There are few inspirational nurses on television today and even fewer nursing lessons. In most hospital dramas, nurses are on the sidelines and rarely interact with patients. When nurses are in focus, as seen in MTV's reality show Scrubbing In, they are often depicted as sex objects who chose their profession to meet cute doctors. Some past and present shows paint a more complex, but accurate, picture of the important role nurses play in health care. If you want to become a nurse, these television characters can offer you some nursing lessons: Carla Espinosa in Scrubs, Christina Hawthorne in Hawthorne and Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie.
Care will be compromised by budgets and red tape. Patients don't always come first, at least not for administrators. For example, in the season 5 premiere of Nurse Jackie, Jackie gets upset over the fact that there is only one CT scan machine and that a patient with a bladder tumor gets the test before a patient suffering from a brain trauma.
Nurses can be leaders. While nursing is an exciting and rewarding career in itself, there are also many opportunities for nurses to advance to management positions. In Hawthorne, Christina Hawthorne is a chief nursing officer who heads a team of nurses, and in season 2, she clashes with the director of nursing when the two disagree over patient decisions. The show excels at recognizing nurses with authority and decision making power, which is far from the usual depiction of nurses as assistants to physicians.
In fact, nurses are autonomous to doctors. Nurses report to other nurses, not doctors, and while part of their job is to implement physician treatment plans, they are also obligated to refuse to do so if they believe it will harm the patient. Because of this factor, they serve an important role in catching physician errors. In Scrubs, Carla helps out interns and residents by catching their errors, such as in the episode "His Story III" in which she also takes charge and handles a seizure.
Ethical decisions will be more challenging than clinical ones. Nursing school can prepare you for the clinical decisions you will make in your career, but the ethical challenges you will face might not compare with any example in your text books. In season 2 of Hawthorne, Christina takes care of a drug-addicted patient, who needs heart surgery. The hospital's ethics committee decides that the patient should go to rehab first, while Christina believes that the patient will not survive rehab without a heart valve replacement. Christina ultimately takes her complaints to the ethics committee, which tackles ethical dilemmas like this.
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