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Private Practice (2007-present)

Starring Taye Diggs (Sam Bennett),  Audra McDonald (Naomi Bennett),  Kate Walsh (Addison Montgomery),  Timothy Daly (Pete Wilder),  Amy Brenneman (Violet Turner),  Paul Adelstein (Cooper Freedman),  Chris Lowell (William "Dell" Parker),  Kadee Strickland (Charlotte King)

Executive Producers: Shonda Rhimes, Mark Gordon, Marti Noxon, Mark Tinker

Shondaland

ABC

TV-14

 

Nursing rating 1/2 star

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating


"Private Practice " Series Review

"Is that even a word--midwifery?"

October 24, 2007 -- ABC's "Private Practice," the only new health drama of the 2007-08 TV season, is another prime time soap about smart, pretty physicians from "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes. But in addition to the seven physician characters who dominate here, the show's LA "wellness clinic" also has cute surfing receptionist Dell Parker. The earnest Dell just got his "nursing degree" and is studying to be a midwife. He seems to be a young, network version of "Strong Medicine"'s Peter Riggs--except Dell uses his nursing skills to be a receptionist. Despite good intentions and an intense interest in the clinic's patients, Dell seems to be the least knowledgeable major nurse character in the last decade of prime time US television. The show's early episodes suggest that his clinical studies consist of whatever ad hoc assistance he can give to clinic physicians. The episodes also rely heavily on juvenile mockery of Dell's midwifery studies as lightweight New Age kookiness. Show anchor and superstar physician Addison repeatedly utters the word "midwif" as if she had never heard of such an outlandish pursuit. Alert viewers can also catch glimpses of wallpaper nurses in the background once in a while, but it's not clear if any of them will ever display the ability to speak, much less think. On the whole, "Private Practice" either ignores or grossly undervalues nursing care, as the show pursues its tired "heroic physician" narrative.  

Read more below or go straight to our letter-writing campaign!

Introduction

"Is that even a word?" September 26, 2007

"I love talking to midwifs" October 3, 2007

"Commit to the cake, man" October 10, 2007

"Vulva! Labia majus!" October 17, 2007

"Don't mock the midwife" October 24, 2007

Conclusion

 
Introduction

"Private Practice" is a spinoff of ABC's ratings monster "Grey's Anatomy," and it is built around a "Grey's" refugee, neonatal surgeon and OB Addison Montgomery. Addison flees rainy Seattle for the welcoming arms of old med school friends who run an LA "wellness group," which includes a "self-help guru," an Eastern medicine specialist, a pediatrician, and a psychiatrist. The clinic's leader, fertility specialist Naomi, is played by Audra MacDonald, who also played a nurse in the 2001 film "Wit," which was very good for nursing. Ms. MacDonald, like "China Beach"'s Dana Delaney before her, has moved on.

"Private Practice" features the one new major nurse character of the fall TV season--sort of. This is William "Dell" Parker (above), who has been promoted everywhere as the wellness clinic's hot surfing receptionist. Viewers are not specifically told that Dell is a nurse until the fifth episode (and certainly you'd never guess by how he acts), but readers of the ABC website would have learned this:  

Witness to [all the physician activities] at the co-op is the receptionist, William Dell Parker. Young, quirky and confident, Dell may seem like an easygoing surfer, but he's deeply interested in the medical profession. In Addison, he sees the chance to have a mentor and pursue his dream -- becoming a midwife. ...

[Dell] will greet you with a happy smile when you arrive at the Oceanside Wellness Group. Much more than just our receptionist, Dell performs many of the day to day operations that keep us up and running. For that, we are extremely grateful for his expertise in all areas of the practice. Recently, Dell received his nursing degree.

Dell is currently enrolled as a student in the South Bay School of Holistic Midwifery and Family Nursing. He earns credit towards his degree in midwifery by assisting staff doctors with obstetrical exams and childbirths. Dell's hobbies include surfing during his lunch break.

