1. Section Editor(s): Freda, Margaret Comerford EdD, RN, CHES, FAAN

Article Content

For as long as I can remember I've been interested in the image of nursing. I've always felt that nursing was a noble profession that combined art and science. We are empathetic, understanding, and open minded, but we must also be scientists who read the scientific literature and understand biology, microbiology, pharmacology, anatomy/physiology, chemistry-shall I go on? Although the public consistently states in surveys that nurses are trusted healthcare professionals, unfortunately we are not often seen as scientists, but more often as angels of mercy. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy angels of all types, including angels of mercy, but times have changed, and nurses are no longer "angels" nor are they the handmaidens who simply follow doctors' orders. Nursing is becoming more, not less, science oriented. Nurses are becoming more educated; the strong movement to have the bachelor's degree as the entry point (long overdue) and the ever-increasing expansion of highly educated nurse practitioners show the public that we want to administer the best healthcare possible.


How does the public form its opinion of a profession? Amazingly, it is often from the media (Gordon, 2005). All of those "naughty nurse" greeting cards really do have an impact, as do the absurd television advertisements and shows. Most of the "medical" programs on TV have been about physicians, but in the last few years there have been several shows written with a nurse as the main character. I've been wishing for this for a long, long time, for it has always seemed to me that TV would be a perfect medium to help demonstrate to the public that nursing is a learned profession. "Nurse Jackie" had the splashiest promo, since it stars Edie Falco from The Sopranos and features an intensely strong portrayal of a nurse. She takes no guff from anyone, and she is clearly in charge. Unfortunately, she is also a drug addict who steals drugs from the pharmacy on a routine basis-not the best role model in that sense. Another show, "Mercy," featured a nurse returning nurse from Iraq. She had posttraumatic stress syndrome, but was seemingly a smart, well-educated nurse, surrounded by other smart nurses, one of whom talked about her master's degree from Penn. The third show, "Hawthorne," is a show about a chief nursing officer who appears to spend all her time in the emergency room, saving lives. In this show, the most unrealistic of all, seemingly every emergency room patient needs cardiopulmonary resuscitation or a lung inflated, and Hawthorne is always ready. She's smarter than everyone and spends a lot of time telling everyone off. Of course there are love stories tied in to all the scripts, but what would a TV drama be without the romantic stories?


Have these shows helped nursing's image or not? That's a tough one. Despite the drug addict nurse, the nurse who hides in a closet and cries, and the super nurse who does everyone's job with one hand tied behind her back, I'd have to say that the sum total is positive. The stories are about nurses, not doctors, and that's a step forward. At least we've been seen. We need to be seen by the public more and in better shows that highlight the real things that nurses do for their patients every day. I've been waiting a long time; maybe these shows are the beginning of a new era.


Margaret Comerford Freda, EdD, RN, CHES, FAAN








Gordon, S. (2005). Nursing against the odds. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. [Context Link]