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8 Simple Rules for Portraying Nurses in Your Hollywood Sitcom

September 3, 2004 -- Tonight's rebroadcast of a May 11, 2004 episode of ABC's sitcom "8 Simple Rules," written by Seth Kurland, reportedly included a scene in which hospital nurse Cate suggested that her work was basically about keeping patients from wetting the bed, rather than keeping them alive, as she had at first maintained. Reports also indicate that in tonight's third season premiere, Cate will be offered a nursing position at her children's school. This will likely result in portrayals of a key nursing field that is now under severe strain because of cutbacks and ever-increasing responsibilities. Recent research indicates that even sitcoms affect people's views of health care, and "8 Simple Rules" reportedly averaged about 10 million viewers per week last year.

See the film clip in Quicktime at broadband speed.

The Center understands that in one scene in the May episode, "The Principal," Cate has a meeting with the new principal at her daughter's school, apparently as the result of a dress code violation. At one point, Cate tries to leave the meeting, reportedly telling the principal that she has to go because she is a nurse, and patients will die if she is not there. We understand that the principal gives her a skeptical look, whereupon Cate admits that patients will not die, but they might wet the bed.

The nurse who brought this to our attention had the following reaction to this scene: "I heard this after a 13 hour workday where I bagged patients, checked labs, gave meds, educated family members, assessed critically ill patients on vents, without a moment to breathe except to eat! And yes, my patients can die if I am not there, some of them try!"

Exactly. Despite short-staffing and mandatory overtime, nurses do save lives every day in just these ways, and many others, but this does not seem to be well understood by those who create popular shows like "8 Simple Rules." The result is that those who watch these shows receive frequent reinforcement of the longstanding handmaiden stereotype, and little or no information about what nurses really do. Recent research has shown that Hollywood shows have a real impact on viewers' health care-related views and actions--yes, including sitcoms and soap operas--which is why the public health community has made great efforts to place positive health messages in such shows. In that spirit, we offer 8 simple rules for portraying nurses in your Hollywood sitcom:

1. Nurses save lives by monitoring patient conditions 24/7, preventing and resolving key problems, and advocating for and educating their patients.

2. Nursing is a distinct science on the cutting edge of health care research; all registered nurses have at least two years of college-level education in nursing, and some 10,000 nurses have Ph.D.'s in nursing in the U.S. alone.

3. Hospital nurses report to other nurses, not physicians.

4. Nurses do not come to work in order to marry, date, have sex with, or display their bodies to physicians or patients.

5. About 150,000 U.S. nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists provide primary and specialty care that research has shown is at least as good as that of physicians.

6. Critical nursing shortages now threaten lives worldwide, as recent press reports from Africa to the U.S. have made clear.

7. Just as accurate portrayals of physicians require expert physician advice, accurate portrayals of nurses require expert nursing advice.

8. Patients can die from wetting the bed. If no nurse is there to bathe and turn hospital in-patients, assess the relevant areas for infection, bed sores and the like, and properly care for problems that do develop, patients can die. In some places, they do.

The Center has contacted the producers of "8 Simple Rules" and we hope to establish a working relationship with them. In the meantime, if you would like to write to them, please fax executive producers John Peaslee and Judd Pillot at 1-818-560-6834. Please make any messages to them collegial and professional.

In the meantime, a producer's assistant suggested "8 Simple Rules" would be interested in having access to nurse experts for future script development. Please log on to our database and register yourself as a nurse expert. We are especially interested in school nurses who could advise the show on the current plotlines involving Cate. Our "nurse experts" are generally nurses who are Clinical Nurse Specialists, Advanced Practice Nurses or nurses who are certified in their respective fields. We especially urge nurses who have had media training to register their names.

Thank you.

The next episode is Friday, September 24th, 8/7c.

See 8 Simple Rules on ABC's website


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