Media Messages about Nursing are Mixed


Posted to Nurse Safety, Nursing, Nursing News

Peter Kim –

How are nurses portrayed in the media? A group of researchers decided to find out, by examining the YouTube database to find the most viewed videos for “nurses” and “nursing” as of July 2010.

According to this article on, out of 96 videos surveyed, about 40% of them presented nurses as smart, educated, and skilled. The rest of them presented nurses as “a sexual plaything and a witless incompetent.”

This was found to be in keeping with other forms of mass media portrayals of nurses. The study indicates that these stereotypes are not merely annoying; they can have a real effect on how patients interact with the nurses who are caring for them. Nurses are highly-trained professionals who play a crucial role in American health care, yet these portrayals trivialize what they do and who they are.

The study authors suggest that the nursing profession harness the power of YouTube to promote a more positive image.

Key findings of the study, which appears in the August issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, included:

• The 10 most viewed videos reflected a variety of media, including promotional videos, advertising, excerpts from a TV situation comedy and a cartoon. Some texts dramatized, caricatured and parodied nurse-patient and interprofessional encounters.

• Four of the 10 clips were posted by nurses and presented images of them as educated, smart and technically skilled. They included nurses being interviewed, dancing and performing a rap song, all of which portrayed nursing as a valuable and rewarding career. The nurses were shown as a distinct professional group working in busy clinical hospitals, where their knowledge and skills counted.

• Nurses were portrayed as sexual playthings in media-generated video clips from the sitcom Frasier, a Virgin Mobile commercial set in a hospital, a lingerie advertisement and a “soft news” item on an Internet videocast. All showed the nurses as provocatively dressed objects of male sexual fantasies and willing accomplices in their advances.

• The final two clips were a cartoon that portrayed a nurse in an Alzheimer’s unit as dim and incompetent and a sitcom that showed the nurse as a dumb blonde, expressing bigoted and ignorant views about patients and behaving in a callous and unprofessional way.

“Despite being hailed as a medium of the people, our study showed that YouTube is no different [from] other mass media in the way that it propagates gender-bound, negative and demeaning stereotypes,” Fealy said. “Such stereotypes can influence how people see nurses and behave toward them.

“We feel that professional bodies that regulate and represent nurses need to lobby legislators to protect the profession from undue negative stereotyping and support nurses who are keen to use YouTube to promote their profession in a positive light.”