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Scrubs Episode Analyses

Fiddling with the covers while Rome burns

Rome burnsDecember 8, 2009 -- Tonight's episode of ABC's Scrubs offered a great example of how poor the show's portrayal of nursing has become after the departure of the sole major nurse character, Carla Espinosa, after the last season. It's true that the vast majority of the sitcom's clinical scenes have always depicted nurses as anonymous handmaidens to the physicians who provide virtually all the thinking and all of the important care. But Carla was a respected, competent person who at times conveyed health knowledge, on occasion even teaching the young physician characters. Now, with Carla's departure and the show's shift to a medical school setting for its ninth season, the few nurse appearances tend to be like tonight's, in which a mute, nameless nurse was no more than a wide-eyed prop during a code scene, waiting for the physicians to tell her to get a crash cart, fiddling with the patient's covers, and then scurrying out of the way so the physicians could save the patient by themselves. Of course Scrubs has probably spent more time making fun of physician characters than any other television show in history. But it has still managed to reinforce the core social assumption that physicians are the brilliant masters of all health care, and nurses are no more than their faithful helpers. Tonight's episode, "Our Role Models," was written by Steven Cragg and Brian Bradley, and directed by Gail Mancuso. more...see our film clips and send a letter to Scrubs!


My Scrubs Finale

May 6, 2009 -- Tonight, ABC will broadcast what seems to be the series finale of the irreverent sitcom Scrubs; the show may return next season without some central characters. For eight years (the first seven on NBC), the show has imagined what it might look like if a hospital were staffed by gifted insult comics with soft hearts. Like ER, which ended its far longer run just last month, Scrubs has been a highly physician-centric show that has included one major nurse character. That has always been Carla Espinosa (played by Judy Reyes), a no-nonsense, relatively normal bedside nurse who has at times been said to have a management role. Espinosa has generally been presented as a smart, skilled nurse with some leadership qualities. And the show has at times underlined her knowledge and good judgment, even showing her teach junior physicians. She is married to the new chief of surgery Turk, and she has long been perhaps the closest friend of the ornery chief of medicine Perry Cox. Despite all those connections, however, the show has (contrary to fact) made very clear that as a nurse, Carla reports to physicians, and that physicians are ultimately in charge of all aspects of patient care. The show has also featured extensive physician nursing, in which physicians do important care tasks that nurses generally do in real life, like bedside monitoring and psychosocial care, an enormous theme on Scrubs. Even so, the show has clearly been better for nursing than popular newer dramas like ABC's Grey's Anatomy. So tune in Wednesday, compose a wishful J.D.-style daydream in which the best Scrubs nursing moments were representative of the show as a whole, and give the show a not-so-bad five!


What does that M.D. mean?

February 3, 2009 -- The two episodes of ABC's Scrubs aired tonight included plotlines that highlighted physician disrespect of nurses, and that even included references to forced overtime. In a major plotline in the first episode, lone major nurse character Carla Espinosa was caught between her close relations with the show's physician characters and her role as "head nurse," a representative of the hospital's downtrodden nursing staff. The show deserves credit for this effort. Sadly, the plotlines were largely undermined by the show's deeply flawed vision of nursing. Key problems were the usual incorrect indications that the nurses report to the chief of medicine, who even makes nursing schedules; that physicians should and do control patient care plans and have no need to justify them to nurses, even when the nurses present an apparently better option; that physician knowledge is far superior to that of nurses, when nurses actually know far more than physicians about many important aspects of patient care; and that the problem with physician abuse of nurses is mainly that it's not nice and creates bad workplace relations, when in fact it endangers patients and contributes to the nursing crisis. The first episode, Dave Tennant's "My New Role," drew about 4.9 million viewers; the second episode, Debra Fordham's "My Lawyer's in Love," drew about 4.7 million. more...and see the film clips.


"Scrubs," lift us up where we belong

February 1, 2007 -- Tonight NBC's "Scrubs" told millions of viewers that nurses are handmaidens with low-skilled jobs, that physicians supervise nurses and can become nurse managers at will, that nursing is for women so men who do it should be mocked, and that physicians take the lead in skilled patient monitoring, though nurses actually do that. The episode does suggest vaguely that "head nurse" Carla Espinosa is needed. And nurse Laverne Roberts, who has often been presented as a lazy, disagreeable stereotype, takes a more active and realistic role here. But on the whole, Mike Schwartz's "His Story IV" is one of the worst "Scrubs" episodes ever for nursing. more...


