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Presidio Med (2002-03)

Starring Blythe Danner, Dana Delany, Anna Deavere Smith, Sasha Alexander, Julianne Nicholson, Oded Fehr, Paul Blackthorne

Executive Producers: John Wells, Lydia Woodward, Christopher Chulack


Nursing rating
Artistic rating 2 stars

The veteran "ER" and "China Beach" producers behind "Presidio Med" set their new show at a private San Francisco hospital. They focused on upscale, attractive but not objectified female physicians in non-emergency fields, including pediatrics, cardiology, and plastic surgery. The series could have broken new ground. But it may be that too much emphasis was placed on positioning it for its intended white-collar female audience--for instance, the two male physicians were both sexy, maverick Europeans, a la "ER"'s Goran Visnjic--and not enough on finding interesting things to say. Most of the writing was bland and uninspired, and despite all the talent on the show, it lasted only half a season.

No major nurse characters cluttered "Presidio Med." Dana Delany, who had created one of the most important television nurse characters ever in "China Beach"'s Colleen McMurphy, now played a prosperous oncologist who did annual stints with Doctors Without Borders. On the few occasions when "Presidio Med" portrayed nurses, they at least displayed some skills and knowledge. They advised physicians about patient conditions, implemented technical "orders," and in one better-than-average episode, cared expertly for NICU patients. But the physicians did the important, interesting work, dominating care delivery and getting all the credit or blame for patient outcomes. The nursing role was to assist them, rather than to pursue an autonomous scientific profession alongside other members of the health care team. In one hospital scene, a veteran nurse brought an OB/GYN physician a cup of coffee because the physician had been working so hard. We must have missed the scene where a physician brought coffee to a nurse who'd been driven to the edge of breakdown by the nation's pandemic nurse understaffing. Our physician heroes, including the ex-Nurse McMurphy, also barked "orders" at nurses when under stress, with little indication that the show saw that as a problem.

The series had a terminal case of Marcus Welby Syndrome. This may have been exacerbated by its focus on the effects of non-emergent illnesses on patients and their families. In reality, nurses provide the overwhelming majority of the care these patients receive, with physicians occasionally checking in briefly before moving on to their many other patients. In order to follow the physician-centric Hollywood protocol but still feature a manageable number of patients, the series had to show physicians doing nursing care. So in "Presidio Med," the physicians spent all kinds of time doing patient advocacy and education, giving patients and family members extended emotional support, and once even helping a weak patient to the bathroom! Doctors without borders, indeed.

Review by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed February 7, 2003

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.

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