Nurse Jackie, Medscape on Nurses' Best List; Dr. Oz, Mariah Carey Fare Poorly

Martha Kerr

January 07, 2011

January 7, 2010 — The Truth About Nursing has announced the winners and losers of its eighth annual list of the best and worst media portrayals of nurses. Showtime's Nurse Jackie topped the list of best portrayals, and Mariah Carey, Helen Mirren, and Dr. Mehmet Oz were fingered for their negative, less-than-accurate portrayals.

Also receiving positive reviews were NBC's Mercy and TNT's HawthoRNe. Although Mercy was cancelled at the end of its first season, lead character Veronica Callahan, an emergency department nurse and military veteran, was deemed to be an innovative clinical leader who, despite some personal problems, provided expert care.

The Truth About Nursing points out that other primetime network shows scheduled to air in the upcoming broadcast season feature nearly 40 physician characters, but no nurses.

The Truth About Nursing took umbrage with the overtly sexy clothing worn by Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj in the upcoming video "Up Out My Face." The organization also objected to Dame Helen Mirren's remark to David Letterman, in promoting her brothel film Love Ranch, that "a lot of girls who work in [prostitution] actually come from the nursing industry, which kind of makes sense, because they're used to naked bodies, it's not intimidating to them, you know, the body and the bodily functions, if you like."

"Only time will tell if the new nurse shows signal a long-term improvement in television's treatment of nursing," said Sandy Summers, RN, MS, executive director of The Truth About Nursing. "Mercy's cancellation was unfortunate, the audiences for Nurse Jackie and HawthoRNe are relatively limited, and the vast majority of television shows continue to push the idea that only physicians matter."

Ms. Summers said that the most popular hospital dramas — ABC's Grey's Anatomy, Fox's House, and ABC's Private Practice — were all named in the nursing group's 2010 "worst" list.

"Grey's Anatomy continued to portray nurses as silent or surly handmaidens who are irrelevant to serious care, with the show's heroic surgeon characters often providing key care that nurses do in real life, such as skilled patient monitoring," The Truth About Nursing said in its announcement of this year's awards. "And Private Practice killed off midwife Dell Parker, the broadcast networks' last significant nurse character — though not before having him exult at being admitted to medical school, reinforcing the 'wannabe physician' stereotype real advanced practice nurses face."

"Some of the best depictions of nursing still appeared in the print press," Ms. Summers said. Among these were Medscape's Laura Stokowski, who wrote "A Letter to Hollywood: Nurses Are Not Handmaidens." Theresa Brown's posts on The New York Times' "Well" blog about her experiences as an oncology nurse were also honored, as was an essay by Sunnie Bell published in the October issue of Reader's Digest about the potentially deadly consequences when nurses cannot advocate effectively for patients with physicians.

The Truth About Nursing gave a negative review of a segment on The Dr. Oz Show in which Dr. Oz danced with provocatively attired "nurses" to promote dancing as a weight loss tactic. The segment garnered objections from various groups around the world.

The group also pointed to news coverage by CNN and The New York Times of the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake that suggested that only physicians were spearheading relief efforts.

"Nurses must speak out about the value of their profession, particularly in view of the ongoing nursing shortage and the current economic crisis. The Truth About Nursing congratulates those responsible for items on the 'best' and 'honorable mention' lists," said Ms. Summers.

The Truth About Nursing is an international 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Baltimore, Maryland. The Truth About Nursing was established in 2001 by Ms. Summers and fellow graduates at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing to help address the growing nursing shortage, which “is caused in part by inadequate understanding of and support for the profession,” as they say in their mission statement.

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