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The Difference Between Nurses in Movies and Reality

Higher Education Articles July 4, 2014

Probably from the first days of cinema, movies and television shows using a hospital setting have been popular among viewers. However, the audience was generally transfixed by the heroic exploits of doctors, while nurses remained in the background, more as a decorative backdrop than as hospital staff that served any truly useful function.

While television shows like Scrubs have at least brought nurses more into focus, we are still being bombarded with stereotypes of movie nurses that influence public opinion on the personalities of nurses and the roles they play in the medical profession.

Movie Nurses: Fail!

One of the most offensive is MTV’s new “reality” show that depicts nine young nurses that travel to California in the interest of their profession. It would be more appropriately called Nurses Gone Wild than Scrubbing In. The movie nurses are apparently hired more for their hot bodies than for their credentials, as two show up without even producing their RN license.

They seem to have very little concern for hospital procedures, are unfamiliar with starting IVs, do not practice patient confidentiality, abandon their unit on a whim, and will sit down on patients’ beds in dirty scrubs. Their main conversation involves appraising the hottest doctors, discussing their boobs, and going to parties.

Even the two most popular medical shows, House and Grey’s Anatomy make a mockery out of nurses as little more than hospital maids. Apparently, all they do is fetch and carry. They do not assist physicians, do not take blood samples, have no knowledge of how to operate hospital equipment, and are unable to discern a patient’s vital signs.

Male Movie Nurses: An Injustice

Perhaps the greatest injustice is done to male nurses. They are generally depicted as gay or flunkies from medical school. In the Disney XD series, Lab Rats, one of two brothers has become a nurse practitioner instead of a medical doctor because he was afraid of needles. Never mind that nurses are taught to give immunizations and injections. In Modern Family, the musician turned nurse is a good natured dim wit, giving the impression that it doesn’t take a great deal of brains to go into the nursing profession.

Subtle misinformation on movie nurses appears in the sci-fi movie Contagion. In the movie, no nurses are attending the patients during a critical pandemic because they had all gone on strike. According to the devoted physicians, the nurses were refusing to work because “there were no protocols for this.”

At the last check, it was the responsibility of nurses to educate, identify problem areas, and collect data. They are often at risk to communicable diseases, but their code of ethics prevents them from passing the buck. They are there for disease outbreaks, national disasters, and other circumstances that call for bravery, stoicism, and determination.

Better Portrayals of Movie Nurses

Are there any good films or television shows concerning nurses? Anyone who remembers the series M*A*S*H is unable to forget the head nurse, “Hot Lips Hoolihan.” Although the show was crafted primarily around humor, Hoolihan’s cool head and steady hand at the operating table depicts the true nobility of the nursing profession.

Top must-see movies include Precious. Based on a novel by the same title, a nurse’s aide becomes involved in the plight of a young girl who gives birth to a second child, fathered by her own father. An unforgettable film was The English Patient, which depicts the devotion of a young nurse to her patient during the perils of World War II. Other great movies honoring the profession of the nurse include Wit, Magnolia, and Eastern Promise.

Finding films that represent the true qualities of nursing care is difficult. Stereotypes continue to see the nurse as someone whose greatest skills lay in changing sheets and beguiling noble doctors, but the stereotype is slowly changing.

Nursing requires a studious nature, a great deal of discipline, a great deal of knowledge in medical terms and practices and a devotion to the well-being of their patients. It’s time to bring the nursing reality to the forefront as the physician is not the only hero.

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