By Laura Raines, Pulse editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nurses have always had a starring role in health care. Television, it seems, has finally caught on. Three new TV series feature nurses as leading characters — “Nurse Jackie,” “HawthoRNe” and “Mercy.”
Reaction has been mixed about how these fictional nurses affect the image of the profession. Immediately after the premiere of Showtime’s drug-addicted, philandering and ethically challenged nurse, Jackie Peyton, the American Nurses Association issued a statement of disapproval, asking nurses to complain to the cable network.
“ANA’s concern is that negative images such as those on ‘Nurse Jackie’ erode the highly valued trust of patients who rely on the expertise of nurses in health care situations,” said ANA president Rebecca M. Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR. “These harmful images also play a role in shaping the values, impressions and ultimately the career choice of young people, and may very well contribute to the nursing shortage that is reaching crisis proportions in our nation.”
On About.com’s Guide to Surgery, nurse blogger Jennifer Heisler wrote, “I’m not a moral high-road kind of person, but I really am aggravated when a supposedly great new medical show comes on and it makes nurses look like idiots, tramps and morally bankrupt drug addicts.”
Heisler isn’t the only nurse to wonder why television executives feel the need to exaggerate a role that is already dramatic and filled with conflict, stress, heartbreak and unexpected recoveries. Aren’t real-life nurses interesting enough?
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN, author of “Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk,” who sees progress in the new images. Compared to the stereotypes of nurses as doctors’ handmaidens, unskilled laborers or sex objects in shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House,” or “M*A*S*H,” Jackie Peyton and Christina Hawthorne perform the real work of nurses — making autonomous decisions, questioning doctors’ orders and advocating for patients, she said.
Nurses may not find “HawthoRNe” to be realistic — most chief nurse officers don’t practice at the bedside — but some think the portrayal of a strong and dedicated nursing leader is refreshing.
Nurses ranked as the nation’s most trusted professionals, according to Gallup’s annual honesty and ethics of professions 2008 survey. Since 1999, they have topped the list every year except 2001, when firefighters were added to the list after Sept. 11. Nurses have earned that trust because of what they do and who they are.
“Ethics are integral to the foundation of nursing, and nurses are proud and passionate advocates for the delivery of dignified, humane health care,” Patton said.
TV images can’t change that.
“But it’s definitely a plus to have nurses talk about what their image should be,” said Cindy Balkstra, MS, RN, CNS-BC, president of the Georgia Nurses Association. “It makes a difference how a nurse presents herself and talks about her profession. I still think about it when I put on my uniform.”
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