Nurses’ image is the part of the nursing profession, the way nursing appears to other disciplines and to general public- consumers of health care. The perception of nursing impacts recruitment of students, funding for nursing education and research, relationships with healthcare administrators and other healthcare professionals, government agencies and legislators at all levels of government, the view of the public, and ultimately, the profession’s self-identity. The image of nursing is certainly influenced by broad concerns, such s content in television, film, or advertising. Mostly, the writers of popular television shows and movies have depicted nurses in demeaning roles, typically portraying them as sexual objects, frivolous, or being subservient to their doctors.
In 1970, a feature film M*A*S*H portrayed Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, an army nurse, as sexual object and perpetuated the “naughty nurse” image. Similarly, the classic Academy Award for Best Picture winner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, featured Nurse Ratched as cruel nurse who tormented the mental patients under her care. Not only films, television also presents nurses as submissive, handmaidens, and helpmates to the doctors.
Popular television shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, Private Practice, and House depict physicians as in-charge of things and nurses as taking a patient’s pulse or blood pressure, setting up IV pumps, emptying bedpans, or dating doctors. Nurse Jackie presented a dedicated nurse, but also snorting pain killers, fudging a dead man’s donor organ card, as well as committing other various felonies. Scrubbing In follows a group of travel nurses for twelve weeks at an Orange County, CA hospital, presented lots of disagreeable infighting, romantic escapades, hard partying, and occasional patient interaction. The bottom line is that the writers of movies and television shows are creating compelling, provocative stories filled with conflict and sexual scenes to attract and entertain a mass audience, presenting nurses as submissive, self-centered, uncaring, unprofessional, and unintelligent.
Fortunately, despite these negative portrayals, surveys in this country year after year continue to show that nurses remain the nation’s most trusted, dedicated, diligent, compassionate, and caring professionals. The people don’t form their opinions about nursing from these television characters. They build their opinions more from their interactions with nurses they know as their family members or as their healthcare providers. Instead of accusing media for representing nursing poorly, nurses should take lead in standing up and discussing their own image of nursing, because much of this image comes from the day-to-day personal contact that public and other healthcare providers has with nurses. The public needs to know about the level of education and technological competency required, the different levels of nursing education, different nursing roles, and the impact that nurses have on patient outcomes.
To dispel any misconceptions the public may have of nurses or nursing profession as well to improve the nurses’ public image, nurses need to increase their visibility, obtain stronger positions in healthcare settings, and educate patients, public, and other healthcare professionals on the role and scope of nursing as well as changing healthcare system. Nurses need to recognize that the images and behaviors outside the workplace on social media such as YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook can affect their workplace image. An organization of nurses, named The Truth about Nursing, issues annual awards for the best and worst portrayals of nursing in order to drive media to depict nurses more appropriately. Nurses can consider phone calls, emails, and letter-writing campaigns to persuade media to reconsider specific products or portrayals. Nurses can create own media to explain nursing and healthcare system to world, using blog writing, poetry, websites, social media, educational seminars sponsored by health insurance companies or non-profit organizations.
All in all, nurses’ actions, attire, method of telling their story, and how they present themselves to the public are important in changing or improving the image of nursing.
Summers, S., & Summers, H. (2016, April 4). Let’s take the lead in educating the public about
nursing. Retrieved January 02, 2018, from