Medical TV-Entertainment or Annoyance? What Do RNs Think?

July 27th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

When I started thinking about this article I was actually watching a cooking show on television. I’m addicted to “Chopped” on the Food Network. That got me thinking, do real working chefs watch this?

I got more curious as I continued to watch so I picked up the phone and called  my friend Marene Gustin. She's a food writer. I asked her my question and she said she didn’t know, but she’d get right on it. If you want to know what professional foodies watch, check out Gustin’s Culture Map blog and find out.

Now this, of course, led me to think, do nurses bother to watch the medical dramas on TV? I mean over the years there have been so many. One of the first I remember was “Medical Center.” It came to mind just this week when it’s star, Chad Everett passed away. I remember my Mom watched, always saying how handsome he was. I also sort of remember my Dad making fun. I always thought that was because she was star struck. Looking back now, it was probably because he was a medical student at the time and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

In my teen years, like almost every young woman in the country I was addicted to the trials and tribulations of Luke and Laura on “General Hospital.” The VCR had been invented and I could record it and watch whenever I wanted. More snorts of derision from my now surgeon father when he would pass through the room. “M*A*S*H” is the only show with any medical integrity,” he would say.

Now, I must admit, since I became a nurse I can barely tolerate doctor/nurse/hospital shows. I tried to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” a few times. However, every time one of their surgeons would walk into the OR without a mask I would get disgusted, say something nasty to the TV, and change the channel.

With these thoughts in mind, I started a totally unscientific survey of nurses I know, or meet around the hospital. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Terri Polick, RN – “I don’t own a television anymore. But, when I did I think the closest one to reality was ‘St. Elsewhere.’ I remember episodes where there would be crazy patients and the call lights would be flashing and the nurse would say, “Oh hell, that light again.” That’s reality.

”They were one of the first shows to talk about the AIDS epidemic. They captured the back door drama and the drama in the lounges. I remember when Nurse Rosenthal had breast cancer and how she dealt with that. Back then it was death sentence.”

Nora Lawton, RN – “Most of them are so ridiculous. ‘ER’—please. And, you ever watch ‘House?’ He’s an a__ and he’s crazy.

”’China Beach’ I used to watch. She had a mission. They really cared about those boys over there (Vietnam) and I knew that was right. No one had a lot of coping mechanisms there. She worked as a nurse and she drank. We knew that really happened when people came home. Plus, I liked that they didn’t just save a life, you got follow-up. You found out what happened to them afterwards.

”And I liked ‘Marcus Welby, MD.’ He was ethical and practical and useful. One of those old Docs who still made house calls.”

Audrey Orlino, RN – “Ok, I like ‘House.’ You know, he does all those diagnoses. He looks at all those signs and symptoms, narrows it down, and then figures it out. It’s fun.”

Now of course while Orlino was talking and telling me this, one of her friends and coworkers was yelling, “Oh my gosh, are you kidding. He’s ridiculous, no one does that. And, where are all the nurses at that hospital. You never see any.”

Erik Martinez, RN – “ I used to watch ‘M*A*S*H. I loved that one. But now, I don’t really watch any of them. I tried to watch ‘ER’ when it first came out. But then, in the first season, they had this ridiculous moment.

”There was a medical student alone in an ER triage room with a patient. The guy throws a ruptured AAA. There just happens to be a tray of instruments in the room, she grabs a knife, then a clamp and fixes him up—in just five minutes.

”I never watched again.”

This avoidance or disregard for medical dramas on television carries over to other media when it comes to healthcare professionals. The current national obsession with the novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” elicited a tirade that had me in stitches when I was talking with an OB nurse one day.

Stephanie Posada, RN – “I started reading the book and I got the fascination. It’s romantic, he’s everything you look for in a perfect man. And then came the love scenes. Oh My God! The things they do. I just can’t help thinking, this woman will never have any bladder control again. Her pelvic floor is totally gonna be dropping. They’re doing what?

"Then, I flash on all the emergency procedures I’ve seen. I hear women talking about how erotic this book is and all I can see is the stuff we have removed from people in the emergency room. I don’t know how any OB nurse could read this and find it fun.”

So, clearly it’s not just TV that makes those of us in healthcare grimace sometimes. I know these shows are escapism. I know lots of people really enjoy them and I’m glad. But folks, you must remember they are fiction. Nurses, or even more likely techs, take blood. Nursing assistants change beds, walk patients, and collect vital signs. Docs never have that much time to hang around in patient’s rooms and I can’t remember the last time I saw a hospital administrator on the unit.

What are your thoughts? Are there some medical shows you’ve loved? Have I been too harsh? Tell us. We would love to hear your thoughts on state of medical entertainment in the year 2012.

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