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Open letter to "ER" November 8, 2007

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 "ER" episodes broadcast on November 1 and 8, 2007, send typically mixed messages about nursing autonomy and expertise. On the one hand, the episodes include some helpful suggestions of nursing skill. These include lone major nurse character Sam Taggart's quick thinking to prevent a combative patient's suicide, and in a pediatric trauma scene, a rare indication that some nurses are more skilled than others. Sadly, other scenes suggest that nurses report to physicians, that physicians manage nurses' work at triage, and that physicians have to persuade nurses to allow a natural death for terminal patients. And there is the usual focus (even by the nurse characters) on physicians' professional hierarchy and advancement, while the nursing analogs are utterly ignored.

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 7-10 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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