Working as a nurse
Guest review by Marlene Bokholdt, RN, MS
September 2011 -- The Glades is a police television drama on A&E with a nurse, Callie Cargill, in one of the central roles. The main character is Jim Longworth, a Florida police detective who met Callie in the local emergency department when he came in looking for information relating to a case and the surrounding health issues. Over the course of the summer show, which has just finished its second season, the two characters develop a personal and professional relationship. Jim frequently consults with Callie on an informal basis, hoping to advance the personal relationship as much as the contribution to his work. Callie is a smart, positive character, and the show has at times suggested that nursing has value. Unfortunately, the show has also indicated that nursing is really just a job, not an autonomous profession, and the most notable example may be Callie's ongoing pursuit of a medical degree as a way to better herself, when real nurses are far more likely to pursue graduate education in nursing.
A few aspects of this show's treatment of nurses are commendable. It is gratifying that one of the main characters is a nurse, when she just as easily could have been written as a physician.
In one episode during the first season, the hospital is in the middle of an evacuation during a hurricane. A patient experiences a cardiac arrest and Callie intubates the patient while the medical examiner, who is helping because of the hurricane, performs compressions. It was great to see the nurse perform a significant role in the resuscitation.
In the opening of the second season, after Callie frequently consults with the police about forensic issues, the police captain asks her to join the department formally as a consultant. Callie says she's never thought of being a forensic nurse, but would be interested. This shows that forensic nursing exists and has real value--a rarity in prime time television.
However, there are also misconceptions and unfortunate choices on the part of the writing team. First of all, Callie ultimately decides to take a job as a forensic nurse consultant without giving it much thought or preparation. Of course, nurses do take jobs when opportunities arise serendipitously, but it would take very little to write in the fact that forensic nursing is a specialty that should be achieved with advanced education in nursing forensics. This casual approach to forensic nursing supports the show's overall view of nursing as just a job. Likewise, in the description of the pilot episode on A&E's website, Callie is called a "health care worker," and in the character description, she is said to be "working as a nurse" (instead of "practicing nursing").
Second, Callie has some codependent issues. She is married to a man who is in prison for armed robbery. She is now determined to make her life better, make better choices and change direction for her and her son. To do this, she is now in medical school. Of course, many viewers will take this as confirmation that Callie is smart, but it will also reinforce the damaging misconception that able nurses achieve by becoming physicians. A more realistic choice for Callie that would also show nursing in a more accurate light would be for her to pursue an advanced nursing degree, and perhaps become a nurse practitioner. In fact, nurses are 100 times more likely to go to graduate school in nursing than they are to go to medical school. The Glades joins other shows that have suggested nurses succeed by going to medical school including ER, House, Private Practice, and Mercy.
And a very disappointing occurrence came at the end of the second season. A physician and former colleague of Callie's comes back to town, telling her that the local hospital is to be closed down. He offers Callie a position with an affiliated hospital as a nurse administrator for the whole facility. And if she accepts the position, he says, the hospital will reward her with full tuition to complete her medical school training.
First of all, because her old colleague does not appear to be the hospital's CEO, but only a senior physician, having him offer Callie the administrator position perpetuates the myth that nurses work for and report to physicians, undermining nursing autonomy. Second, it is unlikely that she would be offered such a high level administrative position coming from a staff nurse position; presenting the nursing structure this way subtly suggests that nursing is not very important. Finally, a more likely benefit to offer such a nurse administrator would be tuition for a combined master's degree in nursing and business administration. The plotline suggests that even a nurse in a high-level administrative position would seek to better herself by pursuing a medical degree rather than improving her nursing education and skills.
Overall, The Glades has some good features for nursing. It occasionally shows nursing skill and gives the public glimpses of what nurses really do to save and improve lives. But the show has a lot of work to do to present an accurate picture of nursing autonomy and professionalism.
Reviewed by Marlene Bokholdt, RN, MS
September 7, 2011
The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.
The Glades contact information
Snail mail information for the show:
Clifton Campbell, Gary A. Randall
Comerica Bank Building
15303 Ventura Blvd.; 9th Floor
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403