International Expert on Media Portrayal of Nurses—Video Available!

Dr. MarySue Heilemann presented a lecture on her work to make nurse characters more realistic and a colloquium on her research on using storytelling to treat depression.

The lecture can be found here:

Who can forget feisty Hot Lips Houlihan, tyrannical Nurse Ratched and heartbroken Carol Hathaway? They are just three of the fictional yet iconic nurses the entertainment industry has offered over the years. As memorable as they are, these nurses never were anything like their real-life counterparts, the consummate healthcare professionals caring for patients and advancing wellness throughout Wisconsin, across the country or around the world.

Yes, it is entertainment, but these media portrayals of nurses matter to the profession and to the public. And just as unrealistic nurse characters can misrepresent healthcare, other relatable nurse characters can be part of innovative and effective interventions with patients. Discover how media work for and against nurses and healthcare in two presentations by Dr. MarySue Heilemann during National Nurses Week at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing.

Dr. MarySue Heilemann, PhD, RN, an associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing and an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing, is internationally recognized for her expertise in qualitative research and story-based interventions involving media. Her current research involves the use of transmedia (storytelling over multiple digital platforms) to improve symptom management related to depression and anxiety among Latinas. She also consults with the entertainment industry in an effort to create more realistic portrayals of nurses in the media.

Based on her three-fold area of expertise (media-based interventions, qualitative research and mental health), Dr. Heilemann is actively refining a new model for nursing science that features transmedia portrayals of nurses as part of powerful and promising interventions with patients, the public and nursing professionals.

In her first presentation, “Reshaping the Image of Nursing in the Media,” Heilemann will share her work on improving the way nurses are portrayed in film and television. She was the featured speaker on this topic at the June 2015 National Institute of Nursing Research Director’s Lecture and has moderated discussions at national symposiums bringing together filmmakers, nurses, producers, journalists, screen writers, administrators, directors, activists and students.

In her second presentation, a special Nurses Week research colloquium, Heilemann will share her research in actively refining a new model for nursing science that features transmedia portrayals of relatable characters, including nurse characters, as part of innovative and promising interventions with patients.

“Nurses are healthcare professionals who care for individual patients and promote health and wellness for entire populations,” says Dean Linda Scott, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. “We prepare students to recognize and appreciate their powerful role within the healthcare system. However, we do recognize that the profession still faces misconceptions regarding the scope of our practice and, sometimes, our authority.”

Scott continues: “The media is influential, and inaccurate portrayals of nurses and nursing do a disservice not only to the profession but also to the patients seeking care. We appreciate the important work Dr. Heilemann is doing both to improve representations of nurses in television and film and to advance the use of media in the care of patients. We look forward to learning more about these relationships.”

Both sessions are free and open to the public on Wednesday, May 10, in Signe Skott Cooper Hall, 701 Highland Avenue, on the UW–Madison campus.

  • “Reshaping the Image of Nurses in the Media” runs from 9–10:15 am in the Cooper Hall auditorium
  • The hour-long transmedia colloquium, “Powerful Transmedia Interventions for Symptom Management among Latinas,” begins at 1:30 pm in Room 1227.

For more information on Dr. Heilemann, either presentation or the UW–Madison School of Nursing, contact Melanie Schmidt at or 608.263.5240.