One of the knock-on effects of being in residence with Nursing Studies is that suddenly, I notice nurses everywhere. Everybody I meet seems to be related to a nurse somewhere along the line; all at once the newspapers and television screen seem full of them. But there’s one particular nurse who has begun to irritate me:
It’s not really her fault. After all, the subliminal flash on the screen identifies her as only ‘a representation of a nurse’. What grates is the way she’s framed as a bit of a ninny – she says she’s fighting bacteria in her job, and we see she has mastered handwashing, yet she is ‘shocked’ to find out they live in her mouth – what has that university course been teaching her?
The white-coated dentist – an expert who wouldn’t look out of place in an ad devised by Madmen – seems to have the monopoly on the medical knowledge and all the fancy technology, including a nifty miniature light sabre. Same old same old.
He tells her to use a certain toothpaste, and she is just thrilled because ‘Smiling is an important part of my job.’ And we see her beaming an intimidatingly white grin down on a little kiddy and then up towards someone unseen, someone she is perhaps kneeling before.
I’m not saying that smiling has no place is nursing care. It’s part of what the head of Nursing Studies in Edinburgh, Pam Smith, would term the ‘emotional labour’ of nursing. But just as much of nursing is to do with hard-won knowledge, clinical expertise and the use of technology.
The fact that this simple-minded ‘angel’ still has currency in 2012 attests not only to the laziness of advertising copywriters but the sheer difficulty of coming up with an image to reflect the complex identities of nursing in the twenty-first century.