Perceptions of Nursing and Midwifery

What role does the media play in the perception of nursing?

I was recently luck enough to speak at our local Cancer conference around the subject of perceptions of nursing.  For the presentation I chose to look more closely at the topic of perception itself, why do we see things the way we do and how is that perception formed?  It’s a area I’ve spoken about many times before as I find it truly fascinating; the thought that our view of the world can be so different to those around us is both intriguing and also deeply worrying.

Who hasn’t left a meeting to discover that a colleague has listened to the same discussion but has a completely different take on what was said?  Who’s read an email and interpreted it differently to how the sender intended?  Who’s been asked to comment on their wives dress and apparently managed to relay some negative views they didn’t even know they had!

The way we interpret or perceive the world around us differs greatly, its formed from our own views, beliefs, experiences, and knowledge.  Its built up from what we see, know and hear, all of which is individual to us.  How we perceive things can be influenced by the things around us, whether we realise it or not.

So whys this important?  It’s important because how we as a people perceive nursing is partly influenced by what we see of nursing.  For those of us on the ground, this may be a fair, true representation of our profession.  But for those not working the wards or from within a hospital, where do they get their image of nursing from?

Predominantly that image comes from the media, from both TV and the movies.  How nursing is portrayed in those settings embeds itself to people’s minds and influences their perception of Nursing.  So how are we represented in those forums? 

I would ask that you think of your favourite medical programme, then name a nurse…..  Many of you, particularly those who watch predominantly American shows I suspect will struggle with this, if you can grab a name from the ether I would ask that you think of how they were portrayed, or what their main storylines were?  Most I would suggest will centre on relationships with medics or their career progression, that of leaving nursing to become a Doctor.

Some of you may recall the sexualised view of nursing given in the Carry On movies; some may even remember the main nurse from M.A.S.H, “Hot lips”…..  Representations like these lead the public to perceive nursing as almost a “fantasy” profession, one in which the staff seem to become objects of male desire rather than professional care providers.

How about male nurse representation?  Who can forget the “Meet the parents” series of huge big budget Hollywood films, seen by millions.  The main character was clearly identified as a male nurse and thus ridiculed constantly for his profession, and just in case the audience didn’t get the joke, they chose to name him Gay Lord.

The point im making is that for many, this becomes nursing, this stereotypical view or misrepresentation becomes linked in the public minds, it forms part of their expectations when seeing a nurse.  To be frank it damages us as individuals and also greatly harms our profession.

We need more programmes that show the public what we really do, we need more shows that present the reality of working in the NHS, and we need more positive representations of nurses on the screen.  In the UK we are bucking the trend somewhat, we have some exceptional Hospital shows, we have the outstanding meet the midwives series and many more, and as a male nurse I have the role model of Saint Charlie to always fall back on.  Sadly though, from watching my own kids these are not the kind of programmes they like to view, their tastes seem to centre on American drama programmes such as House or ER.  I myself enjoy shows like the Good Doctor, however once again I couldn’t name any nurse from that series.

My concern then is if these shows form our perception of nursing, how do we influence what shows are being viewed?  What do people really want to switch on to?  The real life warts and all trials and tribulations of working in the ED? Or Barbra Windsor in a tight skirt fornicating over the Doctor?

 I hope it’s the first, but I worry it’s the latter.

So how do we change these damaging misrepresentations of nursing?  How do we ensure the public’s perception of Nursing is a positive one, one that truly reflects the amazing, life changing work we all do?  The work that the “Perceptions of Nursing” ambassadors are doing is a great step in the right direction.  They are tackling misconception, challenging poor representation and focusing on delivering a positive image of nursing to School age Children and the general public alike.  If you’re not already an ambassador then I urge you to join the fight, take up a challenge and help shape how nursing is viewed in the UK, if we all work together and challenge poor perception at every opportunity we can and will make sure that what we see on screen reflects what we see on the wards, outstanding, caring, compassionate, professional nurses.

What inspired you to write this blog?

Delivering a presentation at a Cancer Conference made me consider the topic further.

What is your role?

Matron, Cancer Services

What are your nursing and/or midwifery qualifications?

Masters in Practice Development

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