On Sar the Sensational’s blog she recently had a guest blogger write a well written and articulate post. It had to do with the Arizona state Board of Nursing having an issue with The Heart Attack Grill in Tempe, AZ using the term “nurse” to name their waitresses, as in “Nurse (waitress’ first name)”. She also wrote about different letter and phone call campaigns by various nursing organization and associations complaining about the portrayal of nurses on television shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and House. She made the argument that these are just cases of political correctness gone overboard. And while I see her point and her post was well written and articulate, as a nurse myself I would like to tell the “other side of the story.”

As for The Heart Attack Grill attaching the label “nurse” the waitresses’ name, no, no one is going to confuse these women with real nurses. The customers at this food establishment are going to realize these women are waitresses. However, there are legal issues involved. It specifically states in the Arizona state laws that ‘only a person who holds a valid and current license to practice professional nursing in the state may use the title nurse’. There are actually laws like this in every single state in the nation. Each worded slightly differently but all boiling down to the fact if you do not have the license (RN, LPN or LVN) you do not have the right to use the label nurse. Each of us who do have that license have worked our arses off for it and it is insulting when just anyone who does not have that education and skill set calls themselves a nurse. No, I am absolutely not claiming I am any better than these waitresses. I am simply saying I had to get an education and pass a national licensing test to call myself a nurse. So it’s neither fair nor right that these women are able to use that label without a similar education and the same national licensing test.

As for television shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy and House portraying nurses
inaccurately, I will start by saying I happen to enjoy watching all three of those shows. Each of them is set to record weekly to my DVR. They’re a lot of fun to watch for entertainment value. But not one of them shows you accurately what a nurse does on a day to day basis. In fact, I get a kick out of watching House and seeing the physicians administer all of the medications. That just ain’t how it happens in reality. In reality the physician writes the order, it’s sent to pharmacy, pharmacy checks the order, the nurse caring for the patient checks the order, and then the nurse administers the medication. (Obviously this doesn’t apply in emergent situations.) These shows don’t give nurses nearly enough credit for what we do on a daily basis for our patients. We are a valuable part of the health care team. In reality, a physician may see a patient face to face for between five and fifteen minutes out of a day. (That’s not to say they’re not monitoring lab work, etc. the rest of the day from their office.) But the other twenty three plus hours a day, it’s a nurse watching that patient and letting the physician know when something is changing or needs their attention. We are not handmaidens to the physicians, fetching them coffee and things. We are their eyes and ears the vast majority of the day that they’re not face to face with the patient. So for one thing, it’s insulting to be portrayed as just fetchers and handmaidens for the physicians. It undermines our status as a valuable part of the health care team.

Now, of course these television shows have no obligation to portray nurses (or any other profession, for that matter) accurately. It is, after all, fiction. However, we nurses struggle to be respected and seen as professionals. To be portrayed so lowly on television shows that are viewed by literally millions of people undermines our attempts at that.

It also effects the numbers of young women (and let’s not forget the men, too) who enter the nursing profession. Let’s face it… we all know that hundreds of college students enter criminal justice programs wanting to become crime scene investigators after watching how cool the job seems on CSI shows. Right? Well, with so many more professions becoming easier and easier for women to enter, young women have more and more choices for careers than ever before. Why would they want to choose a career that appears so lowly and underrated, as well as not respected, as nursing? These are the issues that many nurses have with the incorrect portrayal of nursing on television and in the media. And now I’ll step off my soap box… :)