Nurse stereotypes

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A woman wearing a "hot nurse" outfit displays the stereotype of sexualized female nurses

A stereotype is a generalized idea or image about a particular person or thing that is often oversimplified and offensive.[1] Stereotypes are victim of prejudice when negative portrayals of a group are untrue of individual members.[clarification needed][2] Nursing has been stereotyped throughout the history of the profession. A common misconception[citation needed] is that all nurses are female; this has led to the stereotype of male nurses as effeminate.[3][4] These generalized ideas of the nursing profession have formed a skewed image of nurses in the media. The image of a nurse projected by the media is typically of a young white single female being over-sexualized as well as diminished intellectually; this idea is then portrayed in get-well cards, television shows and novels.[5] The over-sexualized nurse is commonly referred to as a naughty nurse and is shown as a sex symbol or nymphomaniac.[6][7] Along with these common stereotypes, studies have identified several other popular images used in media such as handmaiden, angel, torturer, homosexual male, alcoholic, buffoon and woman in white.[8] Common stereotypes of nursing and portrayal of these misconceptions have fueled a discussion on the effects they have on the profession, harmful or good.

Angel as a model nurse[edit]

The lady with the lamp — Miss Nightingale at Scutari in 1854 painted by Henrietta Rae

The image of a nurse as a ministering angel was promoted in the 19th century as a counter to the then image of a nurse as a dissolute drunk, exemplified by Dickens' Sarah Gamp. The model nurse in this image was moral, noble and religious, like a devout nun—chaste and abstemious—rather than an unpleasant witch. Her skills would be practical and her demeanour would be stoic and obedient. Florence Nightingale promoted this image because, at the time, the idea of having female nurses attending the British army fighting the Crimean war was controversial, being thought immoral and revolutionary.[9]

Harmful effects[edit]

The media has a strong influence on public views, shaping the way the public values and treats professions in healthcare.[10] In the book, "Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal Nurses Puts Us All At Risk" the authors Sandy Summers and Harry Jacobs discuss the many ill effects of the common stereotypes and how those are presented in today's media.[11] The authors argue that offensive stereotypes such as handmaidens as well as sexual stereotypes leads media to overlook how important nurses are in healthcare, which generates a lack of respect. This disrespect and ignorance puts lives at risk because it hinders the job of the nurse, which in most cases is to save lives. The media projections of nurses can not only damage the respect from patient to nurse, or colleague to nurse, but can also impact the pride of the individual nurse. This could potentially lead a nurse to believe that they truly are working for a physician rather than with them, it could also discourage a nurse from standing their ground or demanding respect.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Stereotype: Define Stereotype at". Random House, Inc. Retrieved April 5, 2016. 
  2. ^ Ferns, Terry; Chojnacka, Irena (2005). "Nursing stereotypes: Angels, swingers, matrons and sinners" (PDF). British Journal of Nursing. doi:10.12968/bjon.2005.14.19.19947. Retrieved April 6, 2016. 
  3. ^ Christine L. Williams (1991), "Masculinity in Nursing", Gender differences at work: women and men in nontraditional occupations, University of California Press, p. 107, ISBN 978-0-520-07425-5 
  4. ^ T. G. Mashaba, Hilla Brink (1994), Nursing education: an international perspective, p. 322, ISBN 978-0-7021-2620-8, ...nurses are stereotyped as females ... stereotypes of nursing still have a hold on society 
  5. ^ Janice Rider Ellis, Celia Love Hartley (2004), Nursing in today's world, p. 164, ISBN 978-0-7817-4108-8 
  6. ^ Philip Darbyshire (2009), "Heroines, hookers and harridans: exploring popular images and representations of nurses and nursing", Contexts of Nursing, pp. 51–64, ISBN 978-0-7295-3925-8 
  7. ^ Kay Kittrell Chitty (2005), "Influence of the Media on Nursing's Image", Professional nursing, p. 79, ISBN 978-0-7216-0695-8 
  8. ^ Philip Darbyshire, Suzanne Gordon (2005), "Exploring Popular Images and Representations of Nurses and Nursing", Professional Nursing, Springer Publishing Company, pp. 69–92, ISBN 0-8261-2554-9 
  9. ^ Mary Chiarella (2002), "The nurse as a ministering angel", The legal and professional status of nursing, Elsevier Health Sciences, pp. 39–55, ISBN 978-0-443-07191-1 
  10. ^ a b Summers, Sandy; Jacobs, Harry (May 4, 2010). Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal Nurses Puts Us All At Risk. Oxford University Press. pp. 118–254. ISBN 9781607146605. 
  11. ^ Brown, Theresa (July 1, 2009). "Why Nurse Stereotypes Are Bad For Healthy". Well Blogs. The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Catherine Judd (1998), Bedside Seductions: Nursing and the Victorian Imagination, 1830–1880, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-312-17705-8 
  • Sandy and Harry Jacobs Summers (2015), Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All at Risk, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199337064  9780199337064