Graduating Nurses' Research Find Images of Their Profession Disturbing and Inaccurate

05/30/02    KLAMATH FALLS, Ore.

In schools of nursing around the country, at least one undergraduate class on research involves learning about research and theory. But at the OHSU School of Nursing, Klamath Falls Campus, assistant professor Linda S. Smith, R.N., M.S., D.S.N., wants students in her required nursing-research course to learn practical application as well as textbook skills.

Last year's graduating class at the Klamath Falls Campus investigated how Internet greeting cards portrayed the nursing profession. This year's class, which will graduate on June 15, expanded the scope of that research into the realm of paper greeting cards, attracting local and national attention for their work.

All nine seniors participated in the research. Some shopped for cards at retailers in Klamath Falls, Ashland, Eugene and Portland. Others helped modify the Greeting Card Analysis Tool (GCAT), first developed by last year's class, which quantifies key aspects of the cards. All helped rate the 32 paper cards and 100-plus Internet cards using the GCAT, which has been copyrighted by OHSU, and assembled an aspect of their final report.

The students found that the cards' portrayal of nurses is far from reality, and in most cases, downright demeaning to the profession. Characterizations of nurses usually fell into two categories: young and mindless with pronounced sexual features, or threatening, syringe-wielding sadists. Another distortion: the vast majority of patients depicted in the cards were male.

Students not only learned how inaccurately greeting cards portray their profession, they also picked up valuable skills, became more fluent in research vernacular, and gained a greater appreciation of research's role in nursing.

Senior Janet Kershner says the project ended her ambivalence about continuing her nursing education. Now she plans on earning master's and doctoral degrees in public health nursing. "Seeing that I can apply this kind of research to my interests," said the Klamath Falls resident, "made a big difference."

Even for students entering the profession, undergraduate exposure to research likely will influence their careers. Kelly Oetting, a graduating senior from San Rafael, Calif., says the experience demonstrated how research is vital to continually improving the profession and promoting nursing practices.

The classroom exercise wasn't simply academic. The students' work has been submitted to peer-reviewed journals and presented in several forums. In March students explained their work to a packed room of professors, scientists, students and hospital administrators at the Oregon Institute of Technology, which houses the OHSU School of Nursing in Klamath Falls. In April, they presented a poster to the National Students Nursing Association in Philadelphia. On June 1, Kershner and Oetting will speak before the OHSU School of Nursing Alumni Association. "Research is wasted unless you share it," said Smith.

On a practical level, the research findings have implications for industry recruitment. "If we have images of nurses that are incongruent with reality, it's all the more difficult to attract new people to the profession," Smith said. They also pose an immediate challenge for nursing-school graduates: how to best interact with patients whose notions of nursing care may come from images like those on the cards.

That's one reason why the students recommend future classes conduct surveys to assess public opinion of nurses. They also suggest expanding the sample size by working with schools of nursing in other parts of the United States. As for this year's class, Smith said, the breadth of their work far exceeded expectations. "In one class they learned so much that they'll never forget," Smith says.

Graduation information for OHSU School of Nursing, Klamath Falls Campus: Pinning ceremony: 7 p.m., June 14 at CU Auditorium, Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) campus; commencement: 10 a.m., June 15 at John F. Moehl Stadium, OIT campus.


Names and hometowns of graduates:

Taela Hattori -  Oregon City
Brandy Paine - Corvallis
Jenny Beecroft -Newberg
Kelly Oetting - San Rafael, Calif.
Robyn Ewing- Klamath Falls
Justina Riker- Klamath Falls
Michelle Hansen- Tacoma, Wash.
Janet Kershner- Klamath Falls
Heather Eayrs-Reif- Klamath Falls

Linda Smith is available at 541 885-1360. Janet Kershner is available at 541 273-9953. Kelly Oetting is available at 541 273-9062.

For more information on commencement contact Jennie Brown, 541 885-1661 or