"Less than a minute away, Doctor."
January 16, 2005 -- The above words were the only ones spoken by any nurse character in tonight's one hour episode of Lifetime's "Strong Medicine," which focused on Rittenhouse Hospital's new Emergency Medical Services center, and which may serve as a pilot for a spinoff series called "Strong Medicine: First Response." The new series would center on a white paramedic and her adoptive sister, the black chief of trauma medicine. This episode was essentially "Strong Medicine" meets "Third Watch," and it offered a vision of emergency care in which only physicians and paramedics played roles of any significance. The episode was written by Tammy Ader and Lisa Melamed.
In this episode, nurses were so peripheral that we're not sure you could even say they were handmaidens. Much of the episode followed paramedic Kate Burke (Nichole Hiltz) and her partner Zach (Michael Trucco) in the field. The main theme was the clashing yet loving sibling relationship between Kate and her sister Vanessa Burke (Lauren Velez), the chief of trauma medicine (though needless to say, the show refers to and treats the character as the "chief of trauma," period). Vanessa is a high-achieving straight arrow; Kate makes mistakes and bends rules, but also gets results. This feminine opposites-conflict-yet-attract dynamic is reminiscent of "Strong Medicine" itself, which has always revolved around the heart-driven rebel Lu Delgado (Rosa Blasi-Finn) (above right) and a more conventional, hotshot surgical colleague.
In order to fill the screen with Kate and Vanessa for as much time as possible, Vanessa performs the show's standard amount of physician nursing, handling all important clinical tasks, emotional support, and patient education, while Kate does a fair amount of nursing herself, visiting admitted patients in an apparently professional capacity, and participating in patient interactions with physicians. The paramedics hand patients directly to the physicians; an anonymous nurse may or may not be seen doing something or other at the edge of the screen. This dramatic imperative also seems to require that the show pretend firefighters don't exist (or maybe a fire truck was too expensive). The episode suggests that the paramedics report to the trauma chief--rather than to the fire department, as real Philadelphia paramedics do--by having Vanessa order the paramedics off a hazmat site. And at one point, Zach, before realizing the Burke sisters are sisters, is aghast that Kate has addressed the lofty trauma chief by her given name. (Can you imagine? It would be like being introduced to the President, and calling him "George!") "Strong Medicine"'s one recurring nurse character, Peter Riggs, does not appear in this episode.
On the whole, the episode suggests that Lifetime, which has done much to promote the idea that women can be excellent physicians, may be aiming to do something similar for paramedics. But the network's "Television for Women" still does not seem to be "Television for Women Who Are Nurses."