Web site spotlight: Skepticism and some optimism surround new nurse dramas

Nurse Leader Insider, June 8, 2009

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Two new fictional nurses, “Jackie Peyton” (portrayed in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie) and “Christina Hawthorne” (TNT’s HawthoRNe), will light up TV screens in the next two weeks. In the fall, NBC will introduce “Veronica Callahan” when it premieres the nursing drama Mercy. But how the shows will affect real world nurses has come into question.

“Television shows largely depict physician characters doing the work that nurses do in real life,” says Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH, founder and executive director of The Truth About Nursing, and co-author of Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk. “Hollywood media shows physicians performing triage, defibrillation, patient education, IV medication administration, providing 24/7 surveillance, and handling complex ICU machinery—this is all exciting, dramatic work of nursing that nurses deserve credit for.”

The debut of Nurse Jackie on June 8 and HawthoRNe on June 16 will bring nurses back in the limelight as the shows’ main characters. It’s been more than 15 years since a nurse-centered TV series (NBC’s Nurses) aired in the U.S., despite the myriad of emerging medical shows.

While Summers is happy nurses are getting more TV exposure, she stresses the damages current dramas have on the profession.

“Career seekers who want to pursue careers with autonomy look elsewhere,” she says. “Who would want the job of nursing as it is portrayed on House or Grey’s Anatomy? Nurses barely exist on those shows, but to the extent they do appear, they are fawning or bitter lackeys—the lowly clean-up crew of healthcare.”

Editor’s note: This excerpt was adapted from the article, “Skepticism and some optimism surround new nurse dramas” featured in The Reading Room on HCPro’s online resource center,

Do you need continuing education (CE) credits? Check out this month’s CE article to find out how one health system lowered ventilator-associated pneumonia rates with an eICU or visit our archives and view a compilation of CE articles (marked with an asterisk).

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