Paging Doctor Hollywood
by Christy Sillman
“Is it really like how they portray it on TV?” is probably the most common question I get when people find out I’m a nurse. Well, besides “Can you take a look at this strange ______ (fill in the blank) I have?”
In our first semester of nursing school, one of our assignments was to watch a television show or movie with a nurse and pay attention to how they are portrayed. Major stereotypes of sluts, gay men, druggies (aka Nurse Jackie), sadists (Nurse Ratchet), and basic pillow-fluffers dominate media’s image of a nurse. Even in that first semester of nursing school, I was sort of clueless to what it really is like to be a nurse.
In another assignment that semester, we had to define and describe what a nurse is in one sentence. My sentence was read aloud as example, and today I still think it’s pretty spot on: “Nurses are the eyes, ears, hands, and patient watchers for the physician.”
Doctors make the tough decisions and the medical treatment plan, but they have several patients to watch over, and several could mean 30 patients. So nurses have to assess the appropriateness of that decision/order, carry out the order, prepare and monitor for complications, and reassess the success of that order. Mostly, they have to know when to call the doctor to let them know something is wrong.
I’m not saying doctors don’t DO stuff. Many procedures are only done by the physician, but nurses are there monitoring a patient’s response to the procedure and assisting the physician throughout. I’m just saying that in Hollywood, doctors get all the fame and glory while nurses get shafted.
We’re also the ring leader of the hospital circus. We are coordinating care between many multi-disciplines: respiratory therapists (the nurse’s best friend), physical therapists (the movers and shakers of the hospital), pharmacists (the essential chemists), dieticians (the Italian grandmother), and many other disciplines, even down to the mechanic (CAN I JUST GET AN IV PUMP THAT WORKS!!!)
So, to answer the question, “Is it really like they show on TV?” — the answer is NO…well, sort of.
The problem with medical dramas on TV and in the movies is that they focus on the wrong drama. They add in all this interpersonal drama between doctors, nurses, hell even the janitor (scrubs). Granted, there is the occasional scandal and workplace catfight, but generally we’re so focused on saving lives that there leaves little place to deal with all that other crap that seems to be the focus of the TV shows. The real drama is in the patients and families we care for.
Plus, they tend to get all their medical facts wrong. And, as I mentioned before, nurses are either non-existent or a peripheral character with little substance. Half of the stuff the doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy” do are done by nurses (besides the surgery obviously). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screamed at the TV during “Grey’s”: “A DOCTOR WOULD NOT BE DRAWING PRE-OP LABS”.
The first season of “ER” was the closest a TV medical drama got accurately portraying what it really is like. THEN some Hollywood writer stepped in and tossed the medical contributors’ explanations out the door in the name of ratings. “ER” went downhill fast, and ultimately became what most of the medical TV shows are today – medical soap operas.
No, it isn’t like it is on TV – it’s even better. There is never a dull moment, and when there is, we cherish it, or eat and go to the bathroom. We all work together as one big team with many different players to save lives. There is no drama more real than watching your patient “circle the drain” and then coming together as her medical team to pull her back to a stable condition. There is nothing more satisfying then discharging your patient home to his family and friends, to live his life, which a month ago you didn’t think he would have.
Hollywood just doesn’t get it. The shows are interesting, and can have some nice moments of reality, but to me they will always be just a smidgen of what it truly is all about.