"Hey, did I ever thank you for all the help you've given me over the years?"

April 18, 2006 -- Tonight NBC's "Scrubs" showed nurse Carla Espinosa helping interns learn key aspects of clinical practice by catching their errors and teaching them how to avoid them. The subplot also presented Carla as wisely protecting the interns from the undue wrath of their attending physicians. And in one scene, Carla even expertly takes charge of handling a patient's seizure, with an intern following her lead (!). The show does seem to view Carla's acts more as a result of her fine personal qualities than as a professional nursing obligation. And though we ourselves have often said that nurses deserve credit for teaching physicians, given prevailing biases, this may suggest to many that nurses are important to the extent they help the physicians whose care really matters. This episode, like hundreds of other prime time episodes in the last decade, is all about training physicians--only. We have yet to see a media product suggest that physicians are important because they help train new nurses. Even so, the intern errors plotline is a rare and admirable effort by a network show to convey that nurses play an important role in health care and training. The episode, "His Story III," was written by Angela Nissel. more...


My Crazy Nurse Memory

March 21, 2006 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's "Scrubs" included one of the better plotlines for nursing that the show has run. Mark Stegemann's "My Extra Mile" followed nurse character Carla Espinosa's search for a missing VIP patient. The minor plotline did not reflect much sense of how nurses work or of nursing autonomy. But it did feature an aggressive defense of nurses' technical expertise, as Carla repeatedly demonstrated her encyclopedic knowledge of the conditions and care plans of specific patients. The show set that in contrast to the physicians, who it suggested depend heavily on charting. The episode even suggested that Carla had some independent problem-solving ability. Of course, the episode on the whole reflected the physician-centric approach the show has taken since the beginning. But as "Scrubs" nears the possible end of its run in mid-May, we thank Mr. Stegemann and the other producers for this effort to highlight nursing expertise. more...


Can any idiot be a nurse? Don't forget the sponge baths and happy endings!

February 8, 2005 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's "Scrubs," entitled "My Quarantine" and written by Tad Quill, is a good example of the "just trying to help" school of inaccurate and harmful television nursing depictions, a school epitomized by an October 2003 "ER" episode. Such shows often involve nurse characters confronting difficult situations or negative attitudes in a way that show creators may think is promoting respect for nursing, but which in fact sends even more powerful damaging messages because of the sympathetic intent. In this "Scrubs" episode, the most striking example is a surgeon character's affirmation that "any idiot can be a nurse." We see that the nurse to whom this surgeon is married strongly disagrees--but we never see why. The obvious conclusion: he's rude, but maybe he's right. more...


The young quarterback

January 18, 2005 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's "Scrubs," written by Mark Stegemann, presents nurses as wide-eyed subordinates whose job during codes is to call out a vital sign or two, then wait for heroic, all-knowing physicians to issue commands and save the day. The episode, directed by Ken Whittingham, is entitled "My Ocardial Infarction." It could have been worse; the nurses are shown to have some knowledge and some role in codes. On balance, it's not much of an improvement for "Scrubs," which has virtually ignored nursing this year, though it may be a step up for Stegemann, whose horrific 2003 episode "My Fifteen Seconds" purported to teach nurses that nursing was all about shutting up and following physician orders. Click here to read more and send a letter to "Scrubs"!


"Scrubs" defines nursing: it's all about shutting up and following physician "orders"

November 20, 2003 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's "Scrubs," which purports to teach nurse Carla Espinosa that nursing is all about doing what physicians tell you, is one of the most virulently anti-nurse prime time television episodes the Center has ever seen. more...


Second "Scrubs" episode with Rick Schroder continues positive depiction of male nurse

February 21, 2003 -- The February 20 "Scrubs" episode again featured Rick Schroder's portrayal of Paul Flowers, the confident, witty and sensitive nurse character currently dating physician Elliot Reed (Sarah Chalke). more...


Men at work: Is "Scrubs" hurting or helping male nurses?

January 30, 2003 -- The January 30 episode of the popular NBC show "Scrubs" guest starred Rick Schroeder as hunky nurse Paul Flowers, who catches the eye of physician Elliot Reed (Sarah Chalke). more...


See our "Scrubs" series review.

You can write to the show's producer here:

Bill Lawrence
Executive Producer, Scrubs
12629 Riverside Dr. 3rd Fl.
Valley Village, CA 91607-3489


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