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It's Nurses Week again, a time to pay you tribute for the many things you accomplish all year. It's also time for you to honor other nurses in some small or large way. Giving colleagues the recognition they deserve means a lot to them and feels rewarding at the same time.
Nurses Week for me is also a time to reflect. As I think about obstacles facing our profession today, public image and our limited diversity loom large.
Cliches about bimbo nurses and tantalizing back rubs have tarnished our image far too long. I recently saw a TV commercial for Herbal Essence depicting a nurse "oohing" and "aahing" while shampooing in a patient's bathroom. Shame on Clairol for using that scenario-they deserve to lose business for demeaning nurses and the serious work we do.
Even when the public sees nurses in realistic situations, what do they see? Most nurses are white women. (As of March 2000, 87% of RNs were white and 95% were women; statistics aren't available for LPNs.) Although the numbers are creeping in the right direction, our workforce doesn't reflect our nation's diverse culture. Having a representative mix of men and women from all races would broaden our perspectives, forge stronger teams, and enhance culturally competent care. It could also help ease the nursing shortage.
Why should more men or anyone of African, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian descent want to join our profession when they can't relate to the images they see? Fortunately, companies like Johnson & Johnson are doing an excellent job of portraying nurses of all races as professional women and men. Won't you as an individual-especially if you're a man or a member of a cultural minority group-join the campaign?
All nurses can teach boys and girls of any age what nursing really means. Perhaps target a local school, speak with a counselor or school nurse, and help develop a plan. Get materials on-line and distribute them on career day. Ask your facility for permission to conduct tours or sessions where young people can "shadow" a nurse.
We nurses have the power to change the face of our profession and polish its image. Tell advertisers you're fed up with trite portrayals of nurses, and show the public how to recognize a real nurse.
Cheryl L. Mee
American Association of Colleges of Nursing: "Effective Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Nursing Programs," December 2001, http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Publications/issues/dec01.htm.
Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, Inc.: http://www.discovernursing.com.
Simmons, F.: "Leading the Way: Developing a Diverse Nursing Workforce," Gastroenterology Nursing. 25(6):263-266, December 2002.
Spratley, E., et al.: The Registered Nurse Population. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Health Professions, March 2000.
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