On March 26, 2019 Eric & Bill Teitelbaum, who write the Bottom Liners cartoon published in syndicated Tribune media that reaches many millions of people, showed a federal lawmaker on the phone assuring someone that “government-run healthcare won’t be that bad…voters get to keep the nurse practitioner of their choice.” One message, clearly, was that nurse practitioners (NPs) are just cut-rate physician substitutes. This is the same disinformation that many physician groups have long been spreading.
The cartoon exploits a false and damaging stereotype of nurse practitioners. Extensive research shows that the care of nurse practitioners (NPs) is at least as good as that of physicians. The vast majority of NPs have at least a masters degree in nursing, and increasingly the doctorate of nursing practice, along with many years of clinical experience.
In fact, expanding access to NP care has been critical to improving outcomes in underserved communities for decades. And the central role of NPs in the future of primary care was confirmed in the landmark Institute of Medicine report The Future of Nursing (2010).
But uninformed stereotyping of NPs has limited their ability to practice to the full extent of their ability, in addition to limiting the funds available for their education, residencies, and clinical practice. Public health research shows that fictional media has a real effect on health care views and actions. We know that the cartoon was a "joke," but jokes are a common delivery method for harmful messaging about targeted groups, including nurses. For example, studies show that disparagement humor directed at women increases acceptance of discrimination against them, normalizing it. Few people would accept "just joking" as an excuse for stereotyping of other groups.
Please ask Eric & Bill Teitelbaum and the Tribune company to make amends with a public apology and by working to educate the public about the true value of NP care. One good way to do that would be to print cartoons or other influential media depicting nurse practitioners as qualified, life-saving health professionals. The Truth About Nursing would be happy to assist them. And going forward, please ask them to avoid contributing to damaging stereotypes that undermine the efforts of nurses to get the resources they need to save lives.
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Soon, it is likely that the Tribune Agency will send you a response trying to justify their supposed "joke." We have also drafted a response to that.
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With striking examples and an irreverent style, Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All at Risk explores nursing stereotypes from TV shows to the news media, and it explains how these images affect real-life decisions about nursing. The book also offers a comprehensive plan to help everyone improve nurses' image--and public health.
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