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Open Letter #16 to Grey's Anatomy

Dear "Grey's Anatomy" Producers:

I am writing to urge you to improve the generally poor portrayal of nursing on "Grey's Anatomy."

Recent episodes have continued to reinforce the two main nursing stereotypes that the show always has: that nurses are physician handmaidens, and that they are low-skilled workers worthy of contempt.

I recognize that some episodes in the seventh and eighth seasons of the show included the forceful "Nurse Eli," perhaps the best nurse character the show has ever had. On a few occasions Eli played a more robust patient care role than any other "Grey's" nurse has, displaying some health care skill and some spirited patient advocacy, standing up to physicians several times. But he was more of an intuitive traditional healer than a modern science professional.

Eli eventually seemed to concede that the senior physicians were in charge. (In real life, physicians are not in charge, they work in collaboration with nurses alongside them, not above them.) Some of Eli's advocacy was absurdly shrill. And before long, he became little more than a hunky romantic / sexual interest for star surgeon Miranda Bailey. Ultimately she ended her relationship with Eli in a way that implied there was no real future for the two of them because Eli was just a nurse. Still, I thank you for the helpful elements in this limited portrayal.

You can see a full analysis of these episodes at

Unfortunately, the show has never had expert nurses act as clinical colleagues of the physician characters on a regular basis. Instead, nurse characters are generally limited to holding and fetching objects and saying "yes, doctor!" Meanwhile, the show's roughly 15 main characters--all surgeons--provide virtually all the health care that matters, including vital care that nurses do in real life. The effect is that physicians get credit for the work of nurses.

I urge you to consider the effect "Grey's" has on the many millions of people who watch it all over the world. Please introduce nurse characters to do the nursing work on every episode, and show viewers that nurses are autonomous professionals with years of college-level education who save lives and improve outcomes every day.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH
Executive Director
The Truth About Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore MD 21212