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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Move Over Nurse Jackie!

Published September 23, 2009 4:42 PM by Luke Cowles

Just when you thought nurses were under-represented on TV, we now have no fewer than three primetime series about the lives of nurses. Since the "nursing shortage" in primetime has all but been eliminated, the question now is: Which series most accurately depicts the "real" lives of nurses? Keep in mind that all TV is "heightened reality." No one wants to tune in and see what literally happens in the course of anyone's day. "Real" reality can be boring. That's why even "reality" shows are scripted and manipulated to a certain degree. Sorry to disappoint you, Survivor fans.

Understanding that, I have to say of three nursing shows that grace the airwaves now, I believe Mercy, which debuts tonight on NBC 8/7c, is the best choice by far. It gives those not familiar with nursing a peek into the passion and struggle of the lives of nurses that isn't so far inflated that it's a laughable fairytale. It also gives nurses a sense of validation for the challenges they face, enough suspense to not become predictable and a cast with quality writing that provides nurses with the respect they deserve. 

While Showtime's ethically-challenged, Nurse Jackie features a renegade nurse who does things most nurses only wish they could do, it might provide a sense of escapism for viewers but does nothing to promote the true essence of what nursing really is. We all know the media has a terrible track record with that. 

If you saw the scene from TNT's HawthoRNe where the chief nursing officer leaves her home after being paged at 4:00 a.m. to "talk down" a suicidal patient from the hospital roof ... I don't think I need to say anymore about that show. Still, both have been renewed for another season.

Mercy feels like Grey's Anatomy for nurses ... at least Grey's Anatomy when it was good.  I believe the public will be entertained and educated by it while nurses get a sense of pride and vindication. 

While the show is terrific, as a whole, there is one misstep. The lone male nurse character is gay. While I completely support the presence of gay characters on TV, we all know male nurses have always had an uphill battle with stereotypes in this department.  When I interviewed the producers several months ago, I was told the choice was made because they really wanted the nursing focus to be based in female camaraderie and that a straight male nurse could tip this dynamic in a different direction. The possibility remained open for a male nurse later in the series, but this was the preferred way to debut Mercy. Tune in tonight and let us know what you think.

4 comments

I've watched every episode of Mercy.  I like the storyline (and this week even made me cry.)  However, they really need to get a health professional on the set to bring at least a minimum degree of reality to the technical side.  If they're only trying to attract non-medical viewers, then keep up what they're doing.  However, if they want nurse viewers, then don't show someone in VFib bouncing around on the stretcher.  Just because the rhythm looks fast and ugly, that doesn't mean the patient looks the same.

Dana Palmer, telemetry - RN, UVa October 23, 2009 9:25 AM
Charlottesville VA

So i finally got to see the third of the 3 new nursing shows. Mercey debuted last night on NBC and i rank it right in the middle of the three. Nurse Jackie, on Showtime, is genius. Now im an RN...and a male RN at that. I watch Nurse Jackie because it is thoroughly entertaining. Not because i want to learn about how nurses act. I dont watch House to learn how all Doctors act. For those who are up in arms about a television show...ITS A TV SHOW. I think the general public has more respect and intelligence than to believe that a protrayal on TV is how a nurse truly performs.

HawthoRNe was the second of the three and i have to say im amazed it got picked up for a second season, not because of its portrayal of nursing, but because its just not a well written show...not to mention that it depicts the main character, a nursing supervisor, performing all the tasks of her staff nurses, and more. Show me one supervisor who still does bedside care like this one.

And now Mercy. In the first scene, the returning Iraqi veteran nurse performs a makeshift needle decompression with a drinking straw. A little over the top, but not something a skilled ER nurse wouldnt know how to do. I wouldnt suggest it, but the knowledge might be there. She is quicly chastized by the ER attending with the comment of "your a nurse! A nurse!"

While Mercy has had only one episode, it was entertaining enough for me to watch again. We will see how it plays out and if it can keep interest.

I dont watch these shows to learn how to be a better nurse. I watch them to be entertained by characters who happen to do a similar job that i do. I am not offended, i am entertained.

By the way....for those who can remember, the last good male nurse character i remember was on ER. He was a tall blond (He played Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass in Remember the Titans) straight guy and i think he was in like 3 epiosodes. Why cant we feature straight male characters in a nursing show....or any medical show for that matter.

Now.....go be entertained!

Michael Isaacs, ER - RN September 25, 2009 5:56 AM
East Northport NY

I watched Mercy last night and was moderately entertained. The show is okay. Since shows like these will often get better as they progress I will continue to tune in for a while.

I also noted that the only male nurse figure is clearly gay and while I firmly believe that gay people should be represented in entertainment to the same degree that we find them in real life in this case I think it does perpetuate a stereotype.

Mike Gridley September 24, 2009 5:37 PM

Spoiler Alert! I tuned in to watch the new TV show Mercy last night, the series on NBC featuring three

September 24, 2009 12:52 PM

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