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Can we learn from the portrayal of nursing across the pond?


The observant of you may have noticed that I’ve been away for the past two issues of Nursing Times.

Meanwhile my editorial column has been ably penned by deputy news editor Steve Ford and practice and learning editor Ann Shuttleworth. My thanks to them.

I’ve been on holiday in America, and while over the other side of the Atlantic, I was really struck by how they view nursing as a profession. The oh-too-frequent commercial breaks in US television programmes and news channels were, for once, of interest to me because they contained advertisements encouraging people to train as a nurse. They also showed real nurses at work doing amazing jobs and having a huge impact on patients and hospitals.

The ads portray nurses as skilled, caring and most of all vital to healthcare as they help children cope with tests in paediatric wards and older people navigate their way through difficult conditions to achieve a better quality of life. OK, so the plots of these mini commercial dramas are a little bit “made for television movie” in style, but they do attract people to a nursing career, and make the public respect the profession just a little bit more.

To suggest that this wouldn’t work over here is a fallacy. Just think of the “use your head – teach” campaigns run by the Department of Education, and you can see how showing the positive side of a job can really inspire people to take up the challenge – or at the very least take notice. If we want the best people to become nurses or just inspire public confidence in nursing, it will take more than just a glamorous ad campaign – but it would certainly be a start. And in America, I think it reveals an underlying respect for the profession that many people just don’t hold over here.

I recently received a letter from a retired nurse bemoaning the negative views held about nurses – by government, their management, their patients and their peers. He believed that the profession could change all that, if strong nurses stood up for their rights and joined forces to show the face of nursing as powerful, professional and passionate. He’s right, although of course we all know that it’s not easy. Rome may not have been built in a day, but a good start for nursing is to maintain its pride and standards – yes, even in the face of adversity. No profession was ever taken seriously without taking itself seriously first.


Readers' comments (9)

  • Do you think it would be of any help if you stopped calling yourselves 'sisters?' Not only is it not gender-neutral, but it also conjures up the religious-order-heritage of nursing, and that's not a good thing. (Since women are seen as inferior in most religions, and in particular, Christianity).

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  • i wouldn't call anybody sister or nurse for that matter. people do actually have names which should be respectfully used. isn't that what name badges are for, or are they mainly there so that others know who to point a finger at? but then i do work in a developed and civilised European country.

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  • Jenny I absolutely agree wholeheartedly with you on this one. I have said this time and time again, especially in the excellent 'image of Nursing' series of articles, that our public image is vital to the future of our profession. All to often the topic is scoffed at by many who say 'there are more important things to think about', and fair enough there may be, but this issue has an impact on many much more important ones.

    I have seen first hand the image of Nurses in America, and Australia too, and they are regarded as highly prized, skilled professionals. They are respected. That is not only reflected in the morale, recruitment and retention, but also in the wages and working conditions (just look at the Nurse/patient ratio in Oz for example).

    Compare that to over here in 'good' old blighty. Just look at how our profession is being walked all over and trodden on left right and centre. It is about time there is a fundamental change in our profession, and this is where it should start.

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  • Also, as for your specific soundbite 'if we want more people to become Nurses', you are right that this is only a start. Decent working conditions, status and a wage that reflects the degree and beyond educated, highly skilled professionals that we are would be better.

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  • Having had experience of being nursed in the US at first hand I would say that the postive images portrayed by the adverts are not enitely borne out in practce. How about nurses with long nails painted scarlet, failure to provide information or support or even to talk civilly to patients for starters? Luckily my experience was brief but it certainly didn't offer any significant improvements or benefits over similar care provided in the UK.

    That said positive images are needed but nurses themselves are the best advertisement for the profession - when they behave in compassionate and professional ways. Mike's comments above would certainly provide some incentive.

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  • a big diference between the stalanist NHS and the rest of the work(private or public healthcare) is the ability to have a career and reward that match..
    In the NHS you all get paid the same.
    rising up a scale is fine in principle,but just try it!
    the idea of timeserved has to go.
    Why cant a nurse be hired with skills that demand entry at the highest pay point?
    why is non nhs experience so hated?
    why spend so much time and energy on country specific qualis that simply debar those from outside the system - its racist and an afront to meritocracy.
    or do we not want a meritocracy in our profession?

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  • Excellent suggestion from Jennie. This needs to be led by nurses for nurses - shifting the views currently held by themselves and others in a positive way. A campaign approach is perfect for changing perceptions and with good story telling can be very powerful. With respect to names - there is something reassuring for patients in calling their cater nurse and knowing the Sister / or Charge nurse is in charge. When there is a mutual respectful relationship then first names can help to turn a professional cared into a friend. This usually works for long term conditions.

    The most important thing at this time is to go on the charm offensive not the angry defensive. We have a choice to care, a choice to smile, a choice to gently touch and simply be there for those so vulnerable.

    Let's have hope.

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  • I agree with Jenni completely so where and when do we start? Who will co-ordinate? Will Nursing Times take control and drive this forward?

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  • I was born, raised, and lived in UK until the 1981...U.S. citizen since then but back to UK frequently to family. I'm therefore culturally aware of both sides of the Atlantic. Have a Bachelors degree with honors and a certification in a specialty. Let me enlighten my dear coworkers in the NHS diverse work history is mainly related to seeking a field where the nursing staff are respected, appropriately paid, and are able to give quality care to the patients. IT DOES NOT HAPPEN HERE EITHER. The almighty dollar and the egocentric corporations and administrators treat us as commodities and our licenses are on the line on a daily basis. Even in this current economic fallout, there is supposedly a "shortage of nurses" actuality, the problem is all the above plus wages have not kept up with inflation for many years.There is also a glass ceiling for the profession set by the powerful, covert, corporate collusion. Our society reflects the global condition of the big players having complete power of the people who actually do the work. As one viewer on a U.S. TV coverage of the 2008 financial meltdown stated....our ID numbers are our "slave numbers" for employers. Greed is the name of the game - the corporations are not satisfied with making millions....profit has to make the billions irregardless of the cost to quality in any industry. Unfortunately, as nurses, the product is life threatened. Regards to the old country from "just another burned out nurse".

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