Are patient call bells sexist? Do we need to steer away from gender stereotypes?

Many are suggesting that the “sexist” iconography found on medical equipment needs to be updated.

James McKay
2 April 2021
Patient pressing nurse call bell.

A recent study found that no nurse call bells used male-only imagery.

A female nurse depicted on a patient call buzzer has sparked an intense online debate around the use of sexist imagery in nursing.

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Many are now suggesting that the “sexist” iconography found on medical equipment needs to be updated and the inclusivity of men throughout the profession considered.

A recent study found that no nurse call bells used male-only imagery and suggested that an alternative image is used instead.

Leanne Patrick, a specialist nurse in gender-based violence and founder of the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) feminist network, said it was disappointing to see such imagery in 2021.

She said; “Iconography that is outdated will make little sense to younger people and therefore should be phased out.”

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“Nurses are well acquainted with sexist and mysogynistic stereotypes, right down to the images that are designed to represent them on medical equipment.

“Nurses aren’t a homogenous group of women in dresses in hats, and they aren’t the only healthcare staff who answer buzzers.

“They are not nurse bells, so it’s disappointing to see such depictions in 2021.”

Stephen Paget, a third-year student nurse and member of the Men in Nursing Together (MINT) group, added; “It doesn’t matter how we perceive the images/Icons – we are not the ones using them.

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“It has to be easily identifiable by service users/patients when in a normal state of mind or altered for some reason. Iconography tends to be simple as the raw images we saw as infants developing have the strongest innate reactions.”

“I’m all for representation and inclusion but we have to choose what to fight.

“I’d rather wage war on the government to address pay, recruitment, and retention”, he added.

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