News on Nursing in the Media
June 3, 2013 -- Today, during a speech about mental health awareness, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spent about a minute paying tribute to nurses. That short part of his speech implicated issues including nursing skills, nursing autonomy, the nurse as angel, the profession's gender mix, and even the naughty nurse. Biden mentioned psychiatric nurses, and then, apparently departing from his prepared text, said that "if there's any angels in heaven, by the way, they're all nurses," referring to his personal experience with neurosurgery. Of course, nurses are not angels, but real professionals who save lives with education and skill--and unlike angels, they need the resources to do so. Then, in the remark that's gotten the most attention, Biden said: "Doctors allow you to live, nurses make you want to live." Well, sort of. If he meant nurses focus on psychosocial care, motivating you to keep trying and showing you how, that's good, although he might have simply meant nurses are nice people who cheer you up. Unfortunately, the remark implies that physicians save lives and nurses don't save lives, which is false. And as titters from the audience alerted Biden, the statement can also be interpreted, though not fairly, as a clichéd reference to hot female nurses making sick men want to live for reasons that we can't specify here or our news alert will bounce back. Biden quickly noted that he was referring to "male nurses and female nurses." Finally, Biden said that during the two months he spent in the ICU, his neurosurgeon would enter his room and say (here Biden adopted a deep, somewhat pompous voice): "We gotta do this, this, this, and the other," and "my nurses would all go, 'yes, sir,' and then they'd do exactly what I needed." We appreciate Biden's suggestion that the nurses had the knowledge and skill to do "exactly what [he] needed." It's sad but plausible that the nurses felt they had to do it covertly, as Biden implies, presumably because they lacked the social power to simply discuss care with the surgeon as a professional colleague. We thank Vice President Biden for presenting some helpful information about nursing. more ... and see the video clip!
The most common way people give up their power
is by thinking they don't have any.
March 16, 2013 -- This month major press entities ran pieces addressing the ongoing problem of conflicts between nurses and physicians in clinical settings. On March 4, The Washington Post published a long article by Sandra G. Boodman about the growing use of anger management programs to deal with "out-of-control doctors" in hospital environments that are increasingly team-oriented and less tolerant of abuse and tantrums. The piece is good as far as it goes, conveying lots of helpful information about why the abuse happens, programs to address it, and how it can affect patient care. But the focus is overwhelmingly on the perspectives of the physicians themselves, with only one nurse consulted briefly, and there is no real effort to explore what the actual victims of the abuse think or experience. Instead, readers get a long section in which an abusive surgeon provides a slew of reasons/excuses for her conduct, mainly how much she herself suffered in her brutal training. And today, Theresa Brown, RN, posted a well-written blog entry on the New York Times site about the choices nurses face when they disagree with a physician's care plan. Brown briefly discusses how nurses can protect patients in a world in which the nurses have less practical power than physicians--and in Brown's view, a world in which nurses fall below physicians in a "legal, established hierarchy" that must be obeyed. But in fact, nurses do not report to physicians. The two groups practice distinct professions. In hospital settings, they have separate management structures. And nurses are legally and ethically bound not to accede to physician wishes that threaten patients. Of course, Brown is right that nurses who stand up to physicians face risks; they range from bullying to assaults to being fired by nurse managers who fear the physicians' power as revenue generators. But there is no formal "hierarchy" between the professions, just different scopes of practice and a longstanding power disparity. Brown seems to argue that physicians should have final authority over all clinical decisions, possibly because of a view that one type of health professional has to be in charge of everything, an idea that is regressive and untenable in the highly diverse, patient-focused modern health care environment. Brown recommends interprofessional education programs, and we agree that they improve relations between the professions. But simply trying to persuade physicians not to abuse their power, while meekly embracing a subservient professional status, is not enough to protect patients--or nurses. Nurses need collaboration and autonomy. more...
