Nursing and Media

Some people may view nursing differently then others. Some may view nursing as negative and some positive. This perception may actually be due to the way the media depicts nursing. One television show or movie may portray the nursing image as loving and caring, where another may portray the image as incompetent or unpleasant. There has been much research conducted over time on the portrayal of nursing in the media and the impact it has on the public’s view. Some research says the public views nursing positively despite the media, while others say the media has a very negative impact on nursing.
Whether the media depicts nursing as good or bad, or can influence the public’s views, it is up to the nurses themselves to be aware of their own behaviors and portray nursing positively in real life. People may know the name Florence Nightingale. Nightingale was a nurse seen as an angel due to her work during the Crimean War and is known as the founder of modern nursing. Her image embodies the caring fundamentals of nursing. Today, many people may know the name Nurse Jackie – a nurse on a television show portrayed quite differently than Nightingale.
Nurse Jackie is seen as a strong-willed nurse who needs the help of narcotics to make it through her day, which is much different from Nightingale’s angelic image. This portrayal raises the question of whether people realize that television shows are fictional and the portrayal of nurses is a dramatic effect and done purely for ratings. Some research has been done to study the affect the media may have on nursing. Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN conducted a study in 2007 and found that despite less-than-authentic portrayals of nurses on some television shows, the media positively influences public perceptions (Howell, 2010).

However, some say that the negative portrayal of nursing in the media actually does influence the public’s perception negatively. Marie Quimba, director of professional studies at Grand Canyon in Phoenix, AZ says that many people, especially the less educated and younger population, are influenced by negative imagery in the media (Muehlauer, 2012). There was also a study conducted by David Stanley who is a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia.
The study analyzed the stereotypes on television and found that misrepresentations on television are likely to have a profound effect on the public’s perception. Television brings characters into the living room and the viewer is more likely to associate it with reality (Howell, 2010). If the media does affect the public’s image of nursing in a negative way then the question is raised about how the nursing profession can change the public’s perception of nursing.
One thing that the nursing profession can do is to get involved in the media and give feedback and input. Cindy Saver, president of CLS Development, Inc. and a registered nurse says that nurses must get involved and have a voice to convey their opinions and desires. Saver also recommends that nurses e-mail and write letters to television producers and contact companies that advertise during certain nurse-oriented programs to voice their pleasure or displeasure (Howell, 2010). Other suggestions include portraying nurses more positively in the media.
Recently, Johnson & Johnson conducted an advertising campaign concerning nurses and the nursing profession. One of the Johnson & Johnson ads shows a male nurse singing with a pediatric patient during chemotherapy treatment. These television commercials portray nursing in a positive light. They give nurses much well deserved admiration and may help in having a positive impact on the image of nursing. Other positive portrayals come from media sources such as news stories about nurses assisting during disasters, such as in hurricanes and tornadoes.
The media is bound to continue to portray the nursing profession negatively for the purpose of ratings; however, the public’s perception of nurses is a combination of what they see in the media and their real life experience. It is, therefore, incumbent on nurses to both affect media portrayal through letter writing campaigns and also to be aware of their own behaviors and how they portray themselves to the public in their everyday life.

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