Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Today, hospitals in the United States are short almost 150,000 nurses. If more people don't enter the nursing profession, the nation may be short as many as 600,000 RNs just in time for the baby boomers to hit their 70s and 80s.

And this is ill news for those who are in my generation. For let’s face it, without nurses there is no healthcare system. Without nurses, there is no healthcare.

The contemporary nursing shortage, writes Suzanne Gordon, is influenced not only by poor hospital pay and working conditions. It's also a result of traditional stereotypes of the profession. Which is where Hollywood comes in.

Gordon is the author of “Nursing Against the Odds: How Health Care Cost Cutting, Media Stereotypes, and Medical Hubris Undermine Nurses and Patient Care” and a slew of other books about nurses and nursing care.

Gordon writes in the Mercury News that America's 2 million nurses rarely, if ever, make it into the picture in a way that does justice to the life-saving role they play in real-life hospitals. To make matters worse, when RN characters do appear, they are routinely portrayed as mere handmaidens of physicians -- and often ones lacking in self-confidence, competence or professionalism.

A typical example being ``Nurse Betty'' -- the dunce played by Renée Zellweger, who wants to be a nurse so she can fulfill her soap opera fantasy of finding a doctor husband. Or the Ben Stiller character -- a male nurse who's the butt of a series of jokes -- in ``Meet the Parents.''

The more sympathetic characters, RNs with any gumption are invariably portrayed as those who want to become doctors themselves. In ``Living Out Loud,'' for example, a home-care nurse played by Holly Hunter recovers from a shattering divorce (from a physician husband) by going to medical school. Similarly, on ``ER,'' a strong nurse characters ends up becoming a doctor.

Perhaps the worst offender when it comes to nursing is, however, ``Grey's Anatomy.'' While it's been applauded for showcasing racial and gender diversity among surgeons in a fictional Seattle teaching hospital, it seems to be not only colorblind but blind to the way it explicitly denigrates nurses.

And unfortunately numerous surveys show that Americans believe what they see in these movies and on these shows. As a 2002 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation documented, when it comes to health care, a lot of TV viewers tend to confuse fact and fiction.

With this sort of thing in mind, The Center for Nursing Advocacy and the American Journal of Nursing have announced this year's annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses. Media recognized by the "Golden Lamp Awards" include such well-known television hits as ABC's "Grey's Anatomy, (mentioned above)" which was singled out for especially poor performance.

The Golden Lamp Awards highlight media portrayals from around the world that the Center believes deserve attention, for better or worse.

"Most of the best depictions of nursing appeared in the print press," said Center Executive Director Sandy Summers, who cited work by journalist Suzanne Gordon and the Boston Globe as exceptional. Summers also praised the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for changing the name of its annual minority health campaign from "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day" to "Take a Loved One for a Check-Up Day" in order not to exclude nurses.

Many of the worst depictions were on television. NBC's "ER," which showed some improvement overall, appeared on both the best and worst lists. But ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and Fox's "House" ranked low all year. According to Summers, "these shows portrayed nurses as mute servants, while heroic physicians provided all important care -- much of which nurses do in real life. Worse yet, the physician characters made vicious anti-nurse slurs that were never rebutted." Summers said that "Grey's Anatomy" had positive physician characters indignantly deliver lines like "Did you just call me a nurse?" and "You're the pig who called Meredith a nurse...I hate you on principle." Summers also noted that the physician characters on "House" consider nurses to be unskilled "nurse-maids" who are good for handling stool and patients who have fallen down. In one scene, she said, the lead physician summoned nurses for the latter task by calling out, "clean-up on aisle three!"

Summers noted that some of the best accounts of nursing were created by nurses themselves, or by journalists who consulted nursing experts. "This points to the importance of nurses speaking out strongly and frequently about their profession." She added that this year the Center has seen an impressive number of nurses across the world advocating in the media for their patients and themselves.

Diana Mason, RN, PhD, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Nursing said, "Research shows that the media greatly affects the public's views and actions toward health care. We applaud the efforts of The Center for Nursing Advocacy in helping the profession to overcome these inaccurate and unfair perceptions."

The 2005 Golden Lamp Awards cover material released one year before December 1, 2005. In the list below, television episodes are identified by original U.S. air dates.

2005 Golden Lamp Awards--Best media depictions of nursing

1. Suzanne Gordon, Journalist and Nursing Advocate. Nursing Against the Odds: How Health Care Cost-Cutting, Media Stereotypes, and Medical Hubris Undermine Nursing and Patient Care; April 2005; Newspaper op-ed pieces: "Nurse understaffing harms patients," Boston Globe, May 12, 2005; "Micromanaging healthcare," Boston Globe, Aug. 31, 2005; "America's shortage of nurses gets no help from Hollywood," San Jose Mercury News, Sept. 28, 2005.

2. "Critical Care: The Making of an ICU Nurse," Scott Allen (reporting), Michele McDonald (photographs), Boston Globe, October 23-26, 2005. Award shared with Georgia Peirce of Massachusetts General Hospital, who persuaded the Globe to do this chronicle of the eight-month training of a new intensive care nurse by a relentless 20-year veteran.

