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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Primetime Portrayals

Published June 24, 2009 5:45 PM by Luke Cowles

Most of us probably know by now that no less than three primetime shows are featuring nurses in primary roles. 

After decades of St. Elsewhere, Quincy, House Calls and most recently ER and Grey's Anatomy; it's about time a healthcare drama was put forward with a nurse's point to view. 

That should be reason enough for nurses to stand up and cheer.  Finally, someone is giving a voice to what really goes on in hospitals and in the lives of nurses.  That depends on how you look at it.

All three shows are quite different. 

Showtime's Nurse Jackie, starring Edie Falco, could be a bit jarring for viewers if you're not used to black comedy. A series that begins with a drug-addicted nurse passed out on a bathroom floor with gum stuck to the sole of her shoe could take some getting used to. 

Still, it's this very character that dares to say and do what most nurses probably think sometimes, often in bold and unethical ways.

A good example is a dinner scene with a physician colleague, in which a nearby woman begins to choke. They both roll their eyes and debate whether or not they should intervene because they're off the clock and so "over" saving lives at the moment.  Jackie does ultimately intervene but it's the way she goes about it that makes her character unique.

HawthoRNe stars Jada Pinkett-Smith and airs on TNT. The series focuses on the administrative side of nursing, as Pinkett-Smith plays a single mother and the chief nursing officer of a major metropolitan hospital. 

While substance-abusing nurses can be a reality, some may find it completely implausible that a CNO would respond to a personal phone call from a suicidal patient and rush to the hospital at 4:00a.m., to talk him down from the roof. 

Rounding out the trio is the drama Mercy, which will air on NBC beginning this fall. The series focuses on a trio of nursing colleagues, each at various stages of professional accomplishment, from the new grad to the seasoned professional. 

Viewers may find this series a happy medium and more realistic as the nurses struggle with power plays from physicians and ways to "take care" of their care-giving colleagues. 

Both Nurse Jackie and Mercy feature a gay male nurse character. While positive gay role models are greatly needed on TV, we all understand men in nursing face an uphill battle with this perception. 

What do you think?  Links to the full pilot episode of Nurse Jackie as well as sneak peaks of HawthoRNe and Mercy are below. Understanding TV is "heightened" reality and not reality itself, which do you think makes the best point about what you have to say, as a nurse?

Nurse Jackie



Luke Cowles is senior regional editor at ADVANCE.


Can NBC really make that show as good as the preview?  I am going to pray that the third time is the charm.

I am following both Nurse Jackie and Hawthorne.  Mercy appears to be the perfect mix.

Nurse Jackie has a shocking way of telling the truth.  It's not always pleasant to watch, but, as an ER nurse, I know why Jackie is the way that she is.  And as far as the drug dependence....she's an educated addict who knows how to HIDE it, like SO many nurses.  It's real.  It happens.  I can only hope they show the consequences as boldly as they show her actions.

Hawthorne has the potential to become cheesy.  I liked it, but I fear it's going to go down that path of emotional manipulation.

But Mercy....preview is interesting.  Maybe the perfect mix of both.  I'm eagerly awaiting fall.

Lorettajo Kapinos, ER - RN June 25, 2009 9:50 AM
Springfield MA

This article is less than accurate in saying "substance abusing nurses can be a reality..."  In an age when every state board of nursing is grappling with the issue of chemical dependency among licensed nurses, thousands of man-hours are spent investigating suspicions of nurse drug-diversion that are found to be true.  Millions of dollars are being spent on those nurses who have already become addicted, either through use of substances legitimately prescribed initially or taken recreationally.  There must be accurate reporting on this subject.  More attention must be given to prevention.  Our catchment of nursing students is coming from a population which has millions who have already used prescription opiates without medical need or supervision.  The Monitoring The Future Study found in 2008 over 9% of 12th graders surveyed used Vicodin recreationally in the prior year and over 4% had used OxyContin.  Please look beyond the protection of image to what nursing is truly about: protecting the health and safety of all, which includes nurse colleagues.  Paula Davies Scimeca, RN, MS

Paula Davies Scimeca, RN, MS June 25, 2009 8:31 AM

Please explain to me what you mean by Nurse Jackie not being a sex object. When she allowed that doctor to feel her breasts and then didn't report him or really care she was portraying herself as a sex object. How can you think she doesn't?

Mercy sounds like it is the show to watch. I still don't see how any nurse can watch the Nurse Jackie show. I could only get through the first 10 min and could not watch anymore. And, I would never and do not know any nurse who would NOT spring into action when someone is choking. I find "that" is degrading to the nursing profession to make a face!

LInda, Nursing Instructor - RN June 24, 2009 8:25 PM

I have to say that after watching nurse jackie I am quite pleased with the show. After decades where nurses were either portrayed as hand maidens, martyrs or sex objects it is refreshing to see a real person on tv. Nurse Jackie is neither a hand maiden, a martyr or sex object but a person who with all of her faults performs her role as a nurse with compassion, efficiency , efficacy and with a passion that most nurses can relate to and understand.  I have not had a chance to watch Hawthorne or Mercy yet , but am looking forward to nurses being portrayed as real people who make differences everyday in real peoples lives...

evelyn, GENSURG - RN, SHERMAN June 24, 2009 6:53 PM

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