New Canadian show Nurses does, in fact, focus on nurses
The show began airing in the U.S. in December 2020. It has five main characters, and all are new hospital nurses. Each one shows real health knowledge and operates with some autonomy—but not when physicians are present. And without an expert, authoritative major nurse character, Nurses seems to be a missed opportunity.
December 2020 – This month NBC began airing another new Canadian hospital show, the 10-episode drama Nurses, which follows five new nurses at a Toronto hospital. Based on the first couple episodes, the show seems to be a mixed bag for nursing. It focuses on conscientious nurses who have real health knowledge, but they are so inexperienced that viewers get too little sense of nursing expertise and authority.
The main characters on Nurses are young, diverse, attractive without being unduly objectified, and largely autonomous when they are alone with patients, which is actually a lot. Quickly assigned to the emergency department (ED) on their first day to help cope with a terrorist attack, most of the nurses follow their patients off to other units, and in successive shifts they are again assigned to different units. While there, they all display substantial health knowledge and seem to make a real difference for patients, mostly through psychosocial care–especially confessing relatable problems from their own lives. And at least two of the new nurses are clearly bright and able to spot non-obvious life-threatening issues.
On the other hand, Nurses seems to lack any major senior nurse characters to regularly show what nursing expertise and authority look like. The focus is almost entirely on the new nurses, often flailing on their own until someone—a senior nurse or a physician—shows up to correct and maybe mock them. There are a few recurring senior nurses, and they do indicate at least some formal autonomy for nursing. The swaggering head nurse, Sinead O’Rourke, is nominally a mentor (the NBC site calls her a “den mother”), but we rarely see her provide direct patient care. And the charge nurse seems to be entirely about abusing the new nurses. Neither offers any sustained learning process. In addition, the nurses’ autonomy when alone does not seem to extend to scenes with physicians, where they are often intimidated order-takers. One ED physician is collaborative, assuring a new nurse that it’s a “team sport” and he wants to hear from her. But this message is undermined by other elements, not least the head nurse’s own introductory speech. She basically tells the new nurses that they are not “rock stars” like the new physicians, who actually make the patients well. But she assures them that nurses do protect patients’ dignity in messy care settings, they make the patients “matter,” and there is “nobility” in that. In other words, they are unsung angels who comfort patients while physicians save them.
Fortunately, on the whole Nurses actually shows nurses to be more than angels or handmaidens. They display knowledge, help patients manage difficult situations, and are the focus of the drama, with physicians only an occasional presence. But without any major nurse character like, say, one of the veteran nurses on Call the Midwife, the main thing viewers see so far is a group of panicky, cowering neophytes. Stay tuned for more reviews by signing up for our free news alerts. and see our reviews of other television shows here.
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