3. "Number of Philippine Nurses Emigrating Skyrockets," Michael Sullivan, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Feb. 3, 2005.

4. All nurses worldwide who advocate through the media for better health.

5. "Aging and Infirmity Are Twinned No Longer," Jane Brody, The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2005.

6. "What assets do we value most?", Corinne LaBossiere, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Sept. 26, 2005.

7. "New Orleans Hospitals Trying to Make Do," Adam Nossiter, Associated Press, Aug. 31, 2005.

8. "Nursing Shortage: It's Also in Press and Other Media," Sheila Gibbons, Women's eNews, March 30, 2005.

9. Two episodes of "ER," "The Man With No Name," written by David Zabel, Oct. 6, 2005, and "Blame It on the Rain," written by R. Scott Gemmill, Oct. 13, 2005; Executive Producers John Wells, Michael Crichton, MD, Christopher Chulack, and David Zabel, NBC.

10. "No school nurses left behind," Laurie Udesky, Salon, Sept. 29, 2005, and "School nurse praised for quick thinking," Norman Miller, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), Sept. 2, 2005.

2005 Golden Lamp Awards: Honorable Mention

1. "Nurses Care for the Niger's Malnourished," Nafi Diouf, Associated Press / The Guardian (U.K.), July 29, 2005.

2. "A doctor's 'conviction' violates the law," Don Lowery, Savannah Morning News, July 30, 2005.

3. "Plainfield site credits midwives as part of low caesarian rate," Stefanie Matteson, Courier News (New Jersey), Mar. 28, 2005.

4. "Code White: Nurse Needed," Linda H. Lamb, The State (Columbia, SC), Feb. 27-Mar. 1, 2005.

5. "Crisis as SA steadily loses qualified nursing: Fewer showing interest in the profession," The Star (South Africa), Bruce Ventner, Jan. 14, 2005.

6. "Flying solo, nurse is enough," Nicole Brodeur, The Seattle Times, May 3, 2005.

7. "Faces of Caring: Nurses at Work" various artists, presented by the American Journal of Nursing, New York University, May 2005.

8. "Jenny's cure for the men reluctant to find help," Nigel Gould, The Belfast Telegraph, May 25, 2005.

9. "Angels and heroes: A tale that needed to be told: Exhibit explores history of Canadian nurses," Shannon Proudfoot, The Ottawa Citizen, June 18, 2005.

Best Attempts to Remedy Negative Media Portrayals of Nursing 2005

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Minority Health, and Assistant Secretary Garth Graham, MD, MPH, and John I. West, Public Affairs Specialist, for changing the name of HHS's annual "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day" campaign to "Take a Loved One for a Checkup Day," in response to a Center for Nursing Advocacy campaign, July 2005.

2. "Jeopardy!", Producers Harry Friedman, Lisa Finneran, Rocky Schmidt, Gary Johnson and Billy Wisse, for placing a clue in the June 23, 2005 episode about these Awards, in an effort to make amends for a prior clue minimizing the practice role of nurse practitioners.

3. The Gillette Company, Eric Kraus, VP of Corporate Communications, for agreeing to pull a "naughty nurse" television ad for TAG Body Spray, in response to a Center campaign, Oct. 2005.

4. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Helen Reichenberger, Advertising Manager, for agreeing to work with the Center to modify a print advertisement for its scrubs that suggested that nurses are intellectually inferior to surgeons, Apr. 2005.

5. NBC News, the "Today" show, Executive Producer Jim Bell, and Producer Eric Ortner, for agreeing to work with nursing organizations to improve coverage of nursing issues after airing a damaging segment disparaging nurse practitioner (NP) care at "quick clinics," Nov. 2005.

6. Good Housekeeping and Health Editor Toni Hope, for agreeing to work with the Center for Nursing Advocacy and nurses in general to improve future nursing portrayals, following a "health tips" feature that showed disrespect for nursing in several ways, Nov. 2005.

7. Diversified Designs, Inc. and President Greg Likins, for agreeing to pull a print ad for CompuCaddy computer stands that showed an unhinged nurse--"Helen Wheels," a stereotypical battleaxe nurse--who was furious because the prior shift had left the computer battery uncharged, July 2005.

8. Boston Medical Group (BMG), which runs clinics specializing in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED), for ending radio ads assuring potential patients that they would not need to discuss their ED with nurses, March 2005.

9. Gene Weingarten, humorist for The Washington Post, for efforts to make amends following a "Below the Beltway" column in which he used the "naughty nurse" stereotype, May 2005.

10. Tickle, and Brittany Olsen, of the "interpersonal media company" owned by Monster, for grudgingly agreeing to remove from its web site "Who's Your Inner Nurse?", an employment suitability test that included damaging stereotypes, February 2005.

