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Nurses vs. Robots: No Contest

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, March 1, 2011

Bartholomew believes misrepresentation undervalues and damages the profession. That leads to the second point that nurses may be replaced by a machine. At first glance, this is laughable. Outside of science fiction, no one believes machines can replace humans.

“Robots cannot detect subtle changes in patients before they crash and intervene to save their lives,” says Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH, founder and executive director of The Truth About Nursing, an advocacy group that works to counter misrepresentations of nursing in the media. “Robots cannot advocate for patients and correct the surgeon who is removing a gallbladder instead of removing a pancreatic tumor, because he forgot which patient this was. Robots cannot eject drunk surgeons from the operating room.”

The nurses I spoke with cite the discussion of the robot scrub “nurse” as evidence of the commonly-held belief that nursing is merely a collection of tasks that can be completed by anybody. According to TV programs like ER and Grey’s Anatomy, nurses are invisible minions who carry out low-skilled tasks such as emptying bed pans and bringing food trays. While everyone who works in healthcare knows these portrayals are inaccurate, even within healthcare the role of nursing is frequently misunderstood and undervalued.

Furthermore, the public doesn’t understand the value that nurses provide to patients and healthcare teams. They do not see the role of nurses as critical to safety because there are no true-to-life examples in the media.

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