In the Media: Male Nurses on TV Often Fit Negative Stereotypes

Dec 12, 2013, 9:00 AM

This is part of the December 2013 issue of Sharing Nursing's Knowledge.

More male nurses are needed to diversify the nursing workforce and help curb a looming shortage of nurses, but U.S. TV producers aren’t helping.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study of male nurse characters on televised medical dramas in the United States. Shows including Grey’s Anatomy, HawthoRNe, Mercy, Nurse Jackie, and Private Practice reinforced stereotypes, often in negative ways, about men in nursing, the study found. It was published in August in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

“The men were often subject to questions about their choice of career, masculinity and sexuality, and their role usually reduced to that of prop, minority spokesperson, or source of comedy,” the authors write.

Men are joining the profession in increasing numbers, but negative portrayals of male nurses on television undermine efforts to recruit and retain male nurses, they add.

Earlier studies have found that female nurse characters on television shows are also often depicted in negative ways. Female nurses, for example, are often portrayed as the sexualized “naughty nurse,” the battle-axe, or the doctor’s handmaiden.

In sum, aspiring male nurses, like their female counterparts, have few role models to look up to on television—and that needs to change to attract more men into the profession, the authors conclude. “It is vital to raise awareness among nursing professionals of some of the perceptions and stereotypes around nursing in the community,” the authors write.

The lead author of the study is Roslyn Weaver, BA, PhD, adjunct fellow at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at University of Western Sydney in Australia. For the study, she and her co-authors analyzed five U.S. television medical shows that aired between 2007 and 2010.

Read the abstract.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.