January 2007 -- Late this month, a friend of the Center got a phone call from producers from a popular U.S. network prime time TV hospital show. Our friend is a recognized expert in a particular health field, and the producers/writers were calling for a script consult, which she gladly gave them. However, our friend reports that the producers were "SUPER surprised" to learn that she was a nurse, that she had a PhD, and that despite being a nurse, she was one of the leading researchers in this key health field. Our friend took the opportunity to provide a lot of information about nursing and how it might be more accurately integrated into this and other story lines. She even referred the producers to the Center's web site. Their reaction? The show's audience is "interested in doctors not nurses," and there are no plans to have any nurse character handle any of the health activities under discussion. This is the self-reinforcing loop: Hollywood tells its global audience that only physicians matter because that's what the audience expects, and the audience expects that in large part because that's what Hollywood constantly tells it. In fact, the real nursing role is highly dramatic, which is why TV physicians spend so much time doing it. We salute our friend for her advocacy. And we'll be looking for the episode in which her nursing expertise will surface--probably in the words and actions of a physician character.
We can't reveal the identity of our friend, her field of expertise, or the show, because we want Hollywood to keep talking to her. But we can provide a few more details. Our friend believes that the producers got in touch because she is listed in a database as a leading expert in the relevant field. When the producers called, our friend gave them good information on their plotline. But she also "took the opportunity to say quite a bit to them about nursing--both how nurses could be used in the story line & how their general approach to nursing could be substantively improved." The result? "Basically I got nowhere." The producers asserted that the show's "audience is interested in doctors not nurses." Unsurprisingly, then, the producers said that the show has no plans to add any nurse characters who might pursue the activities our friend discussed: "We have a stable cast and the focus of the show is on physicians."
However, it sounds like our friend did make an impression. She reports that the producers "were SUPER surprised I was a nurse--& SUPER SUPER surprised I had a PhD & was one of leading researchers in the country on an issue, so at least I educated them a little." She also got "the feeling [the producers] were storing that info away for a possible story line," and that perhaps someone like her might one day appear as "one of the 'odd characters'" on the show.
We hear her. Even now, on those extremely rare occasions when Hollywood does present an assertive, formidably expert female nurse, she tends to be odd, if not sociopathic. Consider "ER"'s 2005 Eve Peyton character, the nurse manager who was fired after decking a patient without physical provocation, and then left the show with a hail of schoolyard invective. In this day and age, any normal woman who's bright, ambitious, and interested in health will just become a physician, right?