As Seen on TV: The Portrayal of Nurses in the Media

March 4th, 2015 by

Two Nurses Facing OffCan you think of more than a handful of characters in TV and movies who are nurses? Of those, how many are realistic portrayals?

Nursing Stereotypes

Is there a nurse who hasn’t heard, “Why didn’t you go on to be a doctor?” I ask students at my school frequently, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and no one has answered, “Be a nurse.”

Is it because the media and long held stereotypes promote this idea that nurses are second class citizens doing “women’s work” and living simply to obey the orders of the wise  doctor?

I asked my family to name all the movie or TV show nurses they could think of. My husband said “Grey’s Anatomy?” Nope. All doctors. My kids couldn’t think of one. I reminded them of Nurse Ratched,  Nurse Jackie and  Carla from Scrubs. After that, we were all out.

How is it that a show’s action takes place predominantly  in a hospital, and yet, no nurses are featured?  If a nurse is characterized, and they are lucky enough to have a line, it’s “Yes, Doctor.”  I don’t know about you but I’m not sure I can ever claim to have said that phrase, and certainly not in the last ten years.  Nursing has changed significantly in the last 50 years, but how long does it take to change society’s mindset?

Promoting the Reality of the Nurse’s Role

How do we as professionals, promote the reality of nursing today when we are combating a mindset that is long-held and perpetuated by television and movies? 

As nurses, are we interested in promoting the image of a subservient female who follows orders, and spends her time trying to get catch the eligible doctor? Nope. Too smart for that.

Are we interested in promoting the image of nurses as independent, smart medical professionals who make clinical judgements while at the same time, ensuring that patients are as happy and comfortable as possible? Yes, of course, but usually we are too busy making clinical judgements and ensuring that patients are as happy and comfortable as possible to re-educate society regarding the role of nurses.

To tell the truth, nursing is an odd mix. We are professionals, using our minds every second of the day, but it’s a physical job. We lift, we pull, we push, we empty vomit basins, and wipe feces. Name another job that is such a mix of the high level and the mundane.

Maybe this is why the media struggles to paint an accurate picture. It’s just easier to cater to the already firmly established image of nurses that the general public has held in the past.

It will take someone who is willing to focus a show on nursing or nurses to break that ground and start changing perceptions. Shows like Nurse Jackie and Call the Midwife are strong steps in the right direction.

About the Author:

Sarah Heroman

Sarah Heroman is an RN, BSN who has found her niche as a school nurse in Texas. With almost 20 years of experience, Sarah is still passionate about the nursing field and enjoys mentoring and helping nurses continue to find the joy in their careers. She believes that a good nurse is able to combine the science and the art of nursing and find fulfillment in providing the best care for their patients.

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