Ten Worst Portrayals of Nursing in the Media 2005

1. Six episodes of "Grey's Anatomy": "A Hard Day's Night," written by Shonda Rhimes, Mar. 27, 2005; "The First Cut Is the Deepest," written by Shonda Rhimes, Apr. 3, 2005; "Winning a Battle, Losing the War," written by Shonda Rhimes, Apr. 10, 2005; "If Tomorrow Never Comes," written by Krista Vernoff, May 1, 2005; "Bring the Pain," written by Shonda Rhimes, Oct. 23, 2005; "Something to Talk About," written by Stacy McKee, Nov. 6, 2005; Executive Producers Shonda Rhimes, Mark Gordon, Betsy Beers, Jim Parriott, ABC.

2. Five episodes of "House": "Three Stories," written by David Shore, May 17, 2005; "The Honeymoon," written by Lawrence Kaplow & John Mankiewicz, May 24, 2005; "Daddy's Boy," written by Thomas L. Moran, Nov. 8, 2005; "Spin," written by Sara Hess, Nov. 15, 2005; "The Mistake," written by Peter Blake, Nov. 29, 2005; Executive Producers David Shore, Paul Attanasio, Katie Jacobs, and Bryan Singer, Fox.

3. Two episodes of "Inconceivable": "Pilot," Sept. 23, 2005, and "Secrets and Thighs," Sept. 30, 2005, both written by Oliver Goldstick and Marco Pennette; Executive Producers Oliver Goldstick, Marco Pennette, Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins, Joe Davola, NBC.

4. Three episodes of "ER": "Middleman," written by Lisa Zwerling, MD, Feb. 3, 2005; "Alone in a Crowd," written by Dee Johnson, Feb. 17, 2005; "Ruby Redux," written by Lydia Woodward and Lisa Zwerling, MD, Apr. 28; Executive Producers John Wells, Michael Crichton, MD, Christopher Chulack, Dee Johnson, NBC.

5. Two episodes of "Scrubs": "My Ocardial Infarction," written by Mark Stegemann, Jan. 18, 2005, and "My Quarantine," written by Tad Quill, Feb. 8, 2005; Executive Producer Bill Lawrence, NBC.

6. Two prominent Hollywood movies: "Million Dollar Baby," screenplay by Paul Haggis based upon stories by F.X. Toole, directed by Clint Eastwood; and "Meet the Fockers," screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, story by Jim Herzfeld and Mark Hyman, directed by Jay Roach.

7. Two episodes of "Six Feet Under": "Ecotone," written by Nancy Oliver, July 31, 2005, and "Everyone's Waiting," written by Alan Ball, Aug. 16, 2005; Executive Producers Alan Ball, Robert Greenblatt, David Janollari, Alan Poul, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Rick Cleveland, HBO.

8. Naughty nurses on parade: 50 models dressed as "naughty nurses" at stock market launch by Corporation Dermoestetica (Spain), July 2005; photo by Gregg Segal, "Get Well Soon," Outside (U.S.), Mar. 2005; and Gianna, cover photo, Ralph (Australia), Aug. 2005.

9. Doctoring Disaster and War: "Doctors Emerging As Heroes of Katrina," Marilynn Marchione, Associated Press, Sept. 9, 2005; "For Many Tsunami Survivors, Battered Bodies, Few Choices," Jane Perlez, The New York Times, Jan. 6, 2005; "Span of War," Joseph Shapiro, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Mar. 8-10, 2005.

10. Global health "heroes": "Saving One Life at a Time," Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Sciences Editor, TIME, Nov. 7, 2005; "Developing Countries See Health Care 'Brain Drain,'" Brenda Wilson, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Nov. 3, 2005.

11. The nurse in pop music: "XXL" (music and video), Keith Anderson, written by Keith Anderson and Bob DiPiero, video directed by Trey Fanjoy, from album "Three Chord Country and American Rock & Roll," May 2005; and "The Nurse," White Stripes, written by Jack White, from album "Get Behind Me Satan," June 2005.

Special "Worst Portrayal" Awards 2005
"Let Them Eat Cake" Awards 2005

1. Dr. Edward Hill and the Board of Directors of the American Medical Association, for their continuing refusal even to respond to more than 3,700 letters--over 1500 of them original--protesting Dr. Hill's comments on a Nov. 14, 2005 segment of NBC's "Today" Show about nurse practitioner (NP)-staffed "quick clinics."

2. Virgin Mobile Canada and Internet video maker JibJab, for their specific refusals to take any action to lessen or make amends for the damage caused by their use of "naughty nurse" imagery to promote their products.

"Just Joking" Award 2005

• A group of medical students at the University of Alberta, for the "Nurses' Song" they wrote and sang at their irreverent May 2005 "MedShow." Lyrics called nurses "whores" and "bitches" whose "incompetence" and persistence in "telling doctors what they ought to try" threatened to "make our patients die."

"Every Helpful Person or Thing Is a Nurse" Awards 2005

1. "For Surgery, an Automated Helping Hand," Marc Santora, The New York Times, Jan. 18, 2005; "Hard-wired nurse helps docs," Robert Schapiro, New York Daily News, June 17, 2005; for suggesting that robots could do the jobs of nurses.

2. "She wouldn't wake up...I shook her hard," Pete Donohoe, New York Daily News, Aug. 22, 2005 for suggesting that any minimally trained person could do the job of a nurse.
Sources: Center for Nursing Advocacy, San Jose Mercury News, WCVB (Boston)


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