How Nurses Are Portrayed on TV: One New Show Has Some Nurses Asking to Pull the Plug

 

One of my all-time favorite shows recently had their final episode: ER. I was always a big fan of Nurse Hathaway (and Dr. Ross too) then later Sam Taggart. I always thought, if I ever end up in the ER, please let me be attended by a nurse like them (and a doctor like Dr. Ross, or at least Dr. Gates).

Of course not all nurses portrayed on television are fan favorites. Most recently, the nurse role as portrayed by Edie Falco on Showtime’s new show, Nurse Jackie, has met with a lot of criticism. In the show, her character forges an organ donor card, pops vicadon pills that she received from a pharmacist (with whom she is also having an affair), flushes a patient’s ear down the toilet, and then steals his wallet to give to a pregnant women. She is no Florence Nightingale. The New York State Nurses Association has requested that a disclaimer be added to the show, that says Falco’s “Jackie” is an aberration.

“We believe that the public’s view of nurses is influenced by TV dramas, and we have yet to see an accurate portrayal of what nurses really do,” wrote NYSNA Chief Executive Officer Tina Gerardi in a letter to Showtime. Showtime officials have denied the request.

The NYSNA describes “Nurse Jackie” as someone who has “no qualms about repeatedly violating the nursing Code of Ethics” and hoped a disclaimer will distance the show from the real world. Gerardi said she’s worried that a negative character would discourage people from joining the profession.

Of course any negative feedback from nurses regarding the show will probably create an even bigger buzz about it, which makes the Showtime executives very happy. This show is in contrast to the other new show premiering on TNT, HawthoRNe, which stars Jada Pinkett Smith as Nurse Christina Hawthorne. As a chief nursing officer, she is depicted as a hero who “prides herself on standing up for her patients and preventing them from falling through the cracks of hospital bureaucracy,” according to TNT’s web site

Should these two shows survive, they’ll be joined in early 2010 by Mercy, an NBC drama centered on three nurses at a hospital, one of four new medical dramas planned for the 2009-10 TV schedule.

Not all nurses are unanimously against the series. Showtime screened “Nurse Jackie” for a group of emergency room nurses at New York’s Roosevelt Hospital and more than four in five said they enjoyed it and would recommend it to a friend according to Showtime executives.

Registered nurse Sandy Summers has co-written a book entitled Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk. The book details how the media’s portrayal of nurses may endanger public health.

“When you have physician characters on most hospital dramas, they spend most of their time doing nursing work,” said Summers, 47, whose book cites ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Fox’s House as particular offenders. “They make people think that nursing doesn’t take much skill, and that nursing is mostly about getting stuff for physicians. And when nurses are portrayed as unskilled, we can’t get the funding we need to hire them.”

Summers, details many ways in which TV has tarnished the nursing image. For example, showing nurses who have more interest in becoming doctors, showing nurses as sex objects, shows where nurses are portrayed as mostly unskilled assistants to physicians and showing doctors doing things nurses typically do (i.e. giving intravenous medication, spending hours with one patient). She maintain that these contribute to students becoming less interested in studying to be nurses and medical professionals convinced nursing is menial work.

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