The Changing Face of Nurses in Movies

A study conducted by an Australian researcher for the Journal of Advanced Nursing highlights the changing public perception of nursing, as reflected in movies for the past 100 years.

Based on the results of the study, the public currently views nursing in a positive light, one that has grown more realistic and nuanced over the decades. Granted, movies don’t necessarily reflect viewers’ opinions perfectly, but as researcher David Stanley points out, “Public perceptions of different professions are strongly influenced by the media.”

movienurse1.jpgThe study bases its findings on 280 films made between 1900 and 2007 that feature nurses as an integral part of the plot. It finds that nurses in modern film are much more well-rounded and realistic compared to early images from black-and-white films of nurses who were stereotypical flatly written, self-sacrificing heroines — particularly in war settings.

“Now they are often portrayed as intelligent, strong and passionate characters, and filmmakers are increasingly turning to nursing characters who offer a broader, deeper and authentic representation of modern nurses and nursing,” adds Stanley.

With the shift away from the shallow, overly simplistic nurse stereotype, though, has come a trend towards a ratched.jpgdarker, more malevolent image for nurses, as personified in Nurse Ratched of the Academy Award-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, as Stanley points out, the darker nurse isn’t necessarily a negative image, but rather one that represents the increasing power and freedom of women in society.

A more troubling trend is the sexual objectification of nurses, something that Stanley states must be overcome by those working in the nursing profession: “Nurses need to be aware of how to counter negative images and build on positive ones.”


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