only the physicians will really matter. The pilot was written by executive producer and show creator Jeffrey Lieber. more...
By David Yates
When Lystra Eggert Gretter was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 2004, she was honored for her "tireless" efforts in promoting nursing as a respectable profession in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gretter made many contributions to nursing. She shifted the model of nursing education from a one-year apprenticeship to a three-year academic pursuit. She created nurse-run hospital wards instead of allowing nursing students to run them. Gretter cut the work day to 8-hour shifts, to afford nurses and students more time to study and recreate. She wrote what is believed to be the first standardized textbook for nursing education and created one of the first professional nursing libraries. And Gretter was a founding member, at the end of the 19th Century, of groups that later became the American Nurses Association and the National League for Nursing. She established an early visiting nurses association. Noting that the public perception of nursing was that of "women's work," Gretter lobbied for more political power, including aligning nursing with suffragettes who sought the vote. And Gretter was "the moving spirit behind the creation of "The Florence Nightingale Pledge," an oath of ethics that many graduating nursing students still make today. Gretter also worked to advance public health generally. She established tuberculosis hospitals, lobbied for in-home nursing care and became a vocal public health advocate for Detroit's burgeoning poor and immigrant population. She also successfully introduced the first state-wide health inspections of school children and a free maternity/infant care clinic in Detroit. more...
May 12, 2010 -- Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk now available in paperback, with a new foreword by bestselling nurse author Echo Heron! This edition is revised and expanded, discussing Nurse Jackie and the other new nurse shows in detail, and featuring updated information throughout. You can get an author-signed copy of the book when you become a member of the Truth or renew your membership for $30 (click here!). Please help support the Truth's effort to change how the world thinks about nursing today.
This affordably-priced paperback edition (under $12 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble) makes a great Nurses Day gift for colleagues, students, or even to help family and friends understand the value of what nurses do. All royalties for the award-winning book go directly to support non-profit nursing advocacy work. Thank you for your support!
April 30, 2010 -- Today NurseZone.com posted Jennifer Larson's "Sticking Together: Nurses as Advocates for Each Other," a long, helpful article about the need for nurses to advocate for the profession. One of several nursing advocates quoted is Truth executive director Sandy Summers, who urges nurses to "stick together to strengthen the profession" and improve patient care. see the article...
Media images of health care--like the ones on ABC's popular Grey's Anatomy-- have an important effect on the nursing profession. Many nurses and nursing students feel frustrated when influential media products undervalue nurses. But how can we change what the media tells the public about nursing? Sandy Summers has led high-profile efforts to promote more accurate and robust depictions of nursing since 2001. She has shared her insights in dynamic presentations to groups across North America. She empowers nurses and teaches them how to shape their image into one that reflects the profession's true value. When nurses get the respect they deserve, they will attract more resources for nursing practice, education, and research, so we can resolve the nursing shortage. Sign Sandy up for your next conference, nurses' week celebration, or gala event! Click here for more details.
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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.
Thank you for supporting the Truth About Nursing's work!
Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH
The Truth About Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21212-2937
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