Negative Media Messaging Inaccurately Portrays Registered Nurses’ Roles

The way the media portrays certain healthcare professionals works a lot like advertising. The same people influenced by commercials or political ads also will be influenced by messaging about the conduct and role of healthcare professionals. Nursing is constantly portrayed inaccurately by several media outlets. The media’s negative portrayal of nurses continues to damage the public’s perception of these professionals, and as a result, some students do not understand or respect nursing as a profession and therefore do not consider it as a career.

These negative portrayals also influence public officials and other healthcare decision-makers. Their misunderstanding of the nursing profession leads to insufficient allocation of funds when it comes to nursing education, nursing research and the adequate staffing of nurses.

It is important to note that in some cases the media is not intentionally portraying nurses in a negative way. However, the problem is that the audience is still being influenced whether the negative messaging was intentional or not. The best way to put an end to this is to call out the common stereotypes that the media is perpetuating, and then show those stereotypes are inaccurate by displaying facts about registered nurses’ responsibilities.

Nursing Stereotypes

A few of the false stereotypes the media has popularized are that nursing is a career only for females, that nurses are would-be doctors who couldn’t finish med school, and that nurses work for doctors and must be at their beck and call.

However true those stereotypes may have been in the past, they now are outdated. They inaccurately portray the contemporary field of nursing.

Nursing is Solely a Female Profession: The field of nursing hasn’t always been dominated by females. In fact, the earliest nursing school on record, in India, was actually male dominated, according to It wasn’t until the late 1800s, when Florence Nightingale came into the spotlight, that the image for the modern day nurse as a female was established. The image established with Nightingale transformed nursing into an accepted and respected profession for women. However, the belief that women were naturally better at caring for the sick because they were more affectionate and caring than men became prevalent, establishing the female-only nurse stereotype and slowly forcing men out of the profession.

As time goes on, though, the percentage of male nurses has increased. Men made up 9.6% of the nursing profession in 2011, up from 2.7% in 1970, according to While nursing can still be classified as a female-dominated profession, it is evident that progress is being made.

Nurses Are Failed Doctors: Nurses sometimes are questioned about why they never became doctors, as if becoming a nurse wasn’t enough of a challenge. People forget that nursing is actually a career path that stands on its own. Nurses are not students who simply failed medical school. In fact, many nurses have no desire to become a physician at any time during their healthcare career.

This perception stems from the belief that a healthcare worker with significant knowledge and technical skills should be a physician, and that nurses must somehow be lacking these qualities. The truth, though, is that nurses are very knowledgeable and skilled healthcare professionals. By breaking down this particular nursing stereotype, more bright and motivated people could be persuaded to pursue a nursing career.

Nurses Work for Doctors: Working as a nurse isn’t about taking orders from a doctor all the time, but rather working alongside them with the common goal of providing quality patient care. Too often, nurses are referred to as “helpers” or “assistants” when, in reality, nursing stands alone as an autonomous profession.

All nurses answer to a unit manager. The unit manager hires and fires nurses, not a physician, according to The New York Times’ Well blog. While the constant communication of nurses and physicians is important as they work together, the management structure of many hospitals keeps nurses and doctors separate, treating them as independent coworkers.

The True Responsibilities of a Registered Nurse

Registered nurses are responsible for the daily care of patients. Nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, schools, medical offices, nursing homes, ambulatory care centers, community health centers, sporting events, homeless shelters and even prisons. Nurses frequently engage with their patients so that if signs of declining health appear, they can act fast and put their patients back on the path to recovery. Nurses many times play a huge role in the survival of their patients.

However, nursing isn’t just physical care. It’s also caring for the psychological and emotional health of patients. Nurses educate patients on how to care for themselves. They guide patients in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Nurses also can advocate for patients. If a physician suggests a certain procedure or medication that doesn’t seem like the best option or seems dangerous, nurses are obligated legally to speak up and suggest something else. This is why it is important to have the separation of power between physicians and nurses. It puts nurses in a position to help prevent physician error, which leads to better patient outcomes.


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