If You See a Teddy Bear, Shoot It

That would be the taste of barf in my throat

Nurses Week is fast approaching. I am steeling myself  mentally for the steady drizzle of syrupy tributes from various health care apparatchiks and functionaries, who will inevitably make some reference to nurses as “angels” and the “beating heart of health care” or some such tripe. I have yet to see an article this year illustrated with a teddy bear dressed up as a nurse, but it is early days yet. A reminder: if anyone approaches you with such a teddy bear in recognition of Nurses Week, do not look the bear in the eye, but instead beat it against a hard surface till the stuffing flies out, or the honour of the nursing profession is restored, whichever comes first

(In case you are new to this blog, here’s why I hate teddy bears and Nurses Week so much. Well, not so much hate, but a deep visceral loathing.)

I was put in mind of all of this reading some of Nurse Keith’s old blog entries over at Digital Doorway. I came across this post, which pretty well sums up my feelings about the association of teddy bears and angels with nursing, and also their use in scrubs. Nurse Keith wrote:

Somewhere along the line, the “angels of mercy” moniker became attached to nurses as a group. Granted, in the early days of nursing, nurses’ ability to act autonomously was extremely limited, and we were, by and large, the handmaidens of deified doctors. However, as much as that regrettable history has largely changed, the image of the nurse as angel unfortunately persists quite widely in our culture and websites galore promote gifts and baubles that continue to diminish nurses’ professionalism. Images such as this one drive home the point: nurses are childlike individuals with starched white hats who love teddy-bears. Adding insult to injury, nurses can actually be depicted as winged angel/teddy-bears, further enforcing the infantilization (and deprofessionalization) of our profession. Would doctors allow themselves to be thus represented to the public?
Rather than being perceived as cherubic angels and childlike creatures, this writer feels that being perceived as the valuable and skilled professionals who we truly are would allow the public to have a much more accurate perception of what we do, and our importance to the care of millions.

[. . .]

Nurses’ uniforms have certainly changed over the years, and as scrubs have become the norm for nurses in most clinical settings, many companies have capitalized on the popularity of such utilitarian clothing. Now, designer scrubs covered with angels, teddy-bears (there they are again!), and any number of cartoon-like images adorn the hard-working bodies of nurses around the world. If nurses want to be taken seriously by the public—and by doctors and other professionals—how does the wearing of such (in my opinion) unprofessional clothing help our cause?

Shoot on Sight

Picture this: a team meeting occurs midday to discuss a patient on the adult oncology floor. Present at the meeting: a medical resident, a medical student, the attending doctor, the oncologist, two unit nurses, a social worker and a respiratory therapist. Of all of the professionals in the room, who would possibly be wearing pink scrubs covered with teddy-bears and hearts, and a pin on her chest saying “Doctors Cure, Nurses Care”? And what message does this convey about the nurse’s self-image and how the other professionals present in the meeting should perceive him or her?

Well exactly. Imagine you’re dressed in an angel-motif scrub top, and you’re trying to give discharge instructions to a patient. Do you really think the patient is going to take you seriously? Really? Or you’re trying to get the physician to order more narcotic analgesia dressed in deep rose pink scrubs, a colour, I admit, which makes me do the inward cringe every time I see a nurse wearing it. Does that deep rose pink convey to the world the exact amount of professionalism and intelligence nurses believe they possess?

I guess I am wondering if there anyone out there willing to defend the whole nurse/teddy bear/angel thing, or even say three cheers for teddy bear scrubs or even frilly “feminine” scrubs?


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  1. #1 by jess6577 on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1041

    I am in love with this post….and laughing to bust my gut over the mental image of teddy bear guts flying everywhere!!! Hahahaha!

    I want to know where the images are of vampire nurses…I’ve been called that by patients more times than “angel.” lol…..

    • #2 by torontoemerg on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1819

      Let me guess… when you approach with a venipuncture set. “No sir, have never heard that one before. Very funny.”

