The character of Nurse Ratched in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a classic stereotype of the nurse as battle axe. Other classic stereotypes, according to a July 2009 article in the New York Times, are the nurse as ministering angel and the nurse as sex object. Although a stereotype can help you quickly identify something, it’s also quite likely to give an incomplete picture. In the case of nursing, stereotypes can affect people’s perceptions of the profession in very negative ways.
The Nurse as Sex Object
The image of the nurse as a sex object has been a longstanding problem, according to an October 2008 article in “Eureka Alert.” A review of 280 films produced around the world between 1900 and 2007 showed that nurses were depicted as sex objects in 26 percent of the films. Portraying nurses as sex objects can increase the risk of sexual harassment by patients, family members and other medical professionals, according to a May 2011 article at UCLA Today.
Physicians and Nursing Tasks
Modern media tend to show physicians performing nursing tasks, according to the UCLA Today article. Physicians are shown spending time with patients, performing triage, checking intravenous medications or defibrillating a patient in cardiac arrest -- all tasks more likely to be performed by nurses in the real world. These portrayals may heighten the dramatic effect, but many people know little or nothing about how hospitals function other than what they see in the media. The inaccurate or inadequate information can have an effect when it comes to education; the article reports that federal funding for nursing residency programs averages $1 for every $375 spent on physician residency programs.
Female vs. Male
Another classic stereotype about nursing is that all nurses are female. This is one of the few stereotypes that has some basis in fact. The Bureau of Health Professions at the Health Resources and Services Administration reports that as of 2008, 96 percent of nurses were female. However, in some areas of nursing, men are present in much higher numbers. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists notes that 40 percent of certified registered nurse anesthetists are men.
The Real Story
Nurses are highly educated professionals who function autonomously and in collaboration with physicians and other health-care professionals. They may have advanced degrees and perform what were once physician functions, such as delivering babies or giving anesthesia. Nurses are usually supervised by other nurses, not physicians. Nursing is the largest healthcare profession, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and is among the highest-paying large occupations. There are more than four times as many RNs in the United States as physicians, according to the AACN.
- The New York Times: Why Nurse Stereotypes Are Bad for Health
- Bureau of Health Professions at the Health Resources and Services Administration: The Registered Nurse Population
- American Association of Nurse Anesthetists: Nurse Anesthetists at a Glance
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Nursing Fact Sheet
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.