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Geographic's "Doctors Without Borders" Episode Focuses on...Nurses!

July 2, 2003 -- Tonight's one hour episode of the National Geographic channel's "Doctors Without Borders: Life in the Field," a cable television series about the well-known international health care non-governmental organization (NGO), focused primarily on the work of nurses in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Uzbekistan.

The episode "Cool Hand Luc" narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, told the stories of four Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers: a veteran nurse running a health care system in an Ivory Coast prison with "tough love;" a young Belgian nurse in a race to get a child treatment for tuberculosis in the midst of a refugee crisis in Sierra Leone; a Dutch nurse on a mission to contain tuberculosis in a depressed region of Uzbekistan; and a British engineer also in Uzbekistan working to clear sewage from the lower level of a large hospital. Two of the three nurses were male.

MSF has an unfortunate name, which suggests that only physicians further its mission, or that only they matter. But National Geographic and the filmmakers deserve credit for devoting an episode primarily to nursing-- the profession that's more on the front lines of health care than any other.

Viewers used to the exaggerated adrenaline rush of "ER" might have found the episode a bit slow, despite effective narration by the actor who plays "natural born killer" counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer on Fox's "24"--a character whose victims over the last two years could probably fill a large hospital. But the filmmakers did a pretty good job showing the less flashy work of nurses delivering international health care that actually means the difference between life and death for millions worldwide.

The show could have spent less time on the subjects' personal lives and more on their work, given viewers a better sense of the key role that local staff play in the work of international NGOs, and better highlighted nurses' significant health care expertise, which these stories did not convey very strongly. Still, none of this distinguishes the episode from comparable shows, and on the whole all involved deserve thanks for a rare serious prime time show on the work of nurses.

Please send National Geographic television producers a note of thanks at and ask them to create more good television shows featuring nurses in the future.



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