YouTube culture is harming image of nurses

Published: 19 February 2013 at 11:37

Anglia Ruskin academic to discuss her research during free lecture in Peterborough

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The issue of nurses being depicted as “sexual playthings” will be discussed during a special public lecture at Anglia Ruskin University’s Guild House campus in Peterborough on Wednesday, 27 February.

Jacinta Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Acute Care at Anglia Ruskin, is the author of “The image of you: constructing nursing identities in YouTube”, which has been published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Nursing is a well-represented topic on YouTube with over 500,000 clips, and Ms Kelly’s research involved analysing the 10 most-viewed videos for the search terms ‘nurse’ and ‘nursing’ retrieved from the website in July 2010.

The 10 videos included promotional videos, advertising, excerpts from TV programmes and cartoons.  Some content reflected efforts to improve the standing of nursing as a career, but most caricatured and parodied nurse-patient and inter-professional encounters.

Studied in detail, three nursing identities emerged; nurse as ‘a skilled knower and doer’, nurse as ‘a sexual plaything’, and nurse ‘as a witless, incompetent’ individual.  The video with the highest number of views (over 1.1 million) was an audio-free clip of Daphne, from the US sitcom Frasier, wearing a revealing nurses’ uniform.

Ms Kelly said:

“Despite its supposed democratising function as a ‘medium of the people’, YouTube is no different than other popular mass media in the way that it propagates gender-bound, negative and demeaning nursing stereotypes.
“Its popularity means that its stereotypes act as a powerful force in influencing public beliefs and attitudes, and such stereotypical constructions of nursing identity have now become a fact of life on YouTube.”

Ms Kelly believes that these negative online portrayals not only affect the public’s view of the profession, but can also influence how nurses view themselves.  She added:

“The identity as a sexual plaything or an incompetent individual, albeit created in the male-dominated world of YouTube, constructs an identity that is counter to that of the skilled professional.
“The study of nursing identity is important, as it offers a window on how the profession views itself and how it is viewed by the public, most of whom at some point will rely upon the expertise of nurses.  There is also the real danger that nurses may internalise a particular identity constructed through these videos and act according to these expectations.  Hence, images that give rise to particular identities can ultimately have an impact on clinical practice.
“However, it lies within the nurses’ power to challenge negative stereotypes that create these identities.  As users of YouTube, they can act as moderators in the online community and seek to redress the balance of power in the way that nursing is represented.
“By carefully selecting their own video content to post on YouTube, nurses can convey to the largely young, male public the complexities of skilled nursing and the critical and central role that nurses play in the healthcare system.”

The free public lecture on 27 February begins at 4.30pm.  For further information or to reserve a place, please contact Jonathan Secker on 0845 196 5359 or