TV nurses…are they really so bad?

Image: NBC | TNT | Showtime

I have become humbled recently. My attitude and views about ‘TV nurses’ has changed. And if changed isn’t a good word, then maybe acceptance would be a better way of describing my feelings.

I’ve been a very passionate advocate for my chosen career. I speak up in my personal life, amongst my professional colleagues and within my social circles of the ‘interwebs’ and nurs-o-sphere. Up until recently I absolutely despised any shred of an attempt network television made at properly representing nurses . All the medical TV shows I’ve watched over the past (and present) had left me flabbergasted.

If it were a medical ‘drama’ the nurse (she- never he) was of course the ‘sex object’ that was professionally misrepresented. She was just the object of affection that didn’t contribute much to the function of the medical team.

Most recently there have been a handful of ‘nursing’ shows that have seen some mild success, each with their own following. I too had an equal amount of discontent for their misrepresentation. Nurses were sleeping with doctors, were trying to act like doctors, and well…nurses were doing everything except being nurses. So I refused to watch any of those ‘nursing’ shows.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been quite the hypocrite.

Years ago, when the TV show ‘House’ was in its infancy, I was a HUGE fan. I loved Dr. House’s banter, his no holds-barred attitude towards the patient, and the really cool medical puzzles he and his team solved each week. Then as my nursing career evolved (which was right around the time this show surfaced) I realized ‘House’ never had any nurses?? The blood draws were done by the doctors, the transportation and bedside treatments were all being performed by doctors – when they are normally carried out by the nurse.

Hmm. So I ‘boycotted’ the show, and stopped watching.

Fast forward to this past year of TV shows. I became a fan of ‘Trauma’ (which was unfortunately canceled), I started to watch ‘Greys Anatomy’ with fervor, and ‘Private Practice’ was something I watched when time permitted.

Yep, I told ya. A hypocrite.

It took me up until this year to grasp the concept, but I’ve got it now. TV is just… well TV. What you see isn’t what your get in real life. Ask any physician, or EMT, or paramedic, or any other health care professional. We are all misrepresented for a reason. It’s called ratings. The show is a ‘show’ for one reason, to get us to turn our TV sets on to watch the episodes, week in and week out. No other reason. TV drama is not about spreading the good word or advocating for a specific society or organization. It’s about entertainment, nothing more, nothing less.

If we as a society, health care professional or not, need to sacrifice the ‘truth’ to get the ratings and to draw in the audience, then so be it. We should all be wise and educated enough to understand that what you just saw on the latest TV episode is not what you will experience in the hospital, or in your physician office, or on your next ambulance trip. To expect anything less from ourselves would rob of us all of some good entertainment and high-quality real-life health care.

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5 Responses to TV nurses…are they really so bad?

  1. Katerina

    Hey,hey,heeeey…what about “ER”? :))

  2. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Katerina I was a fan of ER when ER was a brand new show.. but lost interest later down the road. :)

  3. Dear Sean,
    I have to disagree with you. Television and other media does have an effect on public opinion. What people see and hear affects how they think. Advertisers wouldn’t spend billions on it every year if it didn’t work. And endless stereotypes of nurses as handmaidens, unskilled servants or naughty nurses (whose job is to provide sexual services to patients and/or physicians), undermine our ability to attain adequate funds for nursing practice, research and education. Let’s look at short staffing. It just doesn’t happen. It happens because somebody who doesn’t understand the value of nursing thinks it’s acceptable or that nurse staffing doesn’t matter to the quality of patient lives. And that undervaluation of nursing is created and fueled by negative media portrayals. We actually just wrote an op-ed on just this, which was published in Nursing Times in the UK. (free registration). Sandy Summers, Founder and Executive Director of The Truth About Nursing non-profit.

  4. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Sandy I agree that the portrayals are FAR from accurate. There isn’t a nurse out there that wouldn’t argue that. But to condemn the TV networks for ‘selling’ any idea, no matter how untrue it may be, for the sake of entertainment does not diminish nor belittle the true profession.
    One’s perception is one’s reality, and we as nurses have to believe that our patients’ can discern and know the difference between the reality of our care and what they choose to watch on TV. My humble opinion.

  5. omoye

    I love MERCY n’ HAWTHORNE inspire me
    in nursing career.