This story is from the archives of UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

On-screen image of nurses needs to be rehabilitated

|
courtney-lyder-nursingCourtney H. Lyder is dean and professor of the UCLA School of Nursing. This op-ed appeared originally in the May 16, 2011, issue of the Los Angeles Business Journal. You can read a related UCLA Today story about the inaccurate stereotypes of nurses portrayed on screen.  
 
 
We live in a city that is home to one of the most influential businesses in the world: the entertainment industry. Capable of entertaining and enthralling the masses, informing and educating the public, the industry wields a delicious amount of power. That’s why it is so important for those entrusted with this power to get it right when telling their stories.
 
To their credit, they most often do. This is an industry consumed with accuracy. Studios spend years scouting for the right location, designing perfect period costumes, testing the same crash scene over and over, or schooling a star in a foreign accent.
 
So it seems ironic then that this same industry can’t quite get it right when depicting something so integral to our society and so universally renowned as the nursing profession.
 
The entertainment industry today continues to portray nurses in the same stereotypical or confusing ways as they did two decades ago: as order-takers, naughty nurses or dark characters plagued by moral and ethical imbalance.
 
As someone who interacts with thousands of professional nurses each year, I see a very different kind of nurse — someone who is highly skilled, professional, well-respected, kind, hard-working and, today, on the cutting edge of clinical and scientific research innovation. These nurses are clinicians versed in symptom management and holistic care. Surely it is time for the entertainment media to step up to the challenge and more accurately portray the amazing roles played by 21st century nurses.
 
That’s why the UCLA School of Nursing, where I am dean, last week sponsored its first national symposium exploring controversial “Media Images and Screen Representations of Nurses” in Los Angeles as part of National Nurses Week.
 
Today’s nurses possess in-depth health care knowledge, have amazing tools and technologies at their fingertips, play a key role in the patient care process, help drive national health policy and are leading the way in many dimensions of critically important clinical research. In short, they are transforming health care in ways that will have an immeasurable impact on the nation’s health.
 
Across the health care spectrum, academic nurse researchers are searching for answers that will improve patient outcomes and enhance quality of care. Like many nursing schools today, the UCLA School of Nursing is redefining both the role and image of nursing through research that is helping build the scientific foundation for breakthroughs in disease prevention, pain management and quality of life. Our faculty members — nurses, basic scientists, bio-behaviorists, engineers and physicians — are conducting research in oncology, neuroscience, physiology and genetics.
 
Perhaps all this does not seem very dramatic in Hollywood. So, if it’s drama they are after, there is plenty of that, too. How about the women nurses who are leading the antitobacco initiative in China, where male physicians smoke openly in front of patients and where the state-owned China National Tobacco Corp., the largest tobacco company in the world, generates more than $77 billion in taxes and profits from its tobacco industry? Or how about the nurses in the rural villages of India who are being trained as front-line providers of HIV-AIDs care for previously neglected village women because doctors refuse to care for them?
 
UCLA, Yale, the University of Virginia and other major nursing schools in the United States are doing amazing work and achieving remarkable breakthroughs that will one day lead to disease prevention and the better management of chronic illness.
 
Recently the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Institute of Medicine released a report — “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” — that calls for new ways of conceptualizing the science and practice of nursing to meet the needs of an ever-changing health care system. Policy-makers, health leaders, and the clinical and scientific communities are already on board with this new image of nursing. It is time for the entertainment industry to catch up as well and recast its on-screen image of nursing to better reflect a profession that is making dramatic medical, scientific and social contributions to our society.
Media Contact