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Posted: 25 July 2012

Stereotyping of nurses persists on online social media

The nursing profession should act to promote a more positive and less stereotypical image of nurses on online social media, according to the authors of a study on the portrayal of nurses on YouTube.

Published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, the study findings show that the ten most viewed video clips on YouTube created both favourable and derogatory nursing images.

Representing a total of 3.4m hits, the ten videos dramatised, caricatured and parodied nurse-patient and inter-professional encounters and contained well-worn stereotypes that are found in more traditional popular mass media. The videos reflected a variety of genres, including promotional videos, advertising and TV sitcoms.

Four of the ten clips were posted by nurses and presented nurses as educated, smart and technically skilled. The images portrayed nursing as a valuable and rewarding career, valorised nursing work and presented nurses as a distinct professional group working in busy clinical hospitals, where their knowledge and skills counted.

Alongside these favourable images were four video clips containing images that portrayed the nurse as a sexual plaything, the object of male sexual fantasies. Portrayed with reference to her uniformed body, the nurse was the purveyor of a particular form of comfort that only she as nurse and woman could give. These images were found in media-generated video clips that included an excerpt from the American sitcom Frasier, a mobile phone commercial set in a hospital, a lingerie advertisement and a soft news item on an internet TV news channel.

The final two video clips used lampooned the nurse as witless and incompetent. One video clip portrayed a nurse in an Alzheimer's unit as dim and incompetent and the other, an excerpt from an American sitcom, showed the nurse as a dumb blonde, expressing bigoted views about her patients and behaving in a callous and unprofessional way.

"The nursing stereotypes uncovered on YouTube are very similar to those reported in other studies on media and identity”, says study co-author Professor Gerard Fealy from the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems.

"Our analysis of YouTube content found that nurses were depicted in three main ways, as a skilled knower and doer, a sexual plaything and a witless incompetent" he said. "Despite being hailed as a democratising medium of the people, our study showed that YouTube is no different to other mass media in the way that it propagates gender-bound, negative and demeaning nursing stereotypes. Such stereotypes can influence how people see nurses and behave towards them.”

"We argue that the professional bodies that regulate and represent nurses need to lobby legislators to protect the profession from undue negative stereotyping and support nurses to use YouTube to create a counter discourse that will promote nursing in a more positive light. Such lobbying might include calls for even greater democracy in moderating online YouTube content, with professional bodies having decision-making powers alongside media corporate voices.”

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Stereotyping of nurses persists on online social media