Dell is a younger version of Peter Riggs from Lifetime's "Strong Medicine," a progressive, holistic midwife and sex object--only Dell works as a receptionist. But sometimes this is what RN stands for in Hollywood:   Receptionist Nurse. Of course, we can't help but wonder why anyone with a "nursing degree," in Los Angeles, in 2007, would choose to work as a receptionist instead of getting nursing career experience and making 2-4 times as much money. And the obvious answer is that the producers see little real difference between a nurse and a receptionist, "nursing degree" or not.

"Dell" has an extensive blog on the ABC site. There, he performs much the same star-struck, plot-rehashing gossip function that Nurse Debbie's blog has for "Grey's Anatomy" (and that nurse characters have on daytime dramas for decades). These characters don't have much going on in their own lives, so they obsess about what the pretty, smart, powerful physicians are up to--as the ABC site admits, they are "witness[es]," the Greek chorus.

 
"Is that even a word?"

Click here for film clip at broadband speed on YouTube.

The September 26 premiere is Shonda Rhimes's "In Which We Meet Addison, a Nice Girl from Somewhere Else" (14.2 million viewers). One major plotline includes scenes in which über-OB Addison gets used to the idea that wide-eyed young Dell might actually be somewhat useful in her practice, in an eager "guy Friday" kind of way. The episode also features Addison mocking the very idea of midwifery in the same way a grade school student might--except, of course, that since she's supposedly one of the greatest neonatal surgeons in the world, we're meant to assume that bemused contempt for midwives would probably be the attitude of any true childbirth expert.

Early in the episode, receptionist Dell introduces Addison--sorry, "Dr. Montgomery"--to pregnant patient Lucy and her father. Dad is mad, and insensitive to his daughter's labor pain, because Lucy hid her pregnancy from him until going into labor. Addison asks Dell to look for Lucy's chart. Dell asks Addison softly if he can get in on this delivery for "field experience for my midwife training; I need the hours." Addison, way too elite for some dippy midwife student:   "How about you just find the chart." Dell is very disappointed. Later, he hesitantly tries again as they gather supplies for the delivery. Again, Addison rejects his help, with a condescending smile:  

Addison:     I'm good.

Dell (suddenly all assertive):   You don't take me seriously. ... You think I'm some dumb surfer boy, you think I'm eye candy. You have no respect for me or my midwifery skills.

Addison (struggling not to laugh):   I have total respect for you and your...midwifery? skills. Is that even a word--midwifery?

Dell (petulantly):   It's a word. (Pause.) It's definitely a word!

He walks off, impotent. Addison sighs at the Southland nuts surrounding her, and we're supposed to think it's funny where the high and mighty surgeon finds herself. But although the show is kind of poking fun at her, it's plainly laughing at Dell, and his midwifery. Even accounting for Addison's standard-issue arrogance, which the show celebrates by pretending to condemn, this is a little hard to believe. Even an elite OB / neonatal surgeon would probably have heard the word midwifery. And no, there's no hint that Addison really knows all about midwifery and is just choosing to mock Dell to underline her contempt. Viewers will get that she really doesn't know about it because it is basically irrelevant to serious maternal-child health endeavors.

Later, we see Addison preparing to deliver the baby along with hunky Eastern medicine physician Pete, with whom Addison testily flirts. Dell pops in his head:   "Just wanted to see if you need anything." Addison again says that they're "all good," and Dell turns away. But when Lucy's dad then refuses to help her through the pushing, Dell approaches and takes her hand:   "Why don't you just squeeze my hand, if you need to." Addison acquiesces. Pretty spunky of our little Dell to assert his hand-holding skills this way! At one point in this scene, we also briefly see a wallpaper nurse in the background approach an instrument tray. But she says nothing and clearly has no role in the serious health care. She vanishes and we do not see her again.

Pete takes Lucy's vitals and notes that she is short of breath with JVD (jugular venous distension). Addison checks the monitor printouts and concludes that the baby is in distress. Dell notices that Lucy has passed out: "Dr. Montgomery, something's wrong with her." (Pretty impressive RN diagnostic skills, eh?) Addison prescribes high-flow oxygen, and then: "Get an ambulance, Dell." Dell is stunned, and frozen: "I was just holding her hand." Addison: "She's going into congestive heart failure, Dell. Ambulance now!"

