Misrepresentation of Nurses in Television

By: Maureen Borberg

A common trope found in modern media is the popularity of medical television shows and movies. The inner workings of the hospital, the lives of doctors and nurses, and the plethora of diseases and injuries provide a constant stream of content for networks.

Medical shows pique our interest. While many of the patients are familiar with the hospital and its procedures, we are unaware of how our care is administered.

As a society, we trust the trained medical professionals tasked with caring for us when we cannot care for ourselves. It is important to note that most medical shows are not claiming to be accurate in the actual administration of patient care. They serve more of a reality TV purpose, created for pure entertainment.

However, when we dig a little deeper, there are underlying biases and stereotypes influencing the tone of most shows. These tropes can be detrimental to the way we are influenced to treat medical professionals of certain specialties. We asked our nurses and other clinical staff how they felt their professions are represented in the realm of medical entertainment. The overwhelming response was simple: their representation is inadequate.

The most popular grievance among our nurses is that the full scope of their duties in the hospital is never fully pictured. They are generally characterized as supporting personnel and secondary caregivers.

Nurses on television shows tend to be pushed around by both patients and doctors alike. They are forced to grapple with demeaning attitudes and words of contempt due to their “lowly station” in the hospital hierarchy. The Hollywood representation of their specialties is not only inaccurate but degrading. The duties which occupy nurses in the hospital are vital to the successful treatment of patients, and yet, these tasks are often overlooked. It is essential to recognize that our nurses provide the lifeline between patients and doctors, but this is not their only purpose.

Nurses are responsible for the lion’s share of patient care in the hospital. They should not be portrayed as lower-class medical professionals with no influence over treatment. Our nurses shared a common sentiment; they are not merely the “doctor’s helpers,” but are the backbone of every healthcare system and should be recognized as such.

Standard medical shows display a relationship between doctor and nurse which discredits the nurse’s position in the hospital and misrepresents their actual job description. In an authentic and ideal hospital setting, nurses work with doctors to provide efficient assistance. There is a degree of respect between the medical professions that ensures successful care.

The final misrepresentation brought to our attention was how other specialties in the hospital failed to be recognized. While nurses play a vital role and should be credited, Respiratory Therapists, Certified Nurses Assistants, Emergency Medical Technicians, and so many other specialties receive even less visibility in medical dramas and comedies. Their contributions are scarcely recognized.

Our staff made it clear that these professions provided irreplaceable assistance and worked hard to keep the hospital operating smoothly. They are trained in their specialty just like their fellow medical professionals and should be identified as valuable team members.

If you are looking for the most accurate and enjoyable show as recognized by our Krucial Krew, turn your head to NBC’s critically acclaimed show, ER. This television series was renewed for fifteen seasons after its premiere in 1994 and became a staple in the world of medical dramas.

Another long-running television show, Grey’s Anatomy, failed to elicit the same amount of excitement from our nurses. They deemed it the most inaccurate Hollywood portrayal of hospital life, with inattentive and dull nurses.

The misrepresentation of nurses in modern television is a common occurrence that can influence our medical professionals’ treatment, based on nothing more than stereotypes. Nurses are commonly identified in this form of entertainment as supporting personnel, with their duties seldom acknowledged. They are occasionally characterized as muted or foolish, with little to no influence over patient care.

Their vital, everyday tasks in real life are excluded, their roles simplified and portrayed as merely “doctor’s helpers.” However, this is not the case nor how they should be represented. Nurses are pivotal in communicating needs to all other members of the healthcare system and advocating for their patients.

Their coworkers who take on the title of RRT, CNA, and EMT are hardly recognized for their contributions. This lack of representation of other clinical professionals continues to undermine their work and importance to the healthcare system.

These stereotypes perpetuated by the Hollywood medical scene can be detrimental to our caregivers in real life. Once we are able to identify these biases and propagandist portrayals of medical professionals, we can treat our nurses with the respect and admiration they deserve.

Interested in contributing to the Krucial Kollective? Send us an e-mail at marketing@krucialrr.org and let us know what you would like to write!

However, when we dig a little deeper, there are underlying biases and stereotypes influencing the tone of most shows. These tropes can be detrimental to the way we are influenced to treat medical professionals of certain specialties.

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