Portraits of a Nurse and the #MeToo movement by Joan Viscardi RN, BSN CEO/CNO
In preparation for Nurses Week, I had so many thoughts come to mind. Who becomes a nurse? What does the public think about us as a profession? How are we portrayed?
I began by searching images of nursing and while I did chuckle at some, I remain horrified at others. It is no wonder that there was a nursing shortage. And, it is no wonder it took so long for the #MeToo movement to arrive.
From the ads, it appeared that “all” that was needed to be a nurse was, well… to be a young lady, attractive, “Barbie” like, and white. It was a profession that would find you a handsome doctor or even patient to marry.
I can still hear my own mother, back in the 70’s saying to me, “Why don’t you become a nurse, you might marry a nice rich doctor.” Or, “you could travel to exotic places and learn something.”
In the male-dominated field of medicine, in the 70’s and 80’s, being a proper young lady meant you were quiet, respectful, and often submissive. I learned that at home and in my training. Few empowered me to rise above the ole image of a nurse bending over backwards for the physician or patient. From physicians’ inappropriate comments and propositions to the whispers and exposure of male patients, I had to learn to navigate that territory on my own. But, looking at hundreds of images, it is easy to understand how that idea was portrayed.
But, it was an ad done in 2004 by Skechers that really stunned me. It was only 14 years ago. In many regions of the country and world, the height of the nursing shortage. Hard to imagine why an image of a nurse would be needed to sell sneakers. Isn’t a sexy Christina Aguilera enough? I guess not.
Well, times are changing. I can only answer these questions for myself. I became a nurse to give of myself; my heart, my soul, my spirit and my intelligence, Yes, intelligence, something missing from each of these ads. To those still wondering, I did not want to become a physician. But more than that, I did not go into nursing to serve the physician. I went into it and remain true to serving the patient. I hope the nurses that I mentor and work with agree that it is a profession of independence and collaboration. It is a give and take. I hope those that those considering it as a profession see it as it should be seen.
Thank you to all the nurses, nursing educators, and nursing organizations who promote the profession for equal opportunity. Thank you for abandoning the portrayal of the nurse as a specific race or gender. To all nurses in practice now, I encourage you to be a mentor, to share your experiences. Empower those around you. Raise awareness of our specialty and our significant impact on the patient and the health care industry. Portray the right image.
To VR’s nurses, be who you are- it is why we honor you this week and thank you.