  2. #3 by nurseinterupted on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1100

    Beautiful. Despite the fact im not feeling the whole nurses week theme this year either. ill need iv phenergan on hand to get me through it.

  3. #4 by jenjilks on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1205

    You are a hoot.
    The “Doctors Cure, Nurses Care” bit is awful. Sets back the Women’s Movement 40 years!
    I adored my Nurse Practitioner. She cured me!

  4. #5 by L on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1728

    Sentimental tosh aside. It’s all a bit vain isn’t it? Nurses who think of themselves as angels, the heart of healthcare. the most important person in a hospital. Other profession’s weeks are about raising their profile and educating people about what they do. The recent lab tech’s week is an example. Nursing week seems to be about telling the rest of us that we aren’t as important, oh and that you like teddy bears and childish scrubs. (BTW is it only North America that does the soppy scrubs thing? In the UK hospital staff are provided with a uniform. Each profession wears a distinct uniform. Nurses are usually in blue.)
    Just saying.

  5. #6 by jeanhill on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1746

    L, I don’t think nursing week is about telling other professions they are not important, but about what you mentioned, raising awareness and education about each profession.

  6. #7 by L on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1820

    Raising awareness may be the intention, but what was last year’s slogan? Something about being the best people in the hospital? I paraphrase as I can’t recall the exact words. I can’t think of any other group of workers who constantly go on about how busy/overworked/caring/compassionate/skilled they are. Except maybe teachers.
    Lab tech’s week at my work had a display about their work, a quiz with a prize, and a yummy lunch for everyone. Nursing week is celebrated with a fancy dinner for nurses only. You get my drift?

  7. #8 by jeanhill on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1831

    Then perhaps you should take it upon yourself to make it a bigger event for the lab techs, starting with your hospital. I also imagine that there are more nurses then there are lab techs in your hospital, as is the case with mine, therefore more people to cater to (no pun intended). All of these events are really just for show in my mind, Some hospitals give a pen for nurse’s week, others give water bottles and t shirts and coffee gift certificates, etc.. and then work life goes on … I typically end up working night shifts or weekends the week of nursing week and get offered left over cake from two days earlier … meh.

  8. #9 by careerchgrn on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1844

    Love this blog post. Reminds me again how glad I am that my facility mandates solid colors, and that nurses wear navy. And except for NICU, we are a teddy-bear-free-zone, thank God.

  9. #10 by L on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1845

    no, the lunch was for everyone, yes a free lunch for all, in the hospital. The dinner is for nurses only. Same amount of money spent, probably more for nurse’s week.

    I’m not a lab tech BTW but I enjoyed sharing lunch with them and doing their quiz. I won’t be moved by nurses week.

  10. #11 by rescueninja on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 2054

    Last year I was working in a small 35 bed hospital; we actually were given lab coats embroidered with our names and titles (BSN/RN/whatever). Nice gesture, but it didn’t really make up for the crappy treatment we received every other week out of the year.

  11. #12 by Hospital Observer on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 2204

    Unfortunately the author of this post is one of a minority of nurses I see at the hospital. The majority of ward nurses that I come across on a daily basis are completely into their pink and colorful nursing scrubs – and nicely fitted ones too. All the local scrub stores sell the same teddy stuff..and lots of it. Why? The demand is there.
    Combine that with the constant gossiping that happens at the nurses desk, the large piles of tabloid magazines on the counters, and the over-the-top prioritization of who gets which breaks, it is not surprising that you fight an uphill battle in trying to get the recognition you deserve. And they do it all so blatantly within earshot of patients and doctors alike!
    No one else to blame, but your very own colleagues in nursing.

    • #13 by torontoemerg on Thursday 03 May 2012 - 0535

      So why the demand? Why don’t nurses see this as being demeaning?

