The Public’s Image of Nurses – Stereotypes

Subject: Nursing
Pages: 11
Words: 2964
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: College


Nursing plays a major role in the health sector and delivery systems not only by offering care services but also by involvement in the disease management practices and set of guidelines for handling infections as well as influencing the level of professionalism accorded to nurses. Although the role of nurses affects the health, social, economic, and political sectors, it is faced with stereotypes mostly associated with the image according to nurses.

These stereotypes are influenced to a great deal by the perspectives offered by the other health professionals, media, and the public. It is very necessary to address ways of empowering nurses at an individual level to develop and portray a positive image of themselves to ultimately boost the nursing profession. This research seeks to develop a plan for the empowerments of nurses individually to enable them to have a positive image of themselves in acknowledgment of how this image affects the society as a whole as well as the efforts that have been made for the improvement of this image.

Development Analysis of the Image of Nurses

Relevance of the Image of Nurses

Nurses are involved at an individual level of caring for patients and also in the setting of policies and implementation of recommendations in the health sector among other aspects. It is very important for nurses to be empowered to improve their own self-image as professionals since this would impact the overall nursing sector and reduce the risks associated with the poor image (Summers & Summers, 2009). The necessity of changing the stereotypes of nursing is because this distorts the concept the public has of nursing. This image lowers the confidence of the public in nurses and they are not able to consult them in matters of their health due to their lack of knowledge of the services that nurses are equipped to offer.

This concept is mainly due to the fact that the concept the public has of nurses is that of providing patients care only while they are perceived lower to other medical practitioners causing the public not to think of them in terms of other services they can offer. This affects the self-concept of nurses who are less motivated in their work and in the level of quality services they offer. The ideal aspect is that the public is likely to suffer or wait long to get services that would be easily offered by the nurses. The reduction in the self-confidence of nurses as a result of this negative image affects their level of performance at work.

The greatest influence on the image of nurses in the media. This is because there are various mediums of transmission of information and thus the audience that receives information is quite high. The image of nurses is portrayed by the media in advertisements, campaigns, television, movies, comedies, and drama among others (Summers & Summers, 2009). It is necessary to address this issue since the image portrayed is not the right one and consequently influences the manner that the public perceives nurses limiting their performance. The reason for the focus on the media on the image of nurses is not only the fact that the number of people reached is many, but also the messages are numerous, diverse and all has the result of encouraging the negative perception on nurses to continue. Further, the addressing of such an issue would not be very effective if the media portrays a different picture.

In the light of the efforts to deal with the image of nurses, the media has brought out the caring aspect of nurses for their appreciation for which professionalism is not displayed as much as possible. This means that it is necessary to acknowledge the efforts for encouraging positive perceptions of nurses but this does not still deal with the image since only the humanitarian aspects are raised and set as standards for nurses by society rather than their professionalism.

It is worth noting that the policymakers in the health sector also tend to be affected by this negative image of nurses. This is basically in the violence that nurses receive at their places of work, stress levels, and the safety of the patients due to the perceptions that they are promiscuous (Sullivan, 2008). Since most health providers are privately sponsored, they seek to maintain their businesses by reducing the costs. When nurses complain of heavy workload and they are not willing to work at minimal pay, the policymakers end up employing people such as technicians to serve as nurses since the cost of maintaining them is quite minimal. This compromises the quality of health offered and limits research.

The image portrayed of nursing determines the future attractiveness of the profession. The poor image thus influences the motivation of students in school to join such a profession. The image reduces the willingness of students to join in the future thus reducing the number of such learners that are enrolled in the health and nursing institutions. This lowered admission affects the institutions, social balance, political and governance and the shortage of nurses is highly likely. The issue of gender imbalance affects the image of nursing. This is because the profession is associated with females with elements of powerlessness. This affects the respect given to nurses and limits professionalism since it is female-centered.

The issue of the image of nurses affects the whole society in one way or another since it is likely that the majority of individuals in society do encounter nurses in hospitals mainly at certain points in their lives. This also affects the nurses in the profession and those in learning institutions with the prospects of joining the profession. This is because they are the actual recipients of the images put of them and is likely to have their self-esteem, concept and confidence affected (Takase, Kershaw & Burt, 2002).

Further, the policymakers and providers of health care are also affected by the image of nurses since this also points to their image while the likelihood of shortages of nurses influences them as well as the compromised quality. The government and other political entities are also not left out in this issue. This is large because of the vital role health plays in society and the role of the government in ensuring that the health care provided is of quality. The government is also influenced as a result of the future expectations of the profession as well as the financing and maintenance of health delivery systems.

