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Why do patients not want to see the 'nurse' practitioner?

A stereotyped view of nurses persists, and the profession needs to tackle media and public misconceptions, says Lucy Archer

A stereotyped view of nurses persists, and the profession needs to tackle media and public misconceptions


Jessica Anderson ran the London marathon in scrubs and trousers. Picture: Instagram

I have been working with GP receptionists looking at how they can implement care navigation in their practices. Part of it was to clarify the variety of clinical roles in general practice to ensure that patients access the right clinician or service at the right time.

This involved examining the variety of nursing roles in general practice and what each could offer the patient.

‘The public’s impression of what a nurse is has not evolved from that seen in Carry on Doctor or TV dramas from the 1960s’

It provided a fascinating insight into the everyday challenges of working as a GP receptionist, but one element of the discussion surprised and saddened me. Several of them said they found it difficult to persuade patients to see the advanced nurse practitioner for minor illness, despite the nurses being highly trained and competent.

Roles and responsibilities

Their solution to this was to omit the word ‘nurse’ and offer an appointment with the ‘advanced practitioner’, which patients seemed to find more acceptable.

This led me to reflect on the public perception of nursing and the role of the nurse. In the 30 years since I started nursing there have been enormous changes in the roles and responsibilities of the nurse, probably the most significant being non-medical prescribing.

Despite this it appears that the public’s impression of what a nurse is has not evolved from that seen in the comedy movie Carry on Doctor or TV dramas from the 1960s.

Common misconceptions

This is clearly demonstrated by the furore over the nurse who ran the London Marathon in a nurse’s uniform and finished it in record time, but was initially denied the record by Guinness World Records as it said her uniform did not meet its criteria.

She was wearing a tunic and trousers rather than what Guinness required – a blue or white nurse’s dress, white apron and nurse's cap. Nurses have not worn uniforms like that for over 25 years, yet a stereotypical, sexualised view of nursing persists.

‘Raising the profile of nursing in the media and ensuring that its portrayal is accurate and modern is vital to improving the public perception of what a nurse is and does’

What can be done to improve and update the public perception of the role of the nurse? The Queen’s Nursing Institute has designed a poster called Just a Nurse which is designed to ‘challenge some common misconceptions about the nursing profession’ and ‘help nurses to find their voice’.

Fictional nurses

Displaying the poster in waiting rooms and clinics would be useful, but it would only reach a limited audience.

Raising the profile of nursing in the media and ensuring that its portrayal is accurate and modern is vital to improving the public perception of what a nurse is and does. Current TV drama does not always reflect the highly skilled and autonomous role of nurses, as fictional nurses are often seen as reliant on other healthcare professionals to function.

And there is not just an issue with the portrayal of nursing in dramas, recent healthcare documentaries and news stories have tended to focus on the work of doctors, healthcare managers and allied health professionals rather than the enormous contribution made by nursing.

Negative reporting

The transforming the perceptions of nursing and midwifery campaign, led by NHS England, cites negative reporting in the media and stereotyping as among the ten most critical barriers to perceptions of nursing.

The programme aims to improve public perceptions and understanding of nursing through a variety of means, such as developing a network of nursing ambassadors, working with children and raising the profile of nursing.

Let’s hope it is successful and that in future the public will have a better understanding of the role of the nurses and that patients will be happy to be offered an appointment with an advanced nurse practitioner.


Lucy Archer is an independent advanced nurse practitioner

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