4 Ways the media gets nursing dead wrong

televisionNo one knows exactly what nurses do except other nurses.  This can create problems with family, friends, and patients themselves who expect nurses to behave a certain way.

Part of the problem is that many people just have never been in a hospital to see the important work we do.

However, the portrayal of nurses in the media certainly doesn’t help.

The primary culprits for misinformation and downright stupidity are House, Nurse Jackie, HawthoRNe, Scrubs, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and just about any other show that details the lives of doctors and nurses.

They may make for good drama, but they just don’t capture what it is really like to be a nurse in the trenches.

Some of these creative portrayals are amusing or, at worst, annoying, but some are downright dangerous to the nursing profession.  Recently, an article showed that the portrayal of male nurses can keep men from pursuing the career

Here are four ways that the media gets us wrong, but many, many more gaffs, blunders, and lies are out there  . . . and more will continue to appear until a nurse writes a TV show.


Unfortunately, men get the short end of the stick when it comes to their roles on television shows.  Most of the men you see on these shows are either patients, families, or doctors.

What’s worse, when a man is actually shown as a nurse, they are not shown in the greatest light.  So many men fight against the stereotype of the gay male nurse, but that’s what seems to crop up most frequently in the media.

When their sexuality isn’t called into question, they are usually reduced to sidekicks.  Since no one in the media knows what a nurse actually does every day, male nurses are on the periphery, ignored, or just plain a non-factor.

It wouldn’t occur to a television producer to show that a man can take on the caring and the duties associated with nursing, and that’s harmful to the profession.  Young men think the only way they can be a part of medicine is by being a doctor.

This negative or ignored attitude toward male nurses can keep talented, caring guys from considering the profession as a possibility.  We could be missing out on the best and the brightest because men are afraid of the stereotypes perpetuated by the media.

Nursing Practices

Nurses are more than bedpan jockeys, Hollywood!  We are more than assistants to the doctor, and we are not the faceless, nameless support staff on the periphery who are just there for window dressing.

We do so much for our patients: assess, diagnose, comfort, medicate, evaluate, and so much more.  The doctor is at the bedside for about five minutes a day.

Nurses are there 24/7.  We are the ones who notice a patient going bad, and we are the ones who deal with it when the BM hits the fan.

Sure, we call doctors in emergencies, but it is our skill and our judgment that gets the doctor involved.  I have yet to see a TV show that portrays nurses as the vital, front line practitioners that we actually are.

Again, this hurts nurses.  No one knows what we do.  No one has an idea that we are the important centerpiece in the great machine of medicine.

When nurses are portrayed as mere assistants, those looking to medicine for a career may discount the profession.  Even worse, they are shocked into reality when they actually hit the floor when they see what a nurse really does.

Just once, Hollywood, I’d like to see a true nurse pursuing a true shift.  There’s enough drama there for a series, I guarantee.

Physician Behavior

I’m sorry, but doctors do not draw blood, conduct MRIs, or administer medications.  Not only are they far too busy for these things, they are also not properly trained in any of these jobs.

Phlebotomists, radiology techs, and nurses are the backbone that gets these things done.  Doctors have the say in prescribing them, but they are usually not present for any of the actual work.

This is another black mark against nurses.  It once more trivializes the importance and role of the allied health workers.

While it is true that doctors have the final say, they are not as involved in patient care as some shows, particularly House and Grey’s Anatomy, would have you believe.  It isn’t like they are out on the golf course; they just don’t do those things.

“So many procedures, confidentiality rules, and medical behavior are just plain wrong.”

The public is led to believe that doctors are far more than they actually are.  When they confront the reality of the medical system, they may be distrusting of the nurses and techs who are responsible for far more than changing bedpans.

Even Nurse Jackie and HawthoRNe tend to show doctors and nurses in a light that is far from reality.  One nurse does not care for a patient over an extended period.  I was thrilled when I got the same patients on two consecutive days.

Although we can follow our patients, we are more likely to only impact their lives for the shift we are assigned to them.  Doctors are not there, sitting by the bedside, keeping track of patients for the duration.

It’s all just Hollywood hooey.

Medical Procedures

Finally, TV shows get medical procedures so wrong that a professional can’t help but laugh.  I swear, every time I see someone doing CPR compressions with spaghetti arms, I can’t help but scream at the TV.

So many procedures, confidentiality rules, and medical behavior are just plain wrong.  This can lead to potential nurses having the wrong impression of procedures and the public not understanding what a procedure really means.

For instance, MRIs can be frightening for any patient, but some of the crazy stuff that happens in these machines on TV can make the patient even more apprehensive.  Sedation, music, and comfort are all important components of a scan, but TV fails to show them properly.

In the end, television shows are going to portray nursing and medicine no matter what we do.  By educating the public, though, we can undo some of the negative and downright wrong ideas the public has about nursing and, thereby, strengthen the profession.

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