"Nurse Practitioner Evil!"
Disney's "Lab Rats" attacks nurse practitioners
August 5, 2013 -- Today's double episode of Disney XD's tween series Lab Rats included a brief but powerful attack on nurse practitioners. The live-action show, which is kind of a sci-fi / action sitcom, focuses on a trio of bionic teens who live incognito with their brilliant inventor father and, you know, fight evil. In this episode, the father's exiled brother and former business partner returns to take revenge and use the teens for nefarious ends. At one point, the father mocks his brother by noting that he has turned into "Dr. Evil...or should I say Nurse Practitioner Evil, since you flunked out of med school!" The brother admits that he was "dismissed" from school for "screaming too loud when I saw the needles." Of course, it's absurd to suggest that failing medical school qualifies you to be a nurse practitioner--despite not being able to handle needles, no less. But the insult will register clearly with the 9-14 year-old males who make up the show's main audience; they will likely absorb the basic message that NPs are losers who can't hack medical school. It's actually a mark of progress that NPs are now well-established enough in U.S. culture that the show creators assumed this audience would get the reference. But it's not surprising that the content of the reference is consistent with the wannabe physician stereotype and the baseless anti-NP messages sent by physician groups and too much of the mainstream media in recent years. In fact, a great deal of research shows that NPs provide care that is at least as good as physicians. NPs are nurses with graduate degrees in nursing who, as a class, have no desire to be physicians. But NPs can and do play a critical role in delivering high-quality, cost-effective care in these difficult times. Please tell Disney and the show creators not to be evil by signing our petition here!
This episode, "Bionic Showdown," aired toward the end of the show's second season. In the episode, the main characters are threatened by their father Donald Davenport's estranged brother Doug, who is also a brilliant inventor, and his bionic son Marcus. Apparently Donald managed to oust Doug from their company some time ago and Doug hasn't been doing as well. But now Doug and Marcus invade the Davenport complex, take Donald and hold him hostage at their lair, as a way to lure the three bionic teens into a trap. While there, Doug and Don trade insults.
Don: Nice digs. I love what you and Frankenstein have done with the place.
Doug: Ha ha. Maybe I'd have a nicer place if you wouldn't have kicked me out of Davenport Industries.
Don: I kicked you out because you got all weird and turned into Dr. Evil. Or should I say Nurse Practitioner Evil, since you flunked out of med school!
Doug: I didn't flunk out, I was dismissed for ... screaming too loud when I saw the needles. And what you call evil I call taking the company in a more creative direction.
Don: You were going to use bionic humans as weapons!
Doug: And that's why I'm here. To finish what I started. To take back what's rightfully mine!
And so on. We hope it will not spoil things if we note that Don and his kids defeat the evil Doug.
The show does not return to the doctor / nurse references, which were just a one-off insult. To be clear, it's no insult to nursing that the supposed "nurse" here is evil, just as it's no compliment that he is brilliant. No one thinks Doug is actually a nurse. And the idea that he was dismissed from medical school for screaming about needles is, of course, a joke. But it's a persuasive insult to say that Doug's failure at medical school means he would have to settle for being an NP (or to take the dialogue literally, that he automatically is one) because that reinforces the traditional stereotype that NPs are inferior wannabe physicians. And for what it's worth, having a problem with needles is going to be at least as much of a issue for an NP as it would be for a physician.
In fact, a wealth of research makes clear that nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses provide care that is at least as good as the care of physicians. NPs have at least master's and bachelor's degrees in nursing, and they are especially adept at managing critical conditions, combining their technical expertise, interpersonal skills, and holistic practice model. In fact, as a few press items have reported, there have recently been calls for the United States to expand the authority and scope of practice of APRNs. Tina Rosenberg's excellent October 2012 article "The Family Doctor, Minus the M.D.", posted on The New York Times website as part of the "Fixes" series, notes that health clinics run by NPs provide primary care that is at least as good as physician-run clinics. Rosenberg cites NP credentials and the research showing how good their care is, and she explains why the nursing practice model is so effective. She argues forcefully that expanding APRN practice would improve access to care and likely reduce health care costs; in fact, that is why the Affordable Care Act envisions an expanded role for APRNs. Rosenberg says that organized medicine opposes these measures, claiming wrongly that APRN care is inferior. But she correctly suggests that this appears to be driven more by concerns about lost income and authority than by any well-founded concern for patients.
Thank you to Shawna Mudd, RN, DNP (right), for alerting us to this and being the first to reach out to Disney.