Although the image of nurses is perceived negatively, there are also other perceptions of nurses being of a gentle spirit from the care they offer. Further, some researchers argue that nurses are not to blame for the poor image accorded to them, but rather the policymakers since they are the ones that offer heavy loads, limit individualized care, and set rules for the administration of care. As such a lot of blame is laid on management especially for compromised care while nurses are perceived positively due to their ability to offer care to patients and in fact have been ranked highly in terms of quality standards (Hurley & Linsley, 2006).

Factors Influencing the Image of Nurses

The negative image of nurses has been influenced over the years by a combination of factors. Historically, the role of nurses was that of caring for patients and more of bedside care rather than administration. This was also characterized by the media advertisements of the 1800s and other past years that emphasized the traditional roles of nurses. The main roles of nurses were the battleax, the ministering angel, naughty nurse, and the physician maiden (Fletcher, 2007 p. 208). In the historical periods to 1919, nurses were perceived as the ministering angels while during 1920 to 1929, the image was that of the girl Friday.

The history publications also did not have many contributions or focus on nurses. The main influence of the historical factors is that they have created an image of nurses being less qualified than physicians and thus receiving orders from them. Further, the influence has been on the role of nurses as caregivers such that the other services nurses have to offer are overlooked. History factors also point to the feminization of nursing and the creation of a servanthood character of nurses. Society norms and expectations have influenced the image of nurses. These social factors include the perception of nurses as being semi-professionals, feminization of nursing as well as the media portrayable of the nurses (Fletcher, 2007).

Additionally, the social factors also include the assumptions that nurses are not well academically qualified and that they have limited career prospects as well as the hierarchical structure between physicians and nurses which has portrayed them as being powerless and unqualified. The political factors have played significant roles in the creation of the poor image of nurses. This has been in the failure in governance of nursing as a profession, creation of gender imbalance in the admission, training, and employment of nurses, lack of clear guidelines on the work of nurses to the public as well as the ability to hire other unqualified persons in the place of nurses (Sullivan, 2008).

The legal factors create the image of the nurses through the lack of clear legal guidelines for the protection of nurses, encouragement of the perceived powerlessness of nurses, less likelihood of nurses bringing up suits as well as the aspect of having the nurses more focused on patient care with high expectations on them. The legal matters also have influenced the image in the lack of clear training of nurses on their legal rights and protection.

The culture influences the manner that nurses are perceived. These factors stem from the societal cultural expectations of nurses especially with more as females, and expected to be powerless, the hierarchical structure in health care that has nurses at lower ranks, the association of pink with nurses, the clothing worn by nurses and the high expectations of nurses as well as the emphasis on caregiving (Gordon, 2005).

The economic factors have influenced the image of nursing to a great extent. Although most students perceive that nursing has good returns financially, the only factor for consideration is the long working hours, rigidity of work, high expectations, and poor working environments which limit the economic gains attained (Fletcher, 2007). While most nurses are motivated in their work by the fulfillment derived from caregiving, they are not given the remuneration commensurate with their work.

This is because of the long working hours and flexibility expected on their jobs. This has also influenced the recruitment in the nursing institutions since the students perceive that although rewards are reasonable, much is expected of them. The ethical factors that touch on morality have been quite evident in the creation of the image of nurses. As Fletcher (2007, p 208) points out, nurses are perceived to be sexually promiscuous and with the interest to have fun and romance. Ideally, most of them are assumed to be single. This thus has encouraged the lack of respect and the assumptions of lack of professionalism for them.

Plan Development for Dealing with the Issue

The handling of the image of nurses has to involve an individual effort for each nurse and overall social responsibility. This is because, despite the lack of a good image of nurses as is perceived by the media and public, nurses have a personal responsibility to ensure that they view themselves positively and thus encourage others to view them as such.

Possible Solutions to Changing the Image of Nurses

The solutions for the improvement of the image of nurses touch on increasing their visibility; focusing on education; leadership and management emphasis, addressing the factors that influence the behavior of nurses, and other ways of mending the image (Beauregard et al., 2003). The visibility of nurses needs to be improved in the light of professionalism. This is in consideration that there are minimal articles by nurses or on nursing, limited research on the perspectives of nurses, little media coverage of nurses as professionals, and other contributions to society. This visibility can be increased through encouraging the contributions of nurses in publications, motivating nursing research, increasing the advocacy for professionalism and increasing the coverage of the media on the professionalism of nurses (Summers & Summers, 2009).

This visibility is possible in making the public aware of what nurses do, their qualifications, their career growth, and other services they offer interest with a gender balance through their involvement in professional organizations and other community services and efforts with nurses being acknowledged for the roles they play of saving lives (Takase, Maude & Manias, 2006).

The visibility can also be done by the managers and hospital administrators by providing their nurses with opportunities of addressing the media, recognize their work and encourage them to improve. It is necessary in this plan for the education of nurses to be reviewed. This is by setting entry academic levels to the nursing profession that are unified, encouraging research and ensuring that the students are aware of the professionalism of nursing (Beauregard et al., 2003).

