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With Shows Like 'Hawthorne' and 'Nurse Jackie,' Is Nursing Now Considered Trendy?

With Shows Like 'Hawthorne' and 'Nurse Jackie,' Is Nursing Now Considered Trendy?

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

The Fayetteville Observer

February 16, 2010

Feb. 15—For years, audiences have tuned in to prime-time medical dramas such as “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy” to watch doctors juggle their messy personal lives along with saving the lives of others.

An accurate portrayal of nurses sometimes has been missing, though, some nurses say. That’s one reason why Sandra “Mac” McCarthy used to change the channel whenever a medical show aired.

“They always show the physician being a nurse, a social worker, the tech and everything else,” said McCarthy, who is the senior vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer for Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.

“That’s one of the reasons why I don’t watch the programs,” she said. “It annoys me that they are very unrealistic.”

But in the past year, the focus has shifted to shine the light on nurses. The recent increase of nurse-centered TV shows, merchandise and publications may be signs of a heightened public interest in this profession.

Now, doctors are out. Nurses are in.

Programs such as TNT’s “Hawthorne” and Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” are both entering their second seasons. Clothing retailers are offering more fashionable medical scrubs for nurses and hospital staffers. And “Scrubs,” a quarterly magazine, launched this year to a target audience of professional and aspiring nurses.

But the increased visibility of nursing in the mainstream hasn’t come without a caveat, McCarthy said.

“A large portion of education about nursing comes from TV, and some of these shows present a poor judgment of nursing,” she said.

Historically, nurses have been seen as “naughty nurses” or the low-skilled assistants to physicians, according to the advocacy group The Truth About Nursing, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the portrayal of nurses in the media.

Last year, the group deemed shows such as “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy” guilty of this offense in their 2009 Truth About Nursing Awards. On the other hand, the newest nurse-friendly programs, “Hawthorne,” “Nurse Jackie” and NBC’s “Mercy,” were at the top of the list of winners for their realistic portrayal of nurses.

“Only time will tell if the new nurse shows signal a long-term improvement in television’s generally awful treatment of nursing,” said Sandy Summers, the organization’s executive director, in a press release. “These shows are just starting out, their audiences are relatively limited, and otherwise television continues to reinforce the idea that only physicians matter.”

Andrea Novack is the administrator for nursing and interdisciplinary continuing education at the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center on Owen Drive. She has served as a nurse and educator for 26 years. While some TV series aren’t always accurate, she believes the most recent shows are a sign of progress.

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