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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Nurse Jackie: Good Nurse or Bad?

Published June 8, 2009 1:13 PM by Ainsley Maloney

Jackie Peyton is a pill-popping, cursing, adulterous ED nurse in the new half-hour dark comedy Nurse Jackie premièring tonight on Showtime at 10:30 ET/PT.

She's also quite possibly one of the best portrayals of the nursing profession prime-time TV has ever seen.

Don't take our word for it. Just ask Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN, executive director of The Truth About Nursing, a non-profit organization that works to change how the world thinks about nursing, and the person we least expected to give Nurse Jackie a positive rating.

Summers wrote an entire book on how TV shows like Grey's Anatomy, ER and House lead people to believe nurses "simply push gurneys, drive romantic plots, and provide a backdrop for the real action," which reinforce stereotypes that fuel the nursing shortage.

Yet out of a four star rating - with four stars going to the show that most positively portrays the nursing profession - Summers gives Nurse Jackie three-and-a-half stars and Grey's a half star.

How can that be? After all, hundreds of nurses have already said they cringed at the Nurse Jackie billboards showing actress Edie Falco (best known for her role as Mafia wife on the hit show The Sopranos), giving us the "middle finger" with her syringe. And others, like San-Francisco-based ER nurse Kim who runs Emergiblog, are asking why oh why did they have to make her a drug addict?

But Summers says it's what the show says about nursing - as compared to this one nurse - that's important, and "the show depicts a lot of positive things about nursing."

She believes the show shatters, rather than reinforces, many stereotypes: It portrays nurse Jackie as making autonomous decisions, as doing a nurse's job (too often done by physicians in other shows), as advocating for her patients, mentoring other nurses (showing a hierarchy of education and skills), and knowing things physicians don't.

As for her drug addiction and extra-marital affair? Summers said nurse Jackie's flaws aren't reinforcing any stereotypes, so it's unlikely her negative qualities will reflect poorly on the nursing profession as a whole.

"I can't say we're going to love everything about every episode," Summers said. "But I want to encourage nurses to tune in, even though some things might be painful to watch."

Even if you don't agree with what the show has to say, the show is "a vehicle" to talk to the public about what nursing is and what nurses do, she said.  "We're trying to get nurses to stay engaged and use the drama to get others to think about nursing - to explain their work to their friends and family. Talking about this show is how we can get people to change their thinking."

So tune into Nurse Jackie tonight, then come back tomorrow to read a blog about the première episode and tell us your thoughts. And make sure to visit our Web site June 24 for a more thorough analysis of Nurse Jackie and another nurse-focused show this summer HawthoRNe starring Jada Pinkett Smith and premièring June 16 at 9/8 p.m. central on TNT.

5 comments

I am not with the taking drugs to keep up, but i understand and i could relate to telling the Doctors what i have access with authority. It not a easy profession I do feel that when i get home i need a great *** to relieve the stress of the day.

Debbieann, MED/SURg - RN, Agency June 15, 2009 5:43 PM
Brooklyn NY

Wow! This may possibly be the best regular show on T.V. It will definitely set new standards for viewer engrossment. Accurate? Yes, as my 40+ years in hospitals and medicine will attest, but who cares? The superb Edie Falco is my kind of nurse, whose experience transcends most of the inept characters who see emergency cases in real life; she has character and machismo. She has flaws, possibly due to her longevity in emergency nursing. Writing, casting and directing are without peer in today's T.V. "standards" - In fact, this series is so good that it doesn't even belong on T.V.! Thank you, Creators & Showtime - It's my new Sopranos, the new "Hospital." I no longer have to pick apart the ridiculous schmaltz and medical inaccuracies of all the past medical programs. We have reached a new standard.

Ges, Clin. Pathology - Ph.D., Clin Lab Sci, Med. Lab (Mobile) June 9, 2009 6:49 PM
San Diego CA

The first episode of Nurse Jackie premièred last night on Showtime. If you didn't catch it, you can watch

June 9, 2009 1:35 PM

My first reaction to Nurse Jackie was chagrin. Here was a nurse who was doing more than standing in the background watching physicians do everything for a patient -- I've never been cared for in a hospital like that!!! -- and really advocating for the patient. Why does she have to be so flawed? Showtime says this is for entertainment only, but come on, with so few positive images of nurses couldn't the first strong one be of a really good nurse? Got to admit I'm hooked and can't wait to see further episodes. Anyone else stay up late enough to watch the show? What did you think

Gail June 9, 2009 1:32 PM

I just saw the first episode (edited of course) on the Showtime Web site--it's awesome. She's like the Robin Hood of Healthcare. I can definitely see where it can rankle some, though, especially the drugs and language.  

Abbey Scott June 8, 2009 4:49 PM

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