It is worth acknowledging that since most students enrolled in nursing are usually endorsed with a positive image of the profession with the need to offer care, it is necessary to ensure that they maintain the positive image. This plan in education would also require the encouragement of continuing education for already employed nurses, the mentoring of young nurses and students nurses by qualified nurses and the encouraging of sharing of information with constant review of guidelines. It is necessary to address the issues that affect the behaviors of nurses such as the workload, improving the work environment, addressing violence against nurses, encouraging the gaining of experience and other incentives for motivation (Sullivan, 2008).

Leadership and management are very crucial in professionalism not only in nursing, but also in other sectors. In this plan, it is necessary for the management of hospitals to encourage the nurses to be independent and to foster innovation (Hurley & Linsley, 2006). Leadership playing a major role in nursing requires nurses to be encouraged to be participators in clinical leadership. This plan proposes that transactional leadership is flexible enough for situations, clinical, transformational, and team-based with a focus on humanitarian principles. The main assertion is the acknowledgment that every nurse is indeed a leader in their own capacity (Hurley, 2007 p. 754).

Further, leadership is necessary to encourage nurses to take the lead, responsibility, credit for their work and foster a positive image of the profession at all times especially in the hard and times of crisis (Summers & Summers, 2009). The other focus on improving the image of nurses is the mending of the image through the focus on increasing the knowledge of nursing and creating of gender balance in the profession.

Implementation of Solutions

The implementation of this plan would require resources for the advertisements and improvement of the image, funds for such advertisements, media resources, and other opportunities for involvement in community work. The legislations would be required on the minimum entry requirement for the nursing profession and the rights of the nurses in their leadership empowerment as well as the legislations to deal with violence against nurses. The personal changes would be required on the nurses to adapt a positive image of themselves as well as such societal changes in perception of the public.

Plan Evaluation

The evaluation of this plan would be based on finding out whether the negative image of the nurses has changed. This would involve data collection on the ranking of the public of nurses as professionals and the changes perceived, the manner nurses view themselves, perceptions of students pursing nursing on nursing as a profession and the changes in the performance of nurses. The other data that would be necessary to assess the success of the plan would be the media coverage of nurses, the policy changes in nursing and the perceptions and experiences of patients under the care of nurses.

This plan is relevant for the improvement of the image of nursing as a profession for future attractiveness and description. This plan proposes measures that would address the stereotypes on nurses and encourage positive image of nurses (Gordon, 2005). This is through the focus on the media and empowerment of nurses and student nurses. As a result, it is likely to influence a large number of people and encourage a culture of positive perceptions on the nurses. This is to increase the motivation and performance of nurses, handle issues of shortage of nurses, and improve quality of care while encouraging innovativeness. Further, it addresses the need for research which is to increase the effectiveness of nursing in dealing with infections, offering guidelines in health care, reducing costs of health and increase the recruitment of students in nursing institutions which are likely to focus on quality and professionalism (Summers & Summers, 2009).


This plan acknowledges the role nursing plays in the society and the need for a positive image of the same. The problem addressed is the negative image of nurses which affects the performance of nurses, shortage of nurses, recruitment and overall quality. It proposes measures in education, increasing the visibility of nurses, addressing the factors that influence behaviors of nurses, leadership and management and other ways of mending the image.

This paper outlines the evaluation of the plan and its expected contributions to health needs and the profession with the need for recommending leadership and management with every nurse playing a leadership role in their area of service. The greater emphasis is on empowerment of nurses to elicit the positive image by viewing themselves positively while encouraging the role of the media in portraying the professionalism in nursing due to its large influence.

Reference List

Beauregard, M., Richardson, S., Deck, D., Rose, B., Kay, K., Silver, K., et al. (2003). Improving our image a nurse at a time. JONA, 33(10), 510-511.

Fletcher, K. (2007). Image: changing how women nurses think about themselves. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 58(3), 207-215.

Gordon, S. (2005). Nursing against the Odds: How Health Care Cost Cutting, Media Stereotypes and Medical Hubris undermine Nurses and Patient Care (The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work). New York: Cornell University Press.

Hurley J., & Linsley, P. (2007). Leadership challenges to move nurses toward collaborative individualism within a neo-corporate bureaucratic environment. Journal of Nursing Management, 15, 749-755.

Sullivan, E. (2008). Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing. New York: Prentice Hall publishers.

Summers, S., & Summers, J. (2009). Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses puts all of us at Risk. New York: Kaplan Publishing.

Takase, M., Kershaw, E., & Burt, L. (2002). Does Public image of nurses matter? Journal of Professional Nursing, 18(4), 196-205.

Takase, M., Maude, P., & Manias, E. (2006). Impact of the perceived public image of nursing on nurses’ work behavior. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53(3), 333–343.