The Negative Image Of Nursing In Media

Published 16 Jan 2017


This paper discusses the affect of the media on the public opinion about the professions of the nursing field practice. The writer claims that the media, in general, depicts a negative image due to the ignorance of the field. Much of the daily details that the nurses must do and do so above and beyond their limits remain behind the closed curtains and thus unknown to the public at large. To the contrary, evey and unique case of nurses criminals become sensationalized that, at the same time, create a certain image. To add, the traditional stereotype of the nursing as female and nurturing profession and its affect on the male practitioners are also discussed. The paper is concluded with the general description of the primary responsibilities that on the daily list of every nurse professional.

The discourse of any profession by the public media warps the accurate nature of it and creates the sense of ambiguity. Media reporters are known to use hyped adjectives to draw the public’s attention, and, as the result, their reports lack in clarity, are full of fuzziness, and double-meaning definitions. When the reporters attempt to describe any type of profession they either are doing so from manipulative causes, sensationalism, or a negative input/opinion.

It is a rare occasion when a media representative would report about a professional from the pure informational standpoint. The public life through the media becomes sensationalized; pure and accurate information does not bring ratings. Thus, the causes are more directed toward entertainment rather than information. Besides, representations of the media are too liberal, too critical, and too manipulative. Through the public’s reaction, the media is glorified and exaggerated.

The contemporary media presentation of nursing as an occupation warps the public image. The professional roles that are portrayed do not represent reality and often appear to be artificial. In general, stereotyping and media influence are responsible on how a typical consumer views people in occupation. The constant stream of negative occurrences shaped the model of the public image.

For example, Evans and Frank (2003) reported on the lopsided common opinion about the gender orientation in the nursing profession. They claim that the public image of the profession as being female dominated is primarily caused by the media input. In their argument, one can find that the lives of male nurses doing “women’s work” are often mentioned and if mentioned, such depiction is often cursory and broadcast a negative connotation. Indeed, it is difficult to locate the informational, experiential, and accurate depiction of the work of male nurses.

These particular authors interviewed eight male registered nurses to compare their opinions with the generally placed public image caused by the broadcast media.

Certainly, the media would not consider the advantages that male nurses would bring into the field, and quite to the contrary, the media would search for the negative aspects to sensationalize the participation of male workers in the field. According to Evans and Frank (2003), the media takes a snippet of negative experiences and cause a stereotypical perception through which the public views the whole field of practice.

The voices of those interviewed did reveal some peculiarities associated with the stereotyping: stereotypical view of nursing profession as the female-only field. Throughout their practice they perceived that nursing occupation is viewed as the extension of the domestic role of nurturing more so than that of the medical practice. Little the public knows how much effort and learning a male student of nursing must do in order to become a nurse. Much of this perception comes from the public media’s broadcast stereotypical views.

Certainly, media warps the public perception in almost every occupation, mostly from ignorance than from the arrogance (Barnett, 1996). However, the occupations, like nursing, that already suffer from the stereotypical perception (i.e. all nurses should be females because nursing is equivalent to nurturing) “get the double whamming.” (Grimes, 2006). Thus, the identity of the occupation becomes “spoiled” (aka: changed) with the consequences that come from the public reaction. The practitioners, who happen to be males feel this reaction very well with everyone – from patients to their administrators reminding them of the perceived gender roles, as far as occupation is concerned. They experience first suspicion that causes them the need to defend their position from the implications against their sexuality.

Here are the excerpts from the interviews:

Mateo: I’ve had guys laugh in my face when I told them what I did.

Camillus: I was too embarrassed to go back to my high school reunion as a nurse, so I stayed away.

Robin: I had this gentleman who was 80. I was making his bed and he said, isn’t that kind of a sissy thing?

Bruce: Reactions from strangers are interesting. “Oh, that’s interesting, do you enjoy it, what kind of nursing do you do?” One negative, “Why didn’t you become a doctor–aren’t you smart enough?” To which I responded, I have no desire to be a physician.