The physicians are concerned because Lucy has fluid flooding her lungs, and the umbilical cord is cutting off the baby's blood supply. When Dell returns, Addison asks how long till the ambulance arrives, and he says 10-20 minutes. At least he's expert at traffic information, like a good receptionist should be! Pete and Addison concur that Lucy and her baby don't have 20 minutes.

So Addison must choose--wait for the ambulance, and both patients may die, or get the baby out in the relatively poor conditions of the clinic and "maybe" save them. Addison:   "Dell, glove up." Dell seems thrilled, and scared. He approaches Addison's side. Addison:   "I need you to decompress the cord." Dell:   "Like this?" Addison:   "Yes, that's good. Steady pressure." Addison starts freaking about doing a C-section there, but decides to proceed:   "Pete, take over for Dell. Dell, go find a surgical tray from somewhere. She's going to feel every slice, but we have to try." Pete says he'll do a technique so Lucy feels no pain, which he does, blocking her pain receptors. Addison gets the baby out. Dell has not appeared since being sent to get the surgical tray, nor has any other nurse.

It looks like a success, but Lucy goes into V-tach. Pete gets a defibrillator and shocks her. A gowned Dell pops his head in:   "The paramedics are here, they're bringing a stretcher." Addison forbids it, stressing that she needs a sterile environment to close the patient:   "Do not let them cross the threshold until I say so, understand?" Dell:   "Got it."

Later, in a nearby hospital, we see Addison walking by Lucy's stretcher and ordering a Lidocaine drip--to no one who would actually do it, since only Pete and the paramedics seem to be present. This is common on such shows:   physicians issue commands to the ether, and some invisible being (guess who) complies--thereby glorifying the physicians, as authoritative experts, without showing who actually does the work or how challenging it may be. As Lucy is wheeled upstairs with her baby, her Dad thanks Addison, though Pete and Dell are now standing nearby. They are all relieved. Dell, somewhat giddy, observes:   "Well, that was...pretty cool." He starts to exit. Addison calls after him:   "Dell. Good work in there."

This pat on the head will not suffice. Aside from Dell, there is essentially no nursing involvement in any of the care on this show. The briefly glimpsed wallpaper nurse never reappears. Addison and Pete handle everything themselves, with Dell as occasional gofer and hand-holder. It is an image of an RN with virtually no knowledge of health care, but who acts as an eager helper to the physicians who do know and make all key decisions. The scene in which Lucy passes out presents Dell as ignorant of what might be happening and marginally functional in a pressure situation. When the ambulance comes, he's ignorant about the sterile field. Granted, anyone not directly involved in what Addison is doing at that point might not know the patient's status. But most viewers will likely note the contrast of the commanding expert Addison and the wide-eyed, unskilled helper Dell.

Addison's ignorance of midwives is especially striking since midwives have doubtless delivered many more babies in the history of the world than physicians have. And even the most heedless OB/GYN would probably know that midwifery was a word. Suggesting otherwise clearly underlines the sense that midwifery is a zany left coast thing. Dell's comment that he wants to "get in" on the birth also suggests that midwife training is some ad hoc thing you might be able to squeeze in at your receptionist job, rather than a serious, structured training program leading to a master of science degree.

Thus, the fact that Dell ultimately manages to earn Addison's little blessing does nothing for nursing or midwives, because Dell is presented as doing "good work" as a lay person. He knows virtually nothing about health care.

 
"I love talking to midwifs"

Click here for film clip at broadband speed on YouTube.

Early in the October 3 episode (12.3 million viewers), Mike Ostrowski's "In Which Sam Receives an Unexpected Visitor," we see Dell talking to fertility specialist Naomi.

Dell:   "I told my teacher there's probably no way you could do it--"

Addison (entering):   "Do what?"

Dell:   "Speak at my midwifery class. I told my teacher about Naomi, and she called you a primal life-giver."

Naomi (declining with a smile):   "I think I have something that night, so..."

Addison:   "Come on--do it. (More softly) Might give you a boost.

Naomi (smiling uneasily and leaving):   "I don't need boosting. I'm fine."

Addison:   "I'll do it. I love talking to midwifs."

Dell (clearly not into it):   "Actually, I think we're good on OBs."

Addison:   "I'm actually a double board-certified neonatal surgeon. One of the best...in the world? With a specialty in genetics...DNA?"

