"7th Heaven"'s portrayal of nursing reportedly less than divine
November 24, 2003 -- Tonight's episode of the WB's popular "7th Heaven" reportedly presented a competent, experienced ED nurse as being more knowledgeable than a medical student--for whatever that's worth--but some felt it also suggested that nurses exist to perform tasks that physicians are too important for and to obey physician commands, even if it endangers patients.
The episode was credited to physician and "ER" medical advisor Fred Einesman. One of "7th Heaven"'s executive producers is Hollywood veteran Aaron Spelling, also known for his role in creating the notorious, short-lived nurse show "Nightingales" in the late 1980's.
In the November 24 "7th Heaven" episode "The One Thing," the lead family's son Matt and his wife Sarah were both medical students doing an emergency department (ED) rotation. Matt apparently arrived without a stethoscope. An ED nurse handed over, without protest, her cute pink stethoscope with a bear on it. Later, Matt wanted this nurse to sit a patient up so he could listen to the back of her lungs. The nurse said no, because the patient's blood pressure was dropping. But Matt insisted, the nurse did it, and the patient crashed. The nurse began bagging the patient and asked Matt to get a crash cart. Matt could not find one, and was later chastised by the nasty director of ED medicine Norton for not making the nurse get the cart. Norton also suggested that comforting the patients was only for nurses (a point the show evidently questioned) and that Matt should have told a nurse to give a patient some food in order to avoid critical hypoglycemia. At another point, in response to Matt's comment that the nurse gets paid and he doesn't, the nurse noted that Matt would be paid a lot more in the long run.
This scenario is a mixed bag. It suggests that nurses can be skilled and articulate, that they have knowledge about how to save patients' lives, and that medical students, at least, should listen to them. Of course, some may see comparing the knowledge of an experienced nurse to that of a medical student as damning with faint praise. Moreover, the nurse in the episode was generally unassertive in the face of threats to her patients (sitting the patient up, giving up her stethoscope), and viewers may not realize that nursing is an autonomous profession in which nurses act as patient advocates. And with no obvious contradiction of some things the ED medical director reportedly said, many might also conclude that part of becoming a physician really is learning to subjugate nurses and force them to perform tasks that physicians are too important for, like getting crash carts. The idea that a nurse would need a physician to tell her to feed a hypoglycemic patient is doubtful, as that is something a nurse is more likely to focus on than a physician is.
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