Even the statistics is not that flattering. Fifty one percent out of 127 male nurses surveyed in the state of Oklahoma reported that their acquaintances thought they were homosexuals (Evans and Frank, 2003 and Townsel, 1996). When asked what sources support that, they would typically respond that that opinion comes from the public media. These authors also noted a more disturbing pattern that after viewing the media productions featuring the male nurses, one in 20 male professionals doubts their own sexuality and one in eight admitted that they had problems with their female friends.

As Halter (2002) depicted, the majority of the public perception of the nurses in general (male and female) has been based on the sensational and thus erroneous illustration of the media productions. It is difficult for the public to know about the true and accurate accounts, which would display the courage and strength of professionals like Florence Nightingale who worked day and night (1854 to 1857) in miserable conditions saving men’s lives during the bloody Crimea War (Bashford, 1997). To make soldiers survive, Florence Nightingale dug into the most nitty-gritty chores and details to dramatically increase the prosperity of hospitals.

The media would not depict nurses like that brave women who jumped into the trenches to save lives of wounded. Similarly, thousands of nurses like her did the same job during any war of the recent history. The media does not desire to create a stereotype of bravery and self-surrender for the sake of saving lives. Instead, the public sees sensationalized nurses-murderers and cold-hearted sadists who like to inflict pain and abuse elderly (see also Timko, 2003).

How one can define the responsibilities of people involve in this profession? And who would do it better than nurses? Here was a quote from Australian writer, Bashford (1997) in regard what media shows and tells about women in this profession: “You think many of them are simply there to gain a livelihood? — I think so. The majority does not go there from the love of it? — I do not think it is from the love of nursing that the majority goes there. They have not taken it up as a profession? — Yes, they take it up as a profession; but there is a great advantage to them because they have shorter hours than they would have in domestic service, from which most of them come, and there is better position.”

And here is what the nurses themselves were saying about their choice, “We are not of trade, and therefore the eight hours question does not, and I hope never will, apply to nursing. We are professional women, and work for the benefit of mankind — not for twelve hours, but twenty-four if necessity arise … We have indeed fallen from the high standard of our great pioneer, Miss Nightingale, if we are going to use our votes from the very start for our own aggrandizement.”

Very few if any media features display or discuss the primary responsibilities of the professionals in this field. Thus public has little knowledge of what nurses have to do and practically no knowledge of what they really do when they go beyond the scope of their duties. Wolf (1988) just began naming their primary responsibilities, as in doing paper work, doing the phone calls, arranging and preparing medications, providing the direct care, handling their own patient load, assisting doctors, taking vital signs, daily hygienic routine, communicate with para-personnel, like lab technicians, administer medications, administer injections, administer and monitor IVs, prepare patients to take diagnostic tests, ordered medications, and the list goes on. The nurses’ ritual does not stop there and does not look the same from day to day.

It is obviously much more work than the public realizes or the media displays. Much of this work is not scripted thus the public media overlooks that work most of the time. In order for the public to reap the results from the professionalism and quality of the nursing professionals, media must become more accurate and share a good portion of the professional knowledge.


  • Barnett, M. (1996, May). Nurses Fight Back. The Progressive, 60, 13. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Bashford, A. (1997). Starch on the Collar and Sweat on the Brow: Self Sacrifice and the Status of Work for Nurses. Journal of Australian Studies, (52), 67+. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Dalrymple, T. (2001, May 28). Attack of the Killer Nurses: A Look at a Curious Phenomenon. National Review, 53,. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Evans, J., & Frank, B. (2003). Contradictions and Tensions: Exploring Relations of Masculinities in the Numerically Female-Dominated Nursing Profession. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 11(3), 277+. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Grimes, R. (2006). Changing Our Image. Journal of Environmental Health, 68(6), 4+. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Halter, M. J. (2002). Stigma in Psychiatric Nursing. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 38(1), 23+. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Timko, M. (2003, July). Florence Nightingale – Fantasy and Fact. World and I, 18, 284. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Townsel, L. J. (1996, September). Male Nurses: An Increasing Number Find Fulfillment and Security in Non-Traditional Field. Ebony, 51, 46+. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
  • Wolf, Z. R. (1988). Nurses’ Work: The Sacred and the Profane. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from Questia database:
Did it help you?