Going Back to Cali Nurse
July 2010 -- Recently MysticArt Pictures issued a casting call for a new "sexy docu-series" called Cali Nurse, to be produced by the prominent production company Studio Lambert. The show is seeking real nurses and nursing students, but the casting material makes clear that it is going to focus on damaging stereotypes. The show wants "gorgeous" young females (ages 21-30 only) who will experience "comedy, romance, and fun" and are all about "big hearts" and "dates with McDreamy." We didn't notice anything in the casting call about being bright, articulate, tough, or skilled, qualities that real nurses need to improve patient outcomes, though the casting call did suggest that the show would "capture the lives of those learning to save lives." The producers seem to be aiming at a reality show version of Nightingales, the bimbotic show from the late 1980's. We could urge the show to pursue a more responsible vision of nursing, though it's pretty hard to imagine a project with this genesis doing no harm to nursing unless it stopped being about nurses completely. Maybe the producers could focus instead on one of the many categories of professionals who have not been plagued for decades by the idea that they are either sexy twits looking to seduce physicians, or else angels with big hearts and small brains. Cali Doc would be too easy; we're thinking Cali Judge, Cali Scientist, or even Cali TV Producer! More realistically, please join us in urging Studio Lambert to at least minimize how much it tells the public that nurses are brainless bimbos and/or angels.
The casting call text can be found at Alan Baltes's Television Show Auditions web site, and at the Examiner web site, in the "LA Acting Auditions". The text on those sites explains:
If you are gorgeous, compassionate, and ready to star in a hot new television show, this may be your big opportunity. Studio Lambert, the production company behind the mega-hit CBS show Undercover Boss and creator of Project Runway, is teaming up with MysticArt Pictures and they are searching for dynamic nurses and nursing students for a new docu-series titled Cali Nurse.
Cali Nurse will be a light-hearted, sexy docu-series that follows a group of young nurses and nursing students as they experience comedy, romance, and fun. The girls will eat, sleep, and live together while viewers watch what unfolds at the house, at the hospital, and in their social lives. Nobody knows more about helping people than nurses, giving viewers the opportunity to see their big hearts and caring ways at work. Studying for practical exams, dates with McDreamy, and working an extra job in your spare time - the TV audience will see it all as the show captures the lives of those learning to save lives.
The casting call information at the Television Show Auditions site adds that the producers want "beautiful, compassionate women" "ages 21-30" with "fun, vibrant personalities." Needless to say, along with contact information, interested women have to provide "a few pictures."
It's amazing, or not, how much the Cali Nurse producers' vision of nurses resembles what Aaron Spelling put on screen in 1989 with Nightingales, the NBC show that featured sexy, good-hearted nurses and nursing students who mostly seemed to be looking for a physician, or at least an excuse to remove those terribly constricting nursing uniforms. In 1989, nurses and even some reporters pointed out that this reinforced the naughty nurse image that had appeared in the 1960's. They argued that nursing could not recruit the able candidates it needed while its public image remained so poor. In the years since Nightingales, there have been some far more accurate Hollywood portrayals of nursing, particularly on some ER episodes and the nurse shows that debuted in 2009, including NBC's Mercy. Of course, it's also true that the state-of-the-art Hollywood nursing image remains the physician handmaiden, and that the most popular shows of recent years, notably ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Fox's House, express contempt for nurses when they are not ignoring them, even suggesting once in a while that nurses harbor a marked romantic interest in physicians. But we doubted that we'd see an entire show that was quite so close to the Nightingales vision surface 20 years later from a production company capable of placing prime time shows on major networks. Of course, the Studio Lambert casting call does recognize that nursing students face "practical exams," so there is a sense that they have to know something. It's just not the kind of advanced theory that you might get in, say, college.
However, in reality, nurses use years of college-level health science training to improve patient outcomes and, yes, save lives. They use their advanced skills to monitor patients with cutting-edge technology, to intervene with complex treatments, to teach patients to adapt to their conditions, and to advocate for patients with physicians and others. Nursing is a health science and an autonomous profession with its own distinct scope of practice. Hundreds of thousands of nurses have graduate degrees in nursing, and about a million U.S. nurses have bachelor's degrees in nursing. Compassion is important, but it takes far more to be a good nurse. And although we don't doubt that those making Cali Nurse will find some nurses and nursing students eager to provide what they seek, most nurses are more interested in trying to keep their patients from dying, and if possible maybe even finding time for lunch, than they are in "dates with McDreamy." Sadly, when influential media products reinforce such stereotypes, it is harder for real nurses to get the respect and resources they need in the midst of a critical nursing shortage.
July 9, 2010 -- We have just had a productive conversation with Eli Holzman, the Executive Vice President of Studio Lambert, the production company that is planning to produce Cali Nurse. Mr. Holzman and his show colleagues received 78 emails (33 original--thank you!) from nurses and others concerned about the show in the two days since we launched our letter-writing campaign. He expressed concern about the stereotypes that plague nurses and vowed to try to avoid them in the show. He said that Cali Nurse is at least a year away from production, but that as work on it proceeds in the coming months, he will keep in mind all of the input he has received from us. He is also interested in reading our book Saving Lives, which explains these stereotypes, and we will send copies to his production team. (Thanks to those who have donated copies of the book so that we can send them to the media!) We also offered to provide advice to the show as it goes forward. Of course it is too soon to say what the ultimate result of all this will be, but we thank you so much for taking the time and effort to speak out about the potential pitfalls of the show. Your voices made the difference!