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Nursing Outlook

Special Supplement: Nursing and the Media

Media Images and Screen Representations of Nurses
by MarySue V. Heilemann, PhD, RN

"The ways that nurses are depicted in the media raise a variety of issues for the profession of nursing. As nurses, we know who we are and what we do in our clinical roles, but when we watch television shows and films, we usually do not see ourselves in the nurse characters on screen. More often, what we do see is an absence where the presence of a nurse should be.  Frequently, a physician is depicted on screen doing the work that an RN would do in reality. Other times we might see a stereotyped version of a "nurse" going along with a storyline that reflects a sharply inaccurate portrayal of reality. Likewise, although nurses are rarely depicted in the print or news media, when they are, the message that is cast does not always jibe with the realities of nursing in the 21st century." Read more »


Nurses and Doctors in Prime Time Series: The Dynamics of Depicting Professional Power
by  Joseph Turow, PhD

This essay sketches a comparison of 1960s' television portrayals with those of the present to show that a limited and incomplete portrayal of nurses has been an enduring feature of prime-time medical television programs. They have depicted physicians then and now as captains of the medical ship and nurses then and now their ancillary and ill-defined helpers. As the comparison makes clear, part of nurses' lack of clear power in TV medical scenarios has to do with the explicit and implicit clout exercised by physicians' organizations to present doctor images effectively. That clout contrasts with nursing organizations' lack of attempts or ability (it's hard to gauge which) to influence network television's most prominent representations of their roles and the environments in which they work. Read More »


Nurse Jackie and the Politics of Care
by Kathleen McHugh, PhD

This essay considers Nurse Jackie, one of several recent television shows, including HawthoRNe, and Mercy, that features a nurse as the main character. All 3 shows premiered in 2009 and challenged nursing's longstanding invisibility and misrepresentation on television. Although the plots of each show corrected problematic aspects of nursing's usual media representation, only Nurse Jackie remains on the air. In this paper, I analyze why Nurse Jackie succeeded where the other 2 shows did not, considering the representational politics of care on television and in the national context where health care remains a significant concern.
Read more »


A Film Producer Focuses on Issues of Social Justice and Nurses: An Interview with Richard Harding
by Kathleen McHugh, PhD

This case study of Richard Harding, a producer currently making a film about the Benghazi Six, includes an introductory biography, an interview with the producer, and a brief conclusion. Harding's commitments to both filmmaking and social justice issues led him to The Benghazi Six and the injustices suffered by these Bulgarian nurses, who were persecuted and imprisoned in Libya for 9 years on false charges of infecting Libyan children with HIV. The film production ran alongside of and aided international efforts to free the nurses and one physician from Libya. Read More »


Empowering Expatriate Nurses: Challenges and Opportunities - a Commentary
by Afaf I. Meleis, PhD, DrPS (hon), FAAN, Caroline G. Glickman, MIM

"The use of media to tell stories about nurses' roles and vulnerabilities as they cross countries and as they practice in different parts of the world is long overdue. Although this story about the Bulgarian nurses in Libya is compelling and must be exposed, there are many sides to nurses' stories as they practice their profession globally. As well, it is important to remember that nurses are the largest health care work force internationally and that, historically, nurses have been global ever since Rufaida Al-Aslamia traveled with the prophet Muhammad to many parts of the Arabian Peninsula and Florence Nightingale joined those who were fighting in the Crimean War in Turkey to care for the English soldiers." Read more »


The Representation of Nurses in 1950s Melodrama: a Cross-Cultural Approach
by Elisabetta Babini, MA

Melodrama is identified as one of the most prolific cinematic genres in terms of the representation of nurses. Its contribution to the overall media depiction of the professional category has therefore been significant. This paper explores melodramatic portrayals of nurses with a specific focus on cinema of the 1950s, the golden age of Western melodrama, and concentrates on two representative case studies: Anna (ITA, 1951), and The Nun's Story (USA, 1959). These films enable a fruitful comparison, sharing several narrative elements, featuring religious nurses as protagonists, and yet eventually conferring on the nursing vocation different values. Such similar nurses' images are examined through a multidisciplinary approach, spanning feminist film theory, gender and cultural studies, cultural history and the social history of nursing. Among the goals of this study is to consider whether different national origins - in these films, Italy and America - have also been influential in the depiction of the respective nurse-character. Read more »


A Review of Images of Nurses and Smoking on the World Wide Web
by Linda Sarna, PhD, FAAN, Stella Aguinaga Bialous, DrPH, RN, FAAN

With the advent of the World Wide Web, historic images previously having limited distributions are now widely available. As tobacco use has evolved, so have images of nurses related to smoking. Using a systematic search, the purpose of this article is to describe types of images of nurses and smoking available on the World Wide Web. Approximately 10 000 images of nurses and smoking published over the past century were identified through search engines and digital archives. Seven major themes were identified: nurses smoking, cigarette advertisements, helping patients smoke, "naughty" nurse, teaching women to smoke, smoking in and outside of health care facilities, and antitobacco images. The use of nursing images to market cigarettes was known but the extent of the use of these images has not been reported previously. Digital archives can be used to explore the past, provide a perspective for understanding the present, and suggest directions for the future in confronting negative images of nursing. Read more »


Making a Difference from the Inside Out
by MarySue V. Heilemann, PhD, RN, Theresa Brown, BSN, RN, PhD, Larry Deutchman, BA, MBA

Nursing leaders, researchers, and activists have called for change in mass media depictions of nurses since the 1980s, but some nurses are not sure they should make any effort. This article offers a focused look at the trajectories of 2 individuals: Theresa Brown, a clinical nurse and author who writes for the New York Times, and Larry Deutchman, the Executive Vice President of Marketing and Industry Relations at Entertainment Industries Council, Inc. Both Brown and Deutchman were motivated to acquire skills and to take risks to think creatively, and/or to collaborate with other professionals in media to benefit nursing and health. Analysis of their paths offers ideas for action, growth, learning, and collaboration for nurses in relation to the ways that nursing is represented in written and visual media. Read more »

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