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Open letter to "ER" November 9, 2006

Dear "ER" producers:

I urge you to improve the portrayal of nursing on "ER." Although the show is certainly better than some other network shows for nursing, it still falls well short of adequate, especially since poor public understanding of the profession is a factor in the global nursing crisis.

The show's November 9, 2006 episode did include two plotlines in which nurse Sam Taggart came off as a tough, adaptive critical thinker who was well-qualified to handle difficult patients, interns, and attendings. In particular, Taggart masterfully managed two personalities of a patient with dissociative identity disorder. The scene in which Taggart persuades the patient's extremely resistant persona to allow a pericardiocentesis was one of the best depictions of a nurse's expert psychosocial care that the Center for Nursing Advocacy has seen on U.S. network television. Unfortunately, the episode was marred by significant missteps, which tended to reinforce the idea that nurses are physician subordinates who take their "orders."

There is much that you could do to remedy the handmaiden-oriented overall portrayal of nursing on "ER." The fact that only one of your 8-10 major characters is a nurse is arguably the greatest single barrier to the show presenting a fair and accurate vision of the real nursing role. This makes it virtually inevitable that the physician characters will be seen doing a good deal of the important, dramatic work that nurses do in real life. A nurse manager, new nurse, or nursing student would be a good addition. "ER" routinely uses new physicians and medical students to educate the public about medicine. It could do something similar for nursing if it would depict varying levels of nurses. Hiring nurses to consult on scripts would also be very helpful.

Please be part of the solution to the nursing shortage. Help us improve public understanding of the profession at this critical time.


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