A comparative analysis of nurse and physician characters in the entertainment media


  • Philip A. Kalisch PhD,

    Professor of History
    1. Politics and Economics of Nursing and Interim Director, Centre for Nursing Research, University of Michigan and
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  • Beatrice J. Kalisch RN EdD FAAN

    1. Titus Distinguished Professor of Nursing and Chairperson, Parent-Child Nursing, University of Michigan, 609 East Liberty Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108, USA
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The results of a large body of research have yielded findings supportive of the view that the mass media have a decisive effect on the formation of public attitudes and behaviours. This study reports the results of a content analysis of 670 nurse and 466 physician characters portrayed in novels, motion pictures and prime-time television series, published or produced from 1920 to 1980. When compared with media physicians, media nurses were consistently found to be less central to the plot, less intelligent, rational, and individualistic, less likely to value scholarliness and achievement and exercise clinical judgement. Moreover, in television series nurse characters were depicted as valuing service to others and being helpful to patients less, and as being lower in nurturance and empathy than physician characters. An analysis of these data over time points to a steady and unmistakable decline in the mass media entertainment image of nurses while physician characters have remained consistently high or shown improvement. The implications of this image gap are discussed along with the need for image reshaping efforts which might direct public demand for more collegial and productive ‘real world’ nurse-physician roles and interprofessional relationships.