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Guardian criticised for 'outdated' portrayal of nurses as doctors' assistants

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A national newspaper has today admitted its description of nurses as doctors’ assistants was out of step with the realities of the role after coming under fire from the profession.

The Guardian was accused of perpetuating “outdated” stereotypes of nursing in an article it published on its website on Friday as part of its university guide for 2020.

“Gone are the days of registered nurses being doctors’ handmaidens”

Danielle Tiplady

Illustrated with a picture of a woman in scrubs preparing a patient’s meal, the nursing and midwifery subject profile said: “During your studies you’ll learn what’s needed to assist doctors and help patients and families with their healthcare needs.”

Nurses turned to social media site Twitter over the weekend to criticise the piece and to call for what they deemed to be “inaccuracies” to be corrected.

After being made aware of the backlash by Nursing Times today, The Guardian has edited the wording of the article and accompanying picture to “give a more accurate description of nursing studies”.

The U-turn comes as leaders take action to update the public image of nursing in order to raise its status amid fears nurses were too often undervalued and limited from working at their full potential.

Just last week, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said changing the perception of nursing was “fundamental” to delivering his future vision for the NHS and closing staffing gaps.

Reacting to The Guardian story, registered nurse Danielle Tiplady said: “Gone are the days of registered nurses being doctors’ handmaidens.

“Whoever wrote this at The Guardian needs to do some in depth reading and bring themselves up to date with what we do,” she added.

A registered learning disability nurse, whose name was given only as Marina, branded the article “completely outdated and just plain wrong”.

“Unless nurses challenge these stereotypes - little changes”

Ellen Nicholson

“It does nothing to encourage people to study the subjects, and perpetuates stereotypes,” she said.

The Athena SWAN gender equality team at the University of Glasgow’s school of medicine, dentistry and nursing said there was “quite a few things wrong” with the image of nursing portrayed.

“Your description of nursing seriously underestimates the [very] technical and challenging jobs they do working side by side with medical staff in addition to their caring role,” it said.

David Ferran, a registered nurse from Belfast, said: “And we wonder why so many people don’t know what we do/why we need degrees.”

The WeStudentNurses group made comparisons with the storm that erupted after nurse Jessica Anderson was denied a world record for running the 2019 London Marathon in scrubs and not a dress.

The Guinness World Records overturned its decision after nurses launched a campaign on Twitter showing what they actually wear to work, using the #WhatNursesWear hashtag.

“We realise our choice of language didn’t properly reflect the demands of the nursing profession”

Guardian spokesman 

Following The Guardian article, WeStudentNurses called for “another united Twitter campaign” called #WhatNursesDo.

“Guardian, you have attracted the wrath of student nurses and nurses nationwide on this article,” it added.

Meanwhile, primary care nurse lecturer, Ellen Nicholson, encouraged nurses to email The Guardian and explain why the description was wrong.

“Unless nurses challenge these stereotypes - little changes,” added Ms Nicholson.

The edited version of The Guardian article now reads: “During your studies you’ll learn how to deliver care and support for patients with a range of healthcare needs.”

A spokesman for Guardian News & Media said: “We are always grateful for feedback from Guardian readers and realise our choice of language didn’t properly reflect the demands of the nursing profession.

“The article and accompanying image have since been amended to give a more accurate description of nursing studies,” he added.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • One minute we are so high and mighty we deny that one of our roles is actually supporting the medical staff..... team work, the next we seem quite happy to accept that the role of the RGN can be usurped by that of the nurse associate. Is there any wonder we are taken advantage of by the government and also our own nursing hierarchy.

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  • Nurses now are educated to a very high standard but in community this is not recognised, there is a lack of respect from GP’s but worse from our managers who don’t support decisions and do anything to avoid a complaint. Staff becoming very disillusioned.

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