Dell (walking away):   "Well, maybe...if someone drops out."

Addison:   "You can't get more primal and life-giving than DNA... Dell ?"

So we're having fun with world-class Addison being blown off by silly little midwifs. But it makes no sense. Sure, Addison's not all holistic like Naomi supposedly is, and she does keep mocking the midwifs, but Dell has still seemed awed by her and eager to get in on her work. So this doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the show, but appears to have been thrown in simply for comic effect, like having a child challenge Addison's medical skills.  

And what's the deal with the midwife "class"? Why is Naomi so vital? Would a midwifery professor really be likely to revere fertility specialist Naomi as a "primal life-giver?" And why is there "probably no way" Naomi could speak--she's too important for midwifs? Who normally "teaches" the class? Obviously this isn't the worst exchange the show has about midwifery, but it seems to reflect odd assumptions.

Later scenes underscore that Dell is a blank-slate assistant, there to perform basic dramatic tasks, to fetch things, to ask things the audience might ask, but not to be a real player. At one point, arriving patient Stevie collapses in the clinic. Dell calls physician Sam for help, and though Dell helps Stevie up, he can't really do anything till Sam gets there. Sam asks Dell to hand-carry Stevie's blood work to the lab, to put a rush on it and have them screen for ingestible poisons. Later, at the reception area, Dell gives Stevie's lab results to Sam. Pete and Sam figure out that someone is poisoning Stevie with the mushroom ingredient Coprine, which interacts with alcohol. Dell uses his health care knowledge to add helpful insight:   "So...someone's poisoning Stevie?"

 
"Commit to the cake, man"

Click here for film clip at broadband speed on YouTube.

The show manages to get through the entire October 10 episode Shonda Rhimes and Marti Noxon's "In Which Addison Finds the Magic" (12.2 million viewers), without mocking the word "midwifery." And the episode includes a plotline in which Dell actually gives pediatrician Cooper an insight that helps him diagnose a mysterious condition. However, the episode overall does nothing to counter its overall presentation of Dell as an office assistant with little to no health care expertise.

The plotline is about pediatrician Cooper's treatment of some elementary school aged sisters who have a mysterious condition that is causing them to turn blue. It also involves Dell's baking of cakes for Naomi, who has not recovered from her marital breakup with Sam. One evening at the office, we see Naomi have a semi-hostile discussion with Sam about raising their daughter Maya. A bit later, Dell tells Naomi he's shutting down for the night unless she needs anything. She gives him a cake carrier back, thanking him warmly for the cake he had presumably made her. He deduces that she ate whole thing; she denies it, but we know! There seems to be a little romantic tension. Later, Dell gives Naomi another cake. Naomi says she shouldn't. But Dell says this time, he baked chocolate chips inside. Mmm. She tries to resist, but takes it, because "someone" else might want it.

Later, we see Naomi, Addison, and the psychiatrist enjoying the cake in a conference room. Psychiatrist:   "You realize you're replacing sex with food." Naomi:   "You want some?" Dell, outside the glass-walled conference room, sees all this and smiles. Cooper comes by and observes that women can get happy over cake, but men can't.

Dell:     "The secret to women--"

Cooper:     "Oh, you think you know the secret to women? You are a child, you can barely grow facial hair, you don't know anything about women."

Dell:   "Figure out what they want, and give it to them."

Cooper (nonplussed):   "You baked that cake?"

Dell (smiling):   "My grandmother baked that cake. But Naomi doesn't need to know that. Figure out what they want, and give it to them."

Later, Dell gives Cooper lab results--another important Dell function--about the girls Cooper is treating. The girls are "getting exposed" to a toxic substance, but Cooper's having trouble figuring out how, because they won't talk to him.

Dell:   "What are they into?"

Cooper:   "Fluffy...pinkness."

Dell:   "OK, so go there too. Commit, give 'em what they want."

Cooper is skeptical:   "You and your cake."

Dell:   "They are women, Cooper. Tiny blue women, but still...women."

Cooper (hesitating):   "No. I didn't get into this deal because I'm a clown. I'm supposed to play with my patients? I put a sticker on my stethoscope, that's as far as I go."

Dell looks at him.

Cooper (relenting):   "And Erin's lying there getting sicker."

Dell:   "Commit to the cake, man."

Later, Cooper shows up at the girls' house, complete with fluffy pinkness, so they can play. In full princess gear, the girls lead him to their secret "castle" (a neighbor's shed). Cooper figures out that the castle is full of ammonium nitrate fumes from some bags of fertilizer. This is the source of their exposure.

This is not bad. Dell seems to have made a good insight, and it plays a key role in a difficult diagnosis. Of course, no one actually thanks Dell for his role in solving the problem, and viewers will not likely associate it too closely with midwives (or nurses). An alert viewer will see Dell as the key, but we're not so confident most will. Maybe Dell just had a cute little insight, but Cooper had the health care expertise needed to apply it.

The ending of the cake plotline also calls Dell's interpersonal expertise into question. After Dell presents Naomi with yet another cake at the reception area, she explodes. She announces that what she really wants is "Sam's cake." Very subtle. Addison and the psychiatrist try to calm her down. Dell vows to keep giving Naomi cakes, and she lunges at him. Her friends pulls her away, as she cries:   "Maya likes Sam better. And this boy is baking cakes at me!" Obviously, this somewhat undercuts Dell's insight.

 
"Vulva! Labia majus!"

Click here for film clip at broadband speed on YouTube.

In the October 17 episode, Andrea Newman's "In Which Addison Has a Very Casual Get Together" (11.8 million viewers), it's back to mockery of "midwif" school and of Dell's role as office naïf. One plotline has Addison miffed because none of her clinic colleagues has RSVP'd to her about a party she is holding for them that night. When Dell eagerly notes that he has in fact accepted, Addison reacts with a look that clearly says she still considers that no one has responded.

Dell is younger than the other characters, and we suppose Addison is entitled to consider him a "boy." But this kind of scene, with nothing to balance it, reinforces the sense that nurses are either clueless kids or old crones. This show is actually obsessed with humiliating Dell for his youth--bizarre for a show whose main appeal is surely to those with, shall we say, lots of living left to do. No nurse on this show is likely to be portrayed as sexy, smart, and expert like the show's seven physician characters (or "Grey's Anatomy"'s ten, or "House"'s six to nine). The best nurses can hope for now, apparently, is to be the lightweight eighth character on an eight-character show.

In an early scene, Dell pins up photos on what he reverently tells Addison is Naomi's "wall of miracles." It will later turn out that Dell is in love with Naomi, but this still presents a midwifery student as worshipping the work of a fertility specialist to an extent that seems unlikely in reality.

In another scene, Dell makes another pathetic effort to involve himself in Addison's work on "lady problems." This starts when Addison intrudes on Dell's "domain," which appears to be the office health records; obviously he has no real health care domain. Addison's looking for her own records as a patient of Naomi's. It later turns out that Naomi has misled Addison into thinking she has no eggs, when she actually has two. When Addison returns the file to Dell as he sits at the reception desk, he--knowing only that she must have some fertility issues--offers to help:  

Dell:     Did I mention I'm a total whiz at the female anatomy? I, I, I am acing my midwifery classes. I got it all (pointing at his head) up here.

Addison (smiling indulgently and moving away):     Well, yeah, keep it up there.

Dell (loudly trying to show his expertise, audible to patients):   Vulva! Labia majus!

Sam (quietly, as he arrives at the desk):     If that's flirting, you need new skills. Could you run these labs for me please?

In other words, back to your real work, Gilligan. Of course, all the characters on this show act like idiots at times, generally because of love. But this scene isn't just jokily suggesting that Dell is a foolish boy who calls out the names of female body parts in a waiting area. It binds that idea with his status as a midwifery student, in Dell's absurdly reductive account of what he's learning--as if midwifery went no deeper than learning the names of relevant parts of the female anatomy. (Few will know, but Dell shouts "labia majus"--"labia" being plural and "majus" being singular. He means either "labia majora" or "labium majus." Could this be an inside joke by the Latin scholars at "Private Practice," to show elite viewers how clueless Dell really is?) Even when the show pokes fun at Sam's holistic "mind-body" healing schtick, or Pete's Eastern remedies, it makes very clear that those physicians also have a wealth of life-saving traditional medical expertise. They may be fools in love, but not in work. This is not the case with Dell.

Later, Dell approaches Addison and tells her that he has "checked on" a Jane Doe patient who has arrived at the clinic several months pregnant.

Addison:     What are you doing checking on my patient? This is not midwif school.

Dell:    She's having contractions.

OK, so Dell has noticed an important development, and Addison goes to check it out. But any lay person might have noted the contractions. It's yet another example of Addison's explicit, unrebutted mockery of midwifery that many viewers are likely to retain. And the idea that Dell must rely on ad hoc chances to help out on Addison's patients in order to complete his midwifery training is inherently degrading. Is that what Addison did in med. school--got her clinical training in spare moments at her receptionist job?

 
"Don't mock the midwife"

Click here for film clip at broadband speed on YouTube

The October 24 episode, Shonda Rhimes and Marti Noxon's "In Which Addison Finds a Showerhead" (11.7 million viewers), is notable for a minor plotline built around Dell's first pap smears--and for revealing to viewers for the first time that he is in fact a nurse. Dell has some aptitude, despite his early jitters and mixed reactions to the "boy nurse" working in "lady town." But on the whole the episode presents Dell as a nurse--presumably with a BSN, since he attends midwifery school--without significant skill or experience with patients.

An early scene finds Addison announcing Dell's new venture at a staff meeting.

Addison:     Let me mention quickly that Dell is doing his first solo pap smear today, we should all be proud...

There is some clapping, cheering and hooting. Dell looks sheepish but pleased.

Dell:    It's just a pap smear, it's no big deal.

Cooper:     Don't choke man, I know it might seem dark and scary down there--

Naomi:     Do not mock the midwife. Next order of business...

This is priceless. In fact, the show has done little but "mock the midwife," and this scene is another example. Yes, it purports to suggest that Dell will be learning an actual health care skill and his physician surrogate parents should be "proud." But the execution suggests that this skill is relatively trivial, and (again) that midwifery students get their training by physician grace, rather than primarily from midwives in graduate programs. So we assume this is either just an inside joke--the show creators know very well that every episode "mocks the midwife"--or an odd, subconscious blurting of the show's true, harmful approach, even if the creators are not fully aware of it.

The show proceeds to show Dell performing three pap smears, apparently over the course of a week. Before the first, a nervous Dell wonders if Addison wants to be present. She advises him to ask if the patient wants a female chaperone, and to relax, since patients can smell fear. Dell, being just a nurse, would not know that. She also tells him to keep the speculum warm, to tell the patient what he will do before does it, and to introduce himself--"doctors always forget that."

Dell:     I aced bedside manner. I'm gonna give a happy pap, no worries.

Ick. And we're on to Dell's first pap. He enters the patient's room, smiling, and wearing his surfer boy t-shirt.

Dell:     Hello, I'm Dell Parker, and I'll be doing--

But the rude patient, snapping at someone on her cell phone, is having none of it.

Patient:    They told me I was getting a nurse.

Dell (taken aback):     I am...I have my nursing degree, and...I'm about to be certified...as...

Patient (to her cell phone):    They sent me a boy nurse.

Dell asks if she wants a chaperone. She tells him impatiently to "just do it," since she has to pick up her daughter soon. Then, as if Dell were not there, she tells the cell phone, "He's like five years old." The nervous Dell fumbles with the speculum--and drops it.

Patient:   He just dropped the thing.

Dell:   OK, that happens.

He holds it up, as if to show it's fine and can be used.

Patient (pointing):   You're not going to use that.

Dell:   No, a new one, I'm getting a new one.

But it doesn't seem very credible. Dell, the nurse, apparently did not know that a speculum dropped on the floor would not be clean or sterile and should not be used. The scene also illustrates Hollywood's flawed presentation of anti-nurse bias. The show does not actually endorse the patient's "boy nurse" comment--we're supposed to find the comment out of line--but the show doesn't do much to rebut what underlies the comment either. Maybe the patient's mean to say it, but there is something kooky about being a boy nurse. Plus, you can be a nurse while you're still a boy because really, there's not much too it. The scene ends with Dell softly muttering that it's "not a happy pap, not a happy pap."

For the second pap, an encouraging Naomi observes Dell. Dell approaches the patient and starts telling her what he's going to do. As he sits at her feet, and in an anxious tic, he actually wipes his forehead quickly on the wrist of his gloved hand. Amazing. But even if the show is aware of this sterile no-no (it's not clear), this patient is not going to call Dell on it.

Patient:     You're cute. (To Naomi.) He's cute, right?

Naomi urges her to focus on the exam, and tries to get Dell to ignore this kind of comment, but the patient can't stop.

Patient:     Is he allowed to be this cute? ... This isn't going to work, you're way too cute. Uh-uh, I'd be having all these thoughts about your eyes and stuff, no, no way you're touching me...Unless you want to touch me.

Naomi takes over.

Dell and Naomi arrive for the third pap. This patient, who is older, is hostile from the first sight of Dell. She says she won't have "a child" poking around in "lady town." Dell assures her he's not a child, but she is not persuaded. Dell has had enough.

Dell:   Your loss. ... You know, Beethoven composed his first symphony when he was five. Five. Picasso mastered the human form at seven. This is what I was born to do, and finally I'm doing it. I would have rocked this pap smear, I guarantee you'd never receive a more respectful, complete examination of "lady town" in your life. So, yeah, your loss.

Naomi looks impressed. And the patient consents.

This is the first and only thing that looks like clinical expertise from Dell in the first five episodes of "Private Practice." Of course, Beethoven wrote his first symphony when he was nearly 30. Maybe the writers mean Mozart, who apparently did write a symphony at roughly age eight, but really, who can tell those two apart? You get the point. Somebody was precocious, just like somebody teaches midwives, somebody provides the important patient care, and so on.

Near the end, Dell thanks Addison for an "awesome week of gynergy."

Addison:   Dell, you cannot say "gynergy" if you want to work with me.

Dell:   Hey, I've got an idea--I'll only say "gynergy" when I hear the word "midwif."

OK, we just made up Dell's last line. In fact Dell, undeterred by Addison's reaction, just says "got it" and leaves.

 
Conclusion

"Private Practice" at times suggests that Dell Parker--though really young, and cute, and did we mention he's young?--is not a complete moron. He may be helpful and sensible in some health situations. He's rocking those pap smears. And he may even offer useful insights to aid the physicians in their important work.

But Dell is perhaps the least knowledgeable major nurse character of the last decade, someone who seems to barely know more than a lay person, and who acts like he has never cared for a patient. He plays a role not unlike that of physician interns in other shows, but with key differences:   Dell lacks even book knowledge, and there are no veteran nurses to balance him, as there always are for physician interns. Instead, we get seven smart, expert physicians. Dell may occasionally display enthusiasm and aptitude for what the show will likely present as trivial procedures--the happy pap--but there is little to suggest that he will ever be more than an assistant to the physicians. And it seems unlikely that he will ever be seen learning from the masters- or doctorally-prepared midwives who would actually be his primary teachers. Indeed, the show will evidently return from time to time to his midwifery as a source of amusement, suggesting that the job is little more than a freaky holistic pursuit that no serious professional would consider.

Like "Strong Medicine" nurse-midwife Peter Riggs, Dell is designed to reverse traditional gender roles. He is the evolved and attractive yet junior male who serves the powerful female professionals. There are few male midwives in real life, but both Hollywood midwife characters have been males, because they have nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with upscale female empowerment fantasies.

Unlike Peter, Dell is one of the most striking major portraits of the nurse as empty vessel on network television. He is, essentially, an amiable, health care-focused receptionist. As poor as "Strong Medicine" was for nursing, Peter Riggs did at times display genuine health care expertise and even some autonomy. But Dell Parker is no Peter Riggs.

Please send your comments to the show on our instant letter!

Review by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing editor: Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH
December 12, 2007

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.

You can also contact the show by sending letters to:

Shonda Rhimes, Mark Gordon, Marti Noxon, Mark Tinker
Executive Producers, "Private Practice"
ShondaLand
4151 Prospect Ave. 4th Fl.
Los Angeles, CA 90027-4524

 

 

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