Media Portrayals of Nurses Positive or Negative Essay

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Media portrayals of nurses and the nursing profession influences public perceptions. In fact, many viewers will have spent more time watching fictionalized accounts than actual interactions with nurses. Media portrayals affect how nurses are treated, and how their roles and status are negotiated in their professional life. Some of the most problematic portrayals of nurses on film and television include the show Scrubbing In, which depicts nurses as “self-centered, uncaring, unprofessional, and unintelligent,” (Berkowitz, n.d., p. 1). The negative view of nurses as coldhearted extends also from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in which Nurse Ratchett is one of the main antagonists.

Nurses have alternatively been positioned in subordinate roles, without reference to their education, training and competencies (Muehlbauer, 2012). In some media accounts, nurses are turned into sexual fetishes or in a “demeaning role,” (Talesnik, 2015). The situation may even be worse for male nurses, highlighting gender disparities. For example, one study shows that “very few films showed male nurses as being masculine, clinically competent, or self-confident,” (“How Nurses Are Portrayed in Film and Television,” 2014, p. 1). When nurses are portrayed in unrealistic and subordinate positions in the media, patients and colleagues may internalize those stereotypes and behave accordingly.

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The negative stereotypes on film and television may be fueling the current nursing shortage as fewer children see nursing as a viable, rewarding, or high status profession (Muehlbauer, 2012). The ramifications of negative depictions of nurses also include a toxic work environment and unsupportive organizational culture.

Positive portrayals of nurses in film and television have been emerging to counteract decades of negative stereotypes. In 2001, the Center for Nursing Advocacy developed the Golden Lamp awards, given to “the best and worst depictions of nurses,” and lobbying for change through direct activism targeting film, television, and commercial advertising producers (Cohen, 2007, p. 1). The efforts to change the image of nursing have been somewhat successful, with far fewer overt depictions of nurses as being weak or subordinate. To counteract the influence of the media, it may be necessary for nurses to engage more in public relations and media campaigns of their own that depict themselves in diverse roles. Including more male nurses in media imagery will also help to reduce gender disparities in the profession. Nurses can get involved more with the media, being active through letter-writing campaigns and reaching out to journalists.


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Berkowitz, B. (n.d.). Nurses in the media. Columbia University School of Nursing.

Cohen, S. (2007). The image of nursing. American Nurse Today.

“How Nurses Are Portrayed in Film and Television,” (2014). Medical Bag.

Muehlbauer, P.M. (2012). How can we improve the way the media portrays the nursing profession? Voice Ons.

Talesnik, D. (2015). Scholar-activist challenges media stereotypes of nurses. NIH Record.

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