For many years, negative public perception on nursing still remains unchanged. One example of this is the stereotype that nursing is a job that should only be undertaken by women. What elevates the problem is the fact that the media has strengthened these stereotypes, consequently shaping the influence and perception that the public has towards the profession. This has affected both nurses and nursing students alike.

The negative images that the media has portrayed on nursing have affected the career in many ways. This is because the public will be influenced on the myths about nursing; subsequently, fewer people will choose nursing as their occupation and consumers will also not have the confidence to use nursing services.

Hence, it will become significantly difficult for the legislator to provide allocations in relation to scarce resources for nursing career and development. Over time, nurses’ self-image and self-confidence will also be negatively affected.

Correspondingly, a study by Takase in 2000 supported former nursing research that the stereotypical public image of nurses could negatively affect nurses’ self-esteem, job satisfaction and performance. In another study done in 2008, nursing scholars at the University of Dundee found that television images of nurses as “brainless, sex mad bimbos” has discouraged students to consider nursing as their profession. The situation is not improved by the fact that popular TV hospital dramas such as Gray's Anatomy and House feature over 20 characters who are physicians, but not one single nurse. 

Organising "image of the nurse" committee

Improving the image of nursing should be done in steps. The first step is to form a group of committee members within the healthcare institution; this committee is responsible for improving the image of nurses.

Apart from hospitals and community and healthcare agencies, nursing schools, local, state and national nursing associations are also potential areas to form a committee too. A more proactive action by national nurses association can be implemented through developing a group of professionals which could be named “Nurses for Media Change”.

Monitoring and responding to the media

After the committees have been established, the nursing group can begin to monitor the local or national media. It is crucial to recognise that all forms of media have the potential to shape the image of nursing to the public, such as television, radio, motion pictures, novels, newspapers and magazines. This requires the nursing personnel to do in-depth research to figure out the primary sources that contribute to public stereotypes.

A sensible response respective to the negative nurse’s portrayals by the media include writing letters of protest or praise to producers, directors, editors, writers, sponsors, advertisers and other individuals who are responsible.

Nurses can stay engaged about appropriate actions to take by exploring special media newsletters or new columns in nursing journals. For example, an international nursing journal called Nursing Times has provided a special column called “In the Media”, as a way of appraising the portrayals of nurses in the mass media.

Fostering an improved image

The image of nursing that the media portrays would not improve without the effort of nurse to foster positive images. Nursing conferences are the best medium for nurses to spread positive news and images of nursing.

In line with this effort, in 2013, one seminar was held by Malaysian Nurses Association (MNA) EXCO, entitled ‘Rebranding: Professional Image of Nurses’. Presenting former Director General of Health Malaysia Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Ismail Merican as one of the guest speakers, this seminar was run successfully.

To organise such seminars, nurses need to develop strong media contacts as well as learn the technical aspects of the media industry so that they can use their expertise for the advancement of the profession. In spite of conferences, other effective strategies include offering media consultation, giving awards and prizes to reward on media channels which share positive depictions of nurses and talk show programmes to present nursing issues to the public.

The media plays a vast role in disseminating news and current issues to citizens. Even though changes in the media have already begun, more proactive actions by the media is needed to broadcast positive portrayals of nursing and the changes will keep growing only if nurses make their opinions known and heard. MIMS

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