Nurse’s image: “The Heart Attack Grill”

I would like to wish all nurses a wonderful and joyous celebration of Nurses’ Week. I believe we remain the world’s most caring and trusted profession, and I know for myself that the rewards of being a nurse and teaching nursing are beyond compare. We are blessed to be part of a diverse body of professionals that use interpersonal skills, caring modalities, and medical interventions in order to create healing spaces for those who are suffering or in need.

Nurse at the bedsidebusy nurses

So, I was shocked and saddened the other day to learn that there exists in our society places such as the “Heart Attack Grill” in Chandler, AZ. The heart attack grill is a hospital themed restaurant, where waitresses are referred to as nurses, and specialties include the triple and quadruple bypass burgers. Patrons or “patients” can be weighed in and if the scale tips over 350 pounds, the patron eats for free. This restaurant came to my attention when I saw that their 29 year old spokesperson Blair River, who weighed in at 575 pounds, died of pneumonia following a brief illness (obesity greatly increases one’s risk of dying from pneumonia). The owner of the restaurant calls himself “Dr. Jon”, and with no reservations about serving up unhealthy food, he believes he is giving people what they most want, which is to indulge their desires for high fat foods in extreme quantities. Ironically, Dr. Jon owned a Jenny Craig franchise prior to owning the heart attack grill and he freely admits his frustration with facilitating the lifestyle change process with obese persons.

While I am concerned about the health of the patrons of this establishment and the company’s obvious disregard for personal health in general, what is most challenging for me is the scantily clad waitresses that are called “nurses”. In both my 2002 and 2010 journal articles on the nursing shortage, I addressed the issue of the public image of nursing as it may directly impact our ability to attract and retain nurses. Studies have shown that we continue to remain vulnerable to our persistent public image problems. One study in particular has shown that the public perception of nursing and nurses’ intention to stay in their current position are directly related. Job turnover is directly related to the stressful challenge of trying to alter the public’s image of nursing, which leads to frustration and job dissatisfaction (Takase, Maude, & Manias, 2006).

Besides demeaning our sacred, caring professional status, nurses are often portrayed in the media as scantily clad, wearing high heels, overly made-up, brainless, sex objects or worse yet unethical drug addicts (think nurse Jackie). This hampers our ability to attract young people into the profession, but I believe it may also put us at greater risk for sexual harassment in the workplace and impede or even over-ride our image as scholars, researchers, and care providers in academia and the workplace. To call an untrained scantily clad waitress a nurse is demeaning to our profession, and our values; the Heart Attack Grill “nurses” may not mind being thought of as sex objects, but the publishing of the numerous pictures and even TV news videos of these women, and the continual play acting as nurses,  in my mind, constitutes defamation to our profession.

According to wikipedia (which I use because it is easy to understand, but don’t use this source for your scholarly work, ladies and gents!): Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image. It is usually a requirement that this claim be false and that the publication is communicated to someone other than the person defamed (the claimant).[1]

Now, I personally most likely will not file a defamation suit against the Heart Attack Grill, as I think it would be challenging to prove how this particular establishment has harmed me personally; but I wonder about a group such as the American Nurses Association or the National League for Nurses addressing this on a larger scale. What would it take for us to band together and create a clear voice that this sort of portrayal of nursing  is unacceptable?

My question for all of this week is how do we address these inappropriate public images of nursing that continue to follow us? How do we reach those in the media and business environments who cash in on portraying our profession in a negative light? What have we done to help ensure that nurses and nursing are portrayed in a positive light? And has the profession being portrayed in a negative light ever contributed to your dissatisfaction as a nurse?

I have also included here an 11 minute video that addresses many of the damaging stereotypes we face today.


Clark, C.S. (2010). The nursing shortage as a community transformational opportunity: An update. Advances in Nursing Science, 33(10), 35-52.

Takase, M., Maude, P. & Manias, E. (2006). Impact of the perceived public image of nursing on nurse’s work behavior. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53, 333-343.

Wikipedia. (2011, May 4). Defamation. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

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