How the Public's View of Nurses Has Impacted the Nursing Profession

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The naughty nurse, the battle axe, doctor’s hand maiden, sex objects or self-sacrificial angels (Stanley 2008); these names are all synonymous with popular stereotypes of a nurse. The public’s image has had an impact on nursing from the Crimean war era to present day in the 21st century. If nursing is to grow as a profession it has to meet a number of challenges due to society’s attitudes. This is an important issue for contemporary nursing. I feel the most pertinent of challenges nurses have is oppression in society. There are multiple causes for this oppression; the lack of power and control in nursing (Roberts 2000). The poor public image generated by the media’s representation. Nurses themselves lack a public “voice” that describes the contribution of nursing to patient care (Roberts 2000). Finally, the debate over whether nursing should gain status as a professional body. The lack of clarity regarding specific advantages…lead the authors to question: Is professional status a desired state for nurses (Cutcliffe & Wieck 2007)? These are the pertinent issues that will be analysed and debated throughout the remainder of the essay. In order to substantiate claims of oppression in nursing we must first define oppression. Oppressed group- a subordinate group that learns to hate themselves and their attributes because the dominant group is able to set the norms for what is valued. This dominant group will define roles for the subordinate which will usually involve services that the dominant group does not want to provide (Roberts 2000).

Many nurses feel disempowered and helpless when they think about the status of their profession. Many have difficulty accepting that persons other than nurses make many of the decisions that are critical to their work.... and the ability to perform their jobs adequately (Seago 2006). These feelings often lead to denial and hostility, often towards their fellow nurses or “horizontal violence” and “blaming the victim” within the group. These are also characteristics of an oppressed group (Seago 2000). The problem really lies in our basic medical-surgical units, which is where the bulk of nurses in this country work. There, not only do nurses devalue themselves, but the system devalues them by assigning one nurse to care for eight to 12 acutely ill patients. It's like Susan Reverby said: We care in a society that refuses to value caring.

Another area where nursing oppression and powerlessness has been demonstrated is with the public’s image and stereotyping. The media has tremendous power in its ability to affect the public’s perceptions of health care and yet, within these stories nurses continue to be perceived by the public in a predominately stereotypical manner (Dockeiy & Bams 2005).

In the late 1800’s, in Ireland and much of the world, the nurse had the social status of a domestic servant, and in the public mind nursing amounted to little more than a specialized form of charring (Fealy 2004). As published by, Inug 1930, p.2, by the 1900’s nursing was reforming, and next to motherhood, nursing was the noblest of occupations for women. Noble, yes but still not perceived as professionals in their own right. To be considered a good nurse by a doctor or patient, they had to obey doctor’s orders with efficiency, skill, kindness and patience. Some in the medical profession propagated the idea that university education was not appropriate for nurses and it would threaten recruitment of the trained nurse.

The late 1900’s, new nursing models claimed greater professional autonomy. The good nurse ideal was being replaced by one that valued knowledge, education, competence, and confidence (Fealy 2004). Unfortunately nurses were alone in their awareness of this new more autonomous role, as depicted by McCarthy 1990; the public still believed that nurses did what they were told to do by doctors. Even today, for both males and...
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