As any nurse will tell you, the images the media portray through our televisions sets about hospital life are completely exaggerated. One moment you see a physician shocking a flat-lining patient, the next they’re dealing with a seizure, all while prescribing medicine and hanging IV-drip bags. The role of the nurse is far less flattering, and sometimes degrading.
In medical dramas like ER, Gray’s Anatomy and House, nurses mostly serve as eye candy and love interests, or are entirely subservient to the doctors themselves. In many other shows, nurses are figures of ridicule and also powerless characters that just drift into the hospital background. Although medical dramas and their storylines are highly romanticised to get the highest amount of viewers, sadly the nurse stereotype has made the jump from fiction to reality.
Over the last ten years, media research has shown that entertainment television, medical dramas especially, have had a clear and lasting effect on the way the public view nurses. These shows are a source of personal healthcare information, and many of the storylines rarely provide specific or intricate detail on conditions such as cancer, HIV or heart disease.
Ultimately, the viewer is subjected to a generalised view of a nurse’s role, and how they cope with patients that have debilitating conditions. In particular, research shows that the portrayal of nurses’ personal lives and how they clashes with patient care quality, euthanasia and many other sensitive ethical subjects, also impacts the perception of viewers. Combining this stereotyped understanding with news coverage of the NHS, viewers are left with a very warped and distorted opinion of the nurses that staff our hospitals.
In actual fact, the way the media stereotype a career in nursing couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s not just the NHs that’s facing a staff shortage. Even by the well-educated members of society, the work of the modern-day nurse is completely misunderstood, and the deficit is affecting healthcare on a worldwide scale. Contrary to belief, nursing is a detailed scientific field, and these dedicated men and women vastly improve patients’ quality of life and care every day.
One of the main causes of the nursing shortage is the vast gap between what the public think nurses do, and what nurses actually have to cope with. Apart from their working conditions being less than adequate, the short staffing can also be linked to a lack of resources for nursing research, inadequate education for nurses and also an aging workforce. Furthermore, nurses have also been failed by the lack of extended career opportunities, the new complexities of technology in healthcare and the predominantly female nature of nursing.
Studies have shown that the lack of skilled nurses in our hospitals is having a significant impact of the mortality of patients; the nursing shortage is literally costing lives. How can nurses deliver the same level of care to every patient when they haven’t got the education, the resources or the time – many nurses work 12 hour shifts. If the stereotype of the modern day nurse is to be confronted, there needs to be the same level of patient-care education made available to the public as well as the nurses. The re-education of the public is vital to the sustainability of our healthcare system, and in order to achieve this realistic perception of the nurse, the media must stop spoon-feeding society a false and distorted reality of this highly important service.