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'To win a serious role, you must be taken seriously'


Nurse Jackie, the American show airing on BBC every Saturday, features the eponymous character who can’t get through a shift without recreational drugs.

She tends to get her stash from the hospital, so she’s a thief as well. Plenty of other television programmes portray nurses as unfeeling, workshy, substance-abusing nymphomaniacs.

In last week’s Nursing Times, Sandy and Harry Jacobs Summers said it was up to nurses to make the media show the profession in a better light. But the image of nursing is a difficult one. Even nurses don’t agree on it. Some are uncomfortable with being termed “angels”, while others are happy to have the label.

The nursing world is diverse. Nurses don’t even all wear the same clothing or use the same equipment. Even the stethoscope on this week’s cover may not say “nurse” to some, while others will see it as a relevant symbol. Nurses do not have a standard job description, standard responsibilities or standard places of work.

Some nurses want to take on an increased responsibility for decision-making under the NHS reforms. Nursing Times has been campaigning to ensure nurses have a place on commissioning consortia. If you haven’t signed our petition already, sign it today.

A seat on the board campaign

  • Mission:To ensure nurses are actively involved in the new commissioning consortia and represented on all boards.
  • How do I sign? Click here and add your name today.
  • Follow: @Aseatontheboard

Nurses stood up for these rights at King’s College London’s Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery breakfast last week. Health minister Anne Milton was given an emotional account of how the government’s reforms were seeing the “haemorrhaging” of several “excellent” nurse commissioners from PCTs. They claimed many GPs would wield their power and try and keep nurses out of decision-making.

To be taken seriously, nurses need the media to appreciate their value and portray them as intelligent professionals - as they do with GPs. We’ll be sending our campaign to national newspapers to ensure they understand how vital nursing is to the procurement of care in the NHS, so sign today to show your support.


Readers' comments (7)

  • Absolutely agree. And while you are contacting the media, make sure they understand the exact vital role we play within the NHS. There IS no care system in whatever form, without us. They need to understand the highly qualified, skilled and accountable job that we do in extremely difficult and stressful circumstances.

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  • Natalie Jewell

    I don't fit any of those categories: workshy, substance abusing etc. But I am most definitely a nurse. I'm no angel, but I do care about the standard of work I do. I tend to consider myself enthusiastic, passionate and pretty dynamic but even I have recently started to despair.

    There have been many changes locally where I work in the past few years, a common one being merging of clinics. While this has resulted in me joining an amazing team, we have lost staff hours. At the same time demographic changes have seen our caseloads grow. Better knowledge about patient rights and fears in interdisciplines about negligence have resulted in increased referrals. I'm sure my speciality isn't the only one where managers have asked nurses to expand their role beyond what they were previously doing.

    It all feels very serious where I am standing. I am exhausted from all the demands placed on me and I fear that the quality care I learned about in university has been forgotten about in the midst of budgets and time constraints. It leaves me wondering why patient-centred care seem idealistic?

    The only solution I can see is that we need some strong nurse leaders at the helm.

    So come on nurses - STAND UP AND BE COUNTED!

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  • Natalie Jewell

    Well said Mike!

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  • I think that's where our power of leverage is Mike, there is no care service without us. We have to be taken seriously and persuaded to be on board. To do that terms have to be amended.

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  • Well said Natalie and Mike. Natalie, I think that your comments reflect the mood amongst many nurses. We don't want to be called angels, but we want to be able to do the work we care about effectively and without the increasing number of barriers piling up before us. Too many ill-advised changes taking place too quickly and without proper consultation. Mike, as always, screaming out for nurses and their unions to use our unique position, "There IS no care system in whatever form, without us.", to ensure that our views and ideas are used in the future of the NHS. As for Nurse Jackie? The show may not portray the profession in the best light, but the doctors, and for that matter, almost all the characters don't come out of it too well either. However, it is very very funny......and one thing that we as nurses hold dear is our sense of humour!

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  • Nurse Jackie is a light hearted TV show that not only shows a drug taking nurse but also money and image obsessed doctors.

    I don't see doctors up in arms! Why? They feel secure about their profession and stick together to protect each other.

    If we feel so insecure about the image of nursing that a TV show has such an adverse effect on us. Then perhaps we need to reconsider our 'image of self'.

    A UK version of Nurse Jackie will hopefully be produced in the near future.

    As for the image of nursing....
    - Stop moaning about our conditions without taking any action.
    - Be proud to be a nurse - it is an excellent profession with many opportunities.
    - Take pride in your work and smile at work (I visited a friend in hospital last week, the nurses looked like they needed some of Nurse Jackie's drugs)
    - Move with the times, nursing has evolved and is advancing - welcome to 2011.

    Nurses make a real difference to healthcare and have a profound impact on the clinical outcome of many patients.

    We all have our own perception of other professions - in and out of healthcare.
    Teachers - always on holiday???
    Cabin Crew - waitress in the sky??
    Politicians - ????
    Car mechanics - always trying to rip you off???

    Keep up the good work, be proud to say "I am a nurse", be happy and DON'T TAKE DRUGS!

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  • Anonymous | 9-Apr-2011 2:17 pm I agree with you up to a point, and I do see what you are saying.

    As for the image of Nurses, I'm afraid that in this media obsessed society, what people see on TV/media does directly translates into how they view us as a profession. It is wrong and unfortunate, but it happens.

    On any soap/daytime drama/whatever where Nurses are portrayed, they are often done so at best as useless and servile, staying silent in the background and capable of nothing more than pouring a jug of water. At worst, they are the sex crazed drug addicts, with nothing more important to do than run after Doctors or steal the drug stock. In documentaries or programmes where medical opinions are sought, it is only ever a Doctor who can offer valuable opinions of course, no one could ever dream of asking a Nurse, could they?

    Unfortunately this affects how the public see us as a profession, and affects how they interact with us as professionals. This is why many people hold opinions that Nurse led walk in centres could never possibly deal with whatever illness/injury they have, this is why people ask to see a Doctor or a GP because the Nurse isn't important enough to offer an opinion. I'm sure many of us have come across attitudes like this? (I am not saying everyone thinks like this, but the attitude IS out there in many people).

    It also affects how our profession is treated both by our peers and by the government. The truth is we ARE seen as inferior to Doctors, we ARE seen as expendable whenever budgets need cutting. This is why our pay levels are nowhere near what they should be, this is why the government cuts our effective pay with freezes, threatens our pensions and increments, forces us to endure substandard working conditions with far fewer staff than we need. Do I need to go on?

    What people are saying is that there are no representations on TV or otherwise to balance this image out. Yes, there is room for lighthearted fun, yes there is room for some of the images out there, but we need balance too. You don't see Doctors or other professions 'up in arms' as you say, because THEY have balance. Everyone knows what a physician does and respects the profession despite any negative image on a TV show. In general, a large part of the public barely realise what we do.

    We need drama's/soaps/etc to portray Nurses as the competent, highly skilled professionals that they are. We need Documentaries etc to hold a Nurses opinion in as high a regard as a Doctors. It isn't as if we do not have the education, skill or
    qualifications to back this belief up.

    WE know 'Nurses make a real difference to healthcare and have a profound impact on the clinical outcome of many patients', WE know how skilled and qualified we are, but the truth is, many of the general public do not. This needs to change. When it does, our profession will truly be able to move forward and take it's place at the helm of the future of the NHS.

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