November 3, 2012 -- Two recent U.S. television news pieces highlight nurses' skilled and autonomous care for patients in crisis. On June 22, PBS aired a 13-minute segment as part of its "Need to Know" series called "Nursing the Wounded." William Brangham's piece profiles three nurses at the large Veteran Administration hospital in San Diego. Each profile highlights a different facet of nurses' expert care for veterans who have returned with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other problems. Each nurse comes off as articulate and authoritative; the profile of nurse scientist Jill Bormann, who is investigating the use of mantra therapy to manage PTSD, is especially impressive. And two of the three nurses are men, underlining the gender diversity of the profession. Unfortunately, the piece's suggestion that Bormann and the other nurses who are providing holistic, self-directed care to outpatients are playing "new roles" seems to reflect the erroneous view that nursing has traditionally just been about custodial bedside care until just yesterday. And tonight, the ABC current affairs show 20/20 included an 8-minute segment about New York University neonatal intensive care nurses who transported their fragile patients to safety after power failed at their flooded hospital during Hurricane Sandy. The segment, part of a feature about dramatic rescues during the storm entitled "The Heroes Among Us," appears to be the work of producers Gail Deutsch, Marc Dorian, and Adam Sechrist. The report consists mainly of co-host Elizabeth Vargas interviewing seven of the NICU nurses. The piece does include some references to the nurses' knowledge and skill, and it never suggests that physicians were directing their work or their actions to save the babies. On the other hand, the nurses are arguably treated more like bystanders who stepped up in a tragedy rather than highly trained health professionals, and there is a strong focus on the emotional state of the all-female group, an approach the show is unlikely to have taken with physicians. So the ABC segment is not nearly as helpful in conveying the nature and value of what nurses do in their everyday work as the PBS piece is. Still, both segments give prime time television audiences an unusual look at nurses acting autonomously to save and improve lives. more...
March 2013 -- This month the Truth learned that the Dancers for the former NBA champion Dallas Mavericks had decided to stop entertaining fans by dressing in naughty nurse outfits and doing a sexually-oriented dance to the tune of Robert Palmer's "Bad Case of Loving You." The Dancers were doing that in early 2012, and the Truth launched a letter-writing campaign that led to over 200 letters. We explained that the naughty nurse stereotype impedes recruitment of the best and the brightest into the profession (particularly men) and undermines nurses' claims to adequate resourses for clinical practice, education, research and residencies. After some time, the manager of the Dancers called us to report that they have ceased using naughty nurse imagery due to our campaign! We thank the Dancers for heeding our request, and we thank our supporters for educating those who degrade nursing. Thank you!
March 2013 -- Two years ago, the popular restaurant chain Hooters declared March 17 "National Hooky Day," in honor of the start of the U.S. men's college basketball tournament. The company's website and TV ads featured naughty nurse "Ashleigh," who wanted to send you a "Doctor's Note" so you could take the day off work to recover from "Basketball Fever" and enjoy a free appetizer. The Truth launched a campaign that resulted in several hundred letters of protest to Hooters, but the company continue airing the commercials in 2011 and 2012. We continued lobbying by phone and this year, the company did not use "Nurse Ashleigh" to promote basketball coupons for Hooters. Instead, Hooters went back to its standard ads, featuring scantily attired women who were not dressed in nurse outfits. We thank all who helped teach Hooters that selling its products by embracing the naughty nurse stereotype undermines nursing. Thank you!
May 6, 2013 -- Today the magazine Minority Nurse published a long, thoughtful piece by Erica Patino called "Lights, Camera, Accuracy: Nurses in the Media." The piece relied to a significant extent on the Truth's work, and it had many quotes from Truth director Sandy Summers about portrayals of nursing and what nurses can do to improve them. We thank Ms. Patino and Minority Nurse.
Truth executive director Sandy Summers will give a guest presentation to Fairfield University School of Nursing on July 31 at 2 pm. Please join her! See the flyer for details.
Also see Sandy deliver the keynote speech at the Annual Conference of the Registered Nurses Association in Michigan (RN-AIM) to be held in Traverse City, Michigan. Sandy will speak on the morning of September 26, 2013. Hope to see you there!
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! All honoraria go directly to support the Truth's operations. When you invite Sandy to speak, you make the Truth's work possible since honoraria are our biggest source of funding. Thank you! Click here for more details.
Our book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk is available again! If you donate now, we will send you a copy. Saving Lives continues to influence nurses, the media, and members of the public around the world. You can also get the paperback from Amazon. Saving Lives is also available in digital form through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and iTunes. Saving Lives has won an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award and an award from the international nursing honor society, Sigma Theta Tau. Many nursing professors use the book as a text to discuss nursing in society. You can get a free copy--hard copy or digital--with every $30 donation to the Truth About Nursing!
Tell colleagues and patients the truth! Our "I Am Your Registered Nurse" poster presents nurses as autonomous professionals on whom patients can rely. The poster explains that nurses are modern science professionals who protect and advocate for patients and empowers nurses to meet those challenges. Designed for the bedside, the poster comforts patients by educating them about the care environment and assuring them that nurses are there to fend for them.
Or consider the Truth's "Can Short Dresses Cause Short Staffing?" poster. This one takes humorous aim at the naughty nurse image that continues to haunt advertisements and other media, especially those aimed at males. The poster connects the naughty nurse image with the broader undervaluation that leads to gross underfunding of nursing education, research, and practice, ultimately threatening patients.
For every dollar that you donate, we'll send you up to 4 posters to hang at your school or workplace. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how many you'd like and where to send them. Thank you!
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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
Founder and Executive Director
The Truth About Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21212-2937
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