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Dogged, petulant, bloody-minded renegade...nurses

January 4, 2006 -- Today the Sydney Morning Herald posted Robin Oliver's short but very positive review of the new six-part SBS television drama "RAN," which stands for Remote Area Nurse. The premiere is tomorrow. The lead character is "young and much-loved" nurse Helen Tremain (Susie Porter), who runs a health clinic for the inhabitants of a small, remote Coral Sea island. It's not clear to what extent the show will portray nursing as the highly skilled profession it really is. But we are at least encouraged that it seems to highlight the work of the intrepid RAN nurses who care for remote underserved populations, and to portray Tremain as caring and autonomous. We encourage all who can to watch.

The SMH review says that the show is "intoxicating" and "fine drama" that "not only provides considerable depth with regards to SBS's multicultural charter but is extraordinarily beautiful." (SBS is Australia's multicultural and multilingual public broadcasting service.) The series was filmed on Masig, a remote Queensland island "somewhere in the Coral Sea." Nurse Tremain reportedly returns to the island's clinic to replace a "hated" fill-in who left "the clinic staff in a state of rebellion." Tremain mends some fences but also disregards "Health Department regulations" by allowing an intellectually disabled patient to have her baby on the island, which will "land her in trouble." Naturally, Tremain's romantic life ("charming island boss" or the "fuel supplier who lives on his barge"?) also appears to be an object of interest.

The SBS site provides a lot of additional information, including that the show's lead producer is Penny Chapman (the SMH had her as Jan Chapman). The site also spends a lot of time on issues related to the Torres Strait Islanders portrayed in the series, and even includes a study guide focusing on the series' cultural and health implications. The site provides significant material about Remote Area Nursing in Australia, and first-hand accounts of nurses. Here is an excerpt:

The majority of RANs are on call to the population they serve 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because they are most often the first and only point of medical help, they need to be able to perform emergency operations (often with a doctor on the other end of the phone guiding them), dispense pharmaceuticals, provide counselling and preventative health care advice.

They are at the call of everyone in their community and need to abide by cultural traditions that may be foreign to them. Remote communities often have power structures that mean dealing, for instance, with a single male leader with extraordinary powers. ...

While RANs often do the work that normally doctors or nurse specialists would do in a city hospital, their remuneration is a poor reflection of what is expected of them and they usually have to lobby hard for any benefits they receive.

One of our advisors, herself an ex RAN and director of nursing, described RANs in the following way – “RANs who are any good at it are a special breed. They’re dogged, petulant, bloody minded, often display two personalities, are usually running from something, very hard to manage (but usually the most reliable in the long run), often anti-bloke (the women), good survivors, often renegades, mavericks and adrenalin freaks with a great respect for the communities they work in."

There's obviously a lot of potential there, for drama and nursing. If nothing else, the show and its real-life basis would appear to counter the belief that seems to prevail in Hollywood that nursing is not interesting or autonomous enough to merit serious attention. We hope "RAN" will capture some of the real-life nursing drama, and we encourage all who see it to tell us what they think.

See more information on Australian Television

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