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Nurse identity: reality and media portrayal
  1. Rebecca Garcia1,
  2. Irtiza Qureshi2
  1. 1Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK
  2. 2School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rebecca Garcia, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, Buckinghamshire, UK; Rebecca.Garcia{at}

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The WHO, the International Council of Nurses and Nursing Now, had planned to raise the global public profile of nursing in 2020 as a consequence of Florence Nightingales 200th anniversary. However, with the unexpected arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in late 2019, nurses and the nursing profession found themselves having unexpected media attention. The degree and type of media attention that nursing achieved during this time were never anticipated. This article considers the reality of nursing, both the role and profession in the UK in 2021 compared with the public perception and temporal media portrayal.

Stereotypes of nursing

The media mediates public perception(s) through imagery and messaging. However, with reduced public understanding of healthcare services, inadequate understanding of healthcare professional roles and responsibilities, and reduced health literacy in the general population,1 there is ample opportunity for misinformation and psychological bias (such as confirmation bias or stereotyping) to operate in the mainstream discourse dictating and perpetuating a false image of nursing.2 Given that nursing is the largest global occupation of predominately female employees3 and the National Health Service (NHS) is the largest employer in Europe, qualified nurses in the UK make up 26% of the total NHS workforce.4 The consequences of nursing having a poor public image subsequently impact the profession being undervalued, with poor recruitment, retention and indirectly influence patient healthcare.4

Since the 1970s, nursing had forwarded Advanced Clinical Practice and specialist roles.5 Conversely, for decades, the media has portrayed nurses as predominantly subservient to doctors and referred to nurses as the doctor’s ‘handmaiden’ and not as independent practitioners. The idea of nursing subservience is rooted in a gross misunderstanding of the nurse’s role,6 7 with outdated patriarchal and gendered ideas around male-doctor dominance and female subservience.8 9 From the outsider and non-informed perspective, the …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.