A Letter to Hollywood: Nurses Are Not Handmaidens

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


March 12, 2010

In This Article

Myths About Nurses Perpetuated by Hollywood and Other Uninformed Media

1. Physicians are nurses' superiors in the hospital hierarchy- nurses "work for" physicians.

Not true. Nursing is a separate, autonomous profession. We work with, not for physicians. We have our own leaders, and we regulate, license, and manage ourselves. Nurses decide what nurses do, not physicians.

2. Nursing doesn't require much education.

Nursing education is highly specialized, intense, and rigorous, because nursing itself is a profession grounded in science. Many people, if they believe nurses go to college at all, think that most nurses attend a brief 1- or 2-year program. In fact, 58% of nurses presently have a bachelor's degree or higher, a number that is growing every year. The "2year" nursing program doesn't really exist - the associate's degree in nursing requires prerequisites even before entering the nursing program, making it essentially a 3-year program. And in many areas, new graduate nurses undergo extended fellowships in the clinical setting that greatly increase their education and skill in nursing as they enter the profession.

3. Nurses mainly "fetch things" for physicians.

Nursing is a practice that is unique and distinct from medicine. Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.[2] Nursing's focus, and what sets it apart from medicine, is the whole person, not just the specific, presenting health problem, and nursing encompasses both actual and potential health problems. Nursing's scope of practice has been shown in numerous studies to save lives and improve health outcomes.

4. Nurses are those who aren't smart enough to get into medical school.

This might be the most irritating myth of all. It presupposes that nursing is just a tiny subset of medicine, a fallback for people who can't quite make it up the ladder. However, nursing is a different profession, not the same profession watered or dumbed down. Many nurses go on to earn advanced degrees at the master's or doctoral level, but they are still practicing nursing (note that nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses may share some of the same functions as physicians in their specialties, but they are philosophically nursing-oriented in their approach to patients). And research shows that care provided by these advanced practice nurses is equal to or better than that provided by physicians.[3,4,5,6]


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