So two television shows demean and devalue nurses. Is there any hope things will ever change?
First, by way of Sean Dent at My Strong Medicine, is this charming example of the naughty nurse:
[Mehmet Oz of the Dr. Oz Show] introduces Angel Williams, and she appears wearing a traditional, short-sleeved white nurses’ dress that falls just above the knee. She also wears a red belt, and carries a nurses’ cap. Despite the impressive weight loss, she has not attained a shape that most people would associate with a traditional naughty nurse model. There is no suggestion that Williams, or anyone else who appears in the segment, actually is a nurse.
Oz asks Williams how she managed to dance away that much weight. She explains that she loves dancing and just decided she would do it while cleaning, cooking, and doing a range of other daily activities. Pressed about what inspired her, she says she had reached a point in her life where she was down and out, and she needed to make some changes.
Angel: So I did. I started dancing and moving–and watching your show. You know, you’re the doctor that gets us eating right, thinking right, thinking bright. And I decided to apply all those things to my life.
Williams and Oz thank each other. Oz says he hears she’s going to teach him. She starts quietly laughing–apparently at the very notion that he, a celebrity physician, could learn anything from her! Oz says he’s serious, that he does the show in order to learn from how people answer his questions, and from questions they ask that he would never think of asking. So he asks her again to teach him. She asks the audience to stand up and join them, then prepares to lead them in some dancing.
Angel (as she unbuttons the top of her dress to reveal a red bra): You know, we’re gonna get sexy too, we gotta, you know, be kinda sexy with it. (Now she puts on the nurse’s cap.) Gotta get my hat goin’. So, the first move, Dr. Oz–cause we’re your nurses, we’re gonna keep America moving for you, OK?
Oz: Oh, I love it.
“We’re you’re nurses.” Yes, readers, I physically cringed when I read that. But Dr. Oz is pop culture bubblegum. For real contempt for nurses, you need to go to the respectable media. Paul McLean at Medical Ethics and Me:
Missing from the documentary is what should never be missing from this dialogue — the nurse’s viewpoint. Nurses are the Waldo of “Facing Death.” Where are they? The documentary is full of poignant scenes of doctor-patient and doctor-family dialogue, always difficult and sometimes brutally honest, and shines a brilliant light on a problem that, if society doesn’t sort out, money will forceably and inequitably decide. This is the subject underlying the country’s “death panel” insanity, and kudos to Frontline for looking at it rationally and insightfully. Kudos, too, to the doctors and families who’ve put themselves on display in situations that couldn’t be more difficult. Allowing cameras at such a time took extraordinary courage, but is of such great value.
“Facing Death” is invaluable for any med student, for its view into when “doing no harm” gets particularly tricky. And yet, for all the poignant conversation and close-ups on care, nurses are mostly blurred motion and background noise. The one nurse quoted is the daughter of a dying woman at odds with her sister, who happens to be a doctor. The nurse/sister advocates for acceptance and compassionate care; the doctor/sister wants to do what’s required to maintain the parent’s pulse.
All is revealed through narrator, doctor or patient/family. No clergy is involved. No therapist. And no nurse.
So we’re either boobified by a physician exploiting a pop culture meme to the detriment of the nursing profession, or ignored, probably by the faulty reasoning that our voices don’t count in planning patient care. I’m not sure which is worse.
It’s been obvious to nurses for a very long time that the traditional media controls the narrative about nursing. We complain about inaccurate portrayals and demeaning stereotypes nearly on a daily basis. We heap almost excessive praise when the media gets it right. My own professional organization, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, for example, gives out prizes to journalists for the best stories about nursing in the old media. Notice, prizes aren’t given out to nurses telling their own stories, but rather for other people — non-nurses — telling our stories. This last is important, because the whole phenomenon of Web 2.0 is changing how the media and nurses themselves are portray nursing .
I’m beginning to think nurses should worry less about how the old media depicts us and focus more on how we describe ourselves through social media. Let me put it this way: I was alerted to both the PBS Frontline show and the dancing nurses by Ellen Richter and Vern Dutton respectively via Twitter, who pointed me to Paul McLean’s and Sean Dents’s post and the original link at The Truth About Nursing. Before I wrote this post, I posted on Mehmet Oz’s Facebook wall — as did Vern Dutton — about the inappropriateness of the show (and I encourage you to do the same). And now, I’m writing my own blog post, which I will Tweet and post on my Facebook page. The point is that it’s within the power of nurses ourselves to seize the narrative and tell our stories unfiltered either by cultural biases or media expectations — or even the likes of Mehmet Oz. I know my blog, in its own small way, has influenced and educated a number of people about what nurses know and about our pivotal, essential place in health care. Multiply that by growing number of nurse-bloggers and tweeters — and suddenly the traditional media looks a little less hegemonic. Mehmet Oz and PBS (as do any number of medical dramas) still need to be called out. Their antiquated attitudes aren’t quite irrelevant. But I’m hopeful. Because we increasingly own the narrative, it’s only a matter of time until we can say to all of ’em, “To hell with you. We don’t need you.”