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Herzing Staff

4 Ways TV Shows Get Nursing Careers Wrong

Though they are entertaining, popular TV medical dramas often misrepresent the work nurses do every day. In reality, nurses play a critical, often self-directed role in providing vital, life-saving and sustaining care to patients.

If you’re considering a career in the nursing field, don’t believe everything you see in your favorite medical TV series. Though they are entertaining, popular TV medical dramas often misrepresent the work nurses do every day. In reality, nurses play a critical, often self-directed role in providing vital, life-saving and sustaining care to patients.

Herzing University’s MSN Program Chair Brandy Ebert shares the top four ways TV shows get nursing careers wrong.

Physicians do everything themselves

In popular medical dramas, nurses are usually in the background or assisting the doctor when he or she needs a hand with a coding patient. However, nurses spend more time with the patient than anyone else and are responsible for many of the tasks doctors do on medical TV shows.

For example, on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, doctors are shown drawing blood, giving injections, getting lab results or monitoring vitals. In reality, those are responsibilities for nurses or other specialists.

“Nurses do so much more than portrayed on TV,” Ebert says. “They are essentially one of the healthcare providers for patients and families tending to the physical, mental, emotional, development, spiritual and cultural needs of their patients to prevent and treat illness/disease. They are also responsible for the holistic care of their patient.”

Nurses only do what they’re told by doctors

In medical TV series, viewers normally see nurses only answering to or given tasks by physicians. Though nurses do listen and follow doctors’ suggested treatment, the nursing field also has its own hierarchy in healthcare settings, including positions such as Chief Nursing Officer (CNO), Director of Nursing and Nurse Manager or Supervisor.

“Nurses are trained to critically think and make evidence-based decisions on their own and with the rest of the medical team,” Ebert explains. “They are often the eyes and ears of the medical field and make several recommendations doctors need to treat patients.”

Nurses also have the ability to decide which orders to follow based on a patient’s needs, meaning they don’t always follow doctors’ instructions if it’s not what’s best for the patient.

Most nurses are a similar age and gender

Something Ebert says she sees a lot of in medical TV shows is the misrepresentation of diversity in the nursing workforce.

“Most of the nurses in TV series are around the same age and are usually the same gender,” Ebert says. “This couldn’t be more different from the real nursing world.”

The field includes nurses with different backgrounds, ages, genders and specialties. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) prioritizes diversity in the nursing workforce by recruiting and graduating nurses that mirror the diverse patient population.

Nurses work outside of their specialties

“TV often leaves out the specialty roles of nursing,” Ebert says. “They often portray nurses as strictly bedside care providers or treating a variety of patients with drastically different illnesses or diseases.”

However, most nurses, like doctors, have specialties and work in a designated areas such as research, psychiatry, trauma, anesthesiology and oncology. These nursing fields not only have different education requirements and training, but they also involve specific procedures and treatments.

For example, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) has different responsibilities than an oncology nurse. PMHNPs are in charge of tasks that could include managing grief counseling or assessing the mental health of a patient while oncology nurses help cancer patients through treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Although television may get some things wrong about nursing, TV does show the incredible care and exciting impact that you get to have on a patient's life. Are you interested in getting a nursing degree? Visit Herzing University’s website and start your nursing program today!

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Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes. Herzing does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salary.

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