1. Gambrell, Meg BSN, RN, Doctoral Student

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The article by Beauregard et al, "Improving Our Image a Nurse at a Time," 1 is a spark that will light the fire to change the image of nursing. I, too, have often watched the Johnson & Johnson "I am a nurse" commercials and contemplated the diversity of nursing. It was nice to see Johnson & Johnson making an attempt to recognize just how diverse nursing really is-as nurses, we are men and women, old and young, majorities and minorities. We are in hospitals, homes, schools, churches, courtrooms, the armed services, prison, and the Peace Corps. We fly on helicopters and ride on cruise ships. We can be just about anywhere, and we do just about anything, so no wonder the public is having such a difficult time with the image of nursing.


In the media, nurses have been portrayed in a variety of ways. In public opinion polls, nurses stand out. In a recent Harris Poll, 85% of the 1006 sampling population indicated that they would be pleased if their son or daughter wanted to pursue a nursing career. As for integrity, 95% of the polled sample stated that they trusted a nurse. 2 In 1997, Sigma Theta Tau commissioned the Woodhull study to examine references to nursing in the media. On average, nurses were cited only 3% of the time in hundreds of health-related articles. 3 In motion pictures and television, nurses are portrayed as angels of mercy, heroines, handmaidens, and sex objects. 4


Recently, the male nurse has been recognized in the media, but often not in a respected manner. In motion pictures and sitcoms, the male nurse plays a comedic role, with little respect or professionalism. These male nurses (referred to as "murses") have experiences in which their patients confuse them with physicians and then, after being corrected, order the "murse" to empty the bedpan.


Yes, the public's image of nursing may be skewed, but we face an even bigger problem. Our image of ourselves as nurses seems to be even more off center. What image of nursing do we, as nurses, embrace? Unfortunately, the trend is to focus on the negative. The hours are long; the patients and the system challenging; staffing is a problem; and the pay rate rarely meets our expectations. For these reasons, we dissuade others from nursing; we tell horror stories to nursing students on clinical rotations; we do not encourage our children to go into nursing; and we share only the negative. We do not come home from work and talk about the patient we helped ambulate for the first time, or the overwhelmed family to whom we brought peace.


Nurses teach health improvement and prevention, coping skills, and care for those who cannot care for themselves; provide psychological and spiritual counseling; and provide the courage to live. 4 Why wouldn't we want to share this information? We do not encourage our sons, or even our daughters, to enter nursing. In our profession, we collaborate with professionals, we serve as advocates, and most importantly, we empower. We spend our shifts empowering our patients, yet we cannot find the time to empower ourselves and our future.


Nurses are the largest healthcare providers in the United States, 4 yet of the 2.6 million registered nurses, fewer than 7% are members of national nursing organizations. 1 Together, we could make one very loud voice for change, but we choose to remain silent and politically ineffective. If we, as nurses, promote a positive image of nursing and become an active voice in society, the image of nursing can change.


Like Beauregard et al, I encourage the readers of this letter to take a stand: encourage children to enter nursing by providing positive and knowledgeable role modeling, become involved in public policy, submit articles to journals, join a professional organization, get certified in a skill, and attend conferences. If someone asks what you do for a living, stand up straight, smile, and say, "I am a nurse." We cannot be the backbone of the healthcare profession if we do not choose to support our own profession.


Meg Gambrell, BSN, RN, Doctoral Student




1. Beauregard M, Deck D, Kay K, et al. Improving our image a nurse at a time. J Nurs Adm. 2003;33(10):510-511. [Context Link]


2. Davidson S. Shaping the present/future image of nursing. OregonAQ1Nurse. 2000;65(3):3. [Context Link]


3. Sigma Theta Tau International. The Woodhull study on nursing and the media. Available at Accessed February 8, 2004. [Context Link]


4. Murray B. The image of nursing. Vermont Nurse Connection. 2000;3(3):9. [Context Link]