      As for gossip: I’ve been around physicians enough (for example) to know they are just as bad — maybe the culture of health care facilitates. I agree with you on the break thing, but think there are specific reasons, mostly around if nurses aren’t aggressive about taking breaks, the hospital will create an expectation that breaks are dispensible — and they are not.

  12. #14 by TheNerdyNurse on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 2208

    Let me play devil’s advocate here.

    Women, in general, do like Teddy Bears and Angels… I know, I know… we’re a terrible bunch for that.
    I think because nursing is a profession dominated by women that these mementoes will remain as a part of our culture.

    I don’t have any personally, but if someone were to gift me a doll that were a nurse, a teddy bear, and angel, or anything else that recognizes nurses in a positive light, I would not at all be insulted by it. I would be flattered.

    They make a teddy bear for almost every profession. Even lawyers and judges, you know.

    The fact that the population associates nurses with angels is likely the same reason why we are consistently voted as the most trustworthy profession. And what, pray tell, is wrong with being considered honest and trustworthy?
    Angels are noble beings who do good.

    Are most nurses not the same?

    • #15 by torontoemerg on Thursday 03 May 2012 - 0636

      Women, in general, do like Teddy Bears and Angels… I know, I know… we’re a terrible bunch for that.
      I think because nursing is a profession dominated by women that these mementoes will remain as a part of our culture.

      Yeah, and it sucks.

      Angels are noble beings who do good.

      Are most nurses not the same?

      Do I have to answer that? ;)

      My deal with nurse-as-angel meme is that 1) nurses are humans, not supernatural beings, and 2) think of the things we associate angels with. Infants. Small children. Mothers. Saints. Nuns. Are nurses really any of these things? To put it another way, to see nurses as angels set us up for failure, because it imposes an exceptionally high standard of behaviour, and it treats us as one dimensional beings who are only good at being angelic. You might know how to defibrillate someone, but would an angel?

  13. #16 by Medic on Thursday 03 May 2012 - 1608

    I’m a paramedic, about to graduate from nursing school next week. I’m thinking a more appropriate slogan would be: Nurses, the people who are actually saving your lives. Just saying. The profession would benefit a lot more if people had that perspective.

    • #17 by jess6577 on Thursday 03 May 2012 - 1645

      Funny you should say that. There is a company that actually prints shirts with the phrase, “Be Kind To Nurses. We keep doctors from accidentally killing you.”

      Find the FB page here: https://www.facebook.com/BeKindToNurses

  14. #18 by L on Friday 04 May 2012 - 0943

    This is what a nurse friend posted on FB today
    About NURSES: Somebody asked: “You’re a nurse?!? That’s cool, I wanted to do that when I was a kid. How much do you make?” The nurse replied: “HOW MUCH DO I MAKE?” …
    I can make holding your hand seem like the most important thing in the world when you’re scared… I can make your child breathe when they stop…I can help your father survive a heart attack…I can make myself get up at 5AM to make sure your mother has the medicine she needs to live…I work all day to save the lives of strangers….I make my family wait for dinner until I know your family member is taken care of…I make myself skip lunch so that I can make sure that everything I did for your wife today is charted…I make myself work weekends and holidays because people don’t just get sick Monday thru Friday. Today, I might save your life.
    How much do I make? I make a difference.

    Heavy emphasis on matyrdom. Why not a list of her skills and knowledge? That would be impressive and less irritating, less demeaning to have to bolster up your profession by appealing to the gallery.

    BTW. Pretty much all of those other actions could apply to the previously mentioned lab techs, and x-ray techs too. There’s a great Irish phrase I wanted to add to the FB comments, “catch yourself on”. But I didn’t, I’m doing it here instead.

    • #19 by torontoemerg on Friday 04 May 2012 - 1120

      I agree. I have said this many times before complaining about how crappy your job is is not going to get you a lot of sympathy or support. a lot of people have crappy jobs, and they are paid far less than nurses. so I really think my colleagues ought to shut up in this regard. Our value is in our knowledge and skills, not that we wipe bums.

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