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Chicago Tribune: "'ER' nurses 'handmaidens?'"

November 30, 2003 -- Today the Chicago Tribune ran a short but very fair article by its television reporter Allan Johnson about the Center's "ER" campaign.

The story focused on the Center's belief that the show often portrays nurses as peripheral physician servants. It included the bland statement from Warner Bros. Television that the "award-winning" show "goes to great lengths to portray medical situations accurately."

Johnson did gently question the Center's overall take. Conceding that the Center "knows more about this stuff than we civilians do," Johnson said he felt that "ER" presented the "hardworking" nurses as "heroic," and that the major nurse characters have been "more than competent, sometimes pushing the doctors who tend to lord it over everyone just because they went to school for a little longer."

The Center notes that "pushing" for better care is actually what any competent nurse does, and that the occasional "ER" scenes showing that have often been dominated by false, unrebutted anti-nurse slurs. On the whole, the nurse characters on "ER" have been "heroic" in roughly the same way as the assistant Donna on "The West Wing," who, while bright and feisty, ultimately takes a back seat to the many senior officials whose actions and dilemmas are the heart of the show. But real nurses are not skilled subordinates who help physicians with their important work. They are autonomous professionals who save lives by applying their own scientific knowledge, which overlaps with but is distinct from medicine.

We commend Johnson for noting in closing that "as important as nurses are, there should be more in the show's regular cast," a crucial point that has not been addressed in most other coverage of the Center's campaign. It's hard to imagine how any show could present a balanced, accurate picture of a level one trauma center when its major physician characters outnumber its major nurse characters 10 to one.

See Allan Johnson's article "`ER' nurses `handmaidens'?" in the Chicago Tribune.


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