UNAC/UHCP Statement: A Real Nurse Who’s Not on Drugs Responds to ABC 20/20’s Sleaze-Fest Report on Nursing

April 2015

Statement by Denise Duncan, RN regarding the 20/20 piece aired on April 3, 2015

On the April 3, 2015 edition of ABC’s 20/20, we were surprised to hear from three relatively inexperienced nurses (11 month, 6 year, and 7 year careers, respectively) about the hazing, drug addicted coworkers and bullying they have experienced on the job. This painted a negative portrait of a profession well known for being one of the most caring in the entire work world, named the most trusted profession in America for the last 14 of the last 15 years by Gallup polls.

The expert interviewed for the piece is author Alexandra Robbins, not a nurse herself, whose book The Nurses comes out in two weeks. Coincidentally, the 20/20 piece follows the narrative of her book, namely hazing, painkiller addiction and bullying. The only thing missing was the sex, which the book will also apparently highlight. While this may make for a good story in Robbins' book, it is not the true story of what it is like to be a nurse. We are disappointed a national news organization like ABC would air a publicity piece for a forthcoming book.

I’ve been a Registered Nurse myself for over thirty years. As an RN and Executive Vice President for a union representing over 20,000 nurses in California, I am appalled at the distortions in the piece. The American Nurses Association was given the opportunity to respond on the one issue of workplace bullying, but otherwise there was no opportunity for a group representing nurses to comment on the so-called confessions in the piece. In 2004, I was co-researcher on the first-ever study of nurse perceptions of medical errors and their causes, published in The Journal of Nursing Care Quality. With all that I’ve seen and studied of the nursing profession for over three decades, I can safely say that the 20/20 report does not describe the everyday experience of the vast majority of working nurses.

In the piece, one statistic cited claimed 8-20% of health care professionals—not nurses—are drug addicts. While we could not find that particular statistic, there is a well-known statistic cited in an April 2014 article in USA Today that the lifetime risk for addiction by all health care professionals, including doctors, techs and the many other professions exposed to addictive drugs, is 10%.

One of the nurses interviewed in the story discussed a hazing incident where she was assigned extra patients by the other nurses. The charge nurse assigns patients, not other nurses. Anyone who has ever met a nurse knows that nurses put their patients first, sometimes being forced to skip meal breaks and stay late to ensure proper care. Understaffing is a huge problem in health care, and one reason California has a state law requiring a maximum number of patients per nurse by unit.

We ask that 20/20 retract their story and put out a fair and balanced piece on nursing, focused more on the rampant issue of hospital patient violence, which disproportionally impacts nurses. Nurses face violent attack on the job more than any other profession besides police officers. Brave nurses go to work risking life and limb in order to care for patients, and yet are being attacked by the very patients for whom they are caring. Far more nurses face the loss of life and health at the hands of their patients every day than engage in the kinds of behavior depicted in this skewed report on 20/20.


UNAC/UHCP represents 25,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals, including optometrists; pharmacists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; nurse midwives; social workers; clinical lab scientists; physician assistants and nurse practitioners. UNAC/UHCP is affiliated with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (NUHHCE) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO.