The united nursing colors of Will & Grace
November 20, 2003 -- Tonight's episode of Will & Grace, continuing the Jack-goes-to-nursing-school plotline begun last week, presented a jokey image of nursing school which had some problems, but which did seem to be aimed at showing the potential diversity of nursing students today--right down to repeated references to Benetton's diversity-focused ad campaigns.
The episode, "Swimming from Cambodia," finds Jack loving nursing school, or as the show persists in wrongly describing it, his time as a "student nurse." He loves the learning, his three classmates, and his teacher--until she resigns to compete in a beauty contest and is replaced by "Nurse Carver," a nasty drill sergeant who could easily be mistaken for a lesbian stereotype. Nurse Carver takes an immediate dislike to Jack's frivolous teacher's pet routine, and she attacks him, though in the context of underlining that nursing is serious business. She only relents when Jack's protector Karen abducts her dogs and threatens them; as a result, Jack is excused from class and given a high grade. However, chance meetings with his cramming classmates, who are enthusiastic to the point of geekiness, make Jack realize how much he misses learning about nursing, and even wonder if Carver's toughness was really a way to motivate him.
There are some problems here. "Nurse Carver" and her predecessor are not exactly presented as distinguished professors. And they are not inconsistent with the battleaxe and sex object stereotypes, respectively. The sole textbook we saw appeared to be about "nursing." This, along with the overall atmosphere and the presence of only four students, might suggest to many that nursing school is a brief certificate course, rather than a college-level program at least two years long. We might also be bothered by Karen's ability to affect Jack's progress, if we thought the show would have taken a different approach to any other field.
However, the demographics of the four students were, as advertised, like a Benetton ad--Jack is a gay white male, and his classmates were a black woman, an Asian woman, and a man whose ethnicity we could not discern and whose sexual orientation was not made clear. Nothing was said about the current nursing shortage, or the need to recruit nurses from every demographic, but this student body does suggest some awareness of these issues. And while Jack's continuing enthusiasm for nursing was presented in the usual silly ways, it seemed genuine, and the profession itself was not mocked. Indeed, whatever else might be said of Nurse Carver, she did briefly emphasize the importance of nursing and that it requires serious effort.
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