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Public Perceptions of Nurses

Public Perceptions of Nurses

Nurses have always been a victim of stereotyping. The profession is regularly portrayed as one exclusively for women. Their role is often seen as a subordinate one. They offer more sympathy to patients than a doctor, but strictly follow orders from superiors. They mop brows and do the admin. They don’t quite have what it takes to be a doctor.

Is this really the way the public see nurses? Just someone who assists doctors and does as they’re told? We wanted to see if the public were giving nurses the credit they deserve, so we asked 50 people whether they associated a variety of words with a doctor or a nurse.

When we totalled the answers from all of our participants, we found that a lot of the harmful stereotypes do exist. When presented with the word ‘female’, 88% responded with nurse. The belief that nursing is a career for women is still rife in peoples’ minds, despite the fact that the number of men in nursing has tripled over the past 45 years.

The stereotypes apply throughout the nursing hierarchy from registered nurses to senior, specialised nurses who have worked hard to climb the career ladder. Senior nurses are often subjected to the ‘battleaxe’ stereotype, think Nurse Ratched (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) or Matron (Carry on Doctor).

Contrary to these portrayals, senior nurses do not rule with an iron fist or cause patients unnecessary discomfort. In fact their job is to provide acute and critical care to their patients while ensuring they are as happy and relaxed as possible. As well as caring for patients and their families, senior nurses also provide managerial leadership to nursing and support staff.

Being a nurse includes a lot more responsibility than people seem to think. When we asked which role people attributed the word ‘lifesaver’ to, 64% replied with doctor. However, it is nurses who regularly patrol the wards to check their patients are ok. While juggling the responsibility of carrying out and evaluating evidence-based care, they are often the first to respond in critical situations.

Despite having such a broad skillset, the perception that nurses are just ‘those who couldn’t become doctors’ is still common. 86% of our respondents associated the word ‘degree’ with doctors despite the fact that to become a nurse today you have to complete a 4 year degree course. They play a different role than doctors but it is still a vital one and becoming a nurse is far from easy.

A career in nursing requires prospective candidates to hold a nursing degree which combines academic study with substantial hands-on experience. Student nurses will spend equal amounts of time studying as they do in supervised nursing practice to build up essential experience. A student can only apply for nursing positions when they have completed their degree, but their education does not stop there. The medical world changes every day and nurses are required to study constantly to ensure their knowledge remains relevant.

The training that a nurse receives means that doctors have been able to relinquish some of the jobs that fall under their remit to nurses. Now, not only can nurses offer expert care to their patients, but they can utilise their practiced skillset to offer a range of services including check-ups for asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The level of trust our respondents place in nurses is telling. When presented with the word ‘care’, 92% replied with nurse. Through their time spent on wards between doctor’s rounds, being available for check-ups and making valuable home visits, one aspect of nursing that hasn’t been overlooked is their kind, considerate nature. By developing close relationships with their patients, nurses make up a crucial part of the comfortable environment required for proper treatment and recovery.

Nurses do so much more than they are credited for. With their skill, hard work and dedication they offer round the clock care and invaluable support.

It’s time to shake off the stereotype that nurses are females who act as doctors’ assistants. It's time to recognise them as a vital part of the healthcare system.


Responses to this article

  1. Posted by Hilary, 07/12/2015 20:17:10

    Depressing It will never change , because it suits too many people to maintain this perception . I know , Ive been at it for 30+ years .

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