TV Nursing Dramas: ‘Nurse Jackie’ Needs Healing, ‘Hawthorne’ Offers Hope

Nurse Jackie vs. Hawthorne

Two TV nursing dramas debut next month.  Only one seems to have potential to represent the real lives of nurses.

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

Does the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” hold true for TV series?  “You can’t judge a drama series by its trailer?”

Well, I took a look at the trailers for two new TV nursing-related dramas that debut next month, and let’s hope not.

Nurse Jackie starring Edie Falco premiers June 8th on Showtime. Hawthorne starring Jada Pinkett Smith premiers June 16th on TNT.

Where do I even start, other than to say Nurse Jackie falls seriously short of accurately portraying the lives of nurses? Hawthorne, on the other hand, may have some promise.

But nurses have been longing for a series focusing on nurses that shows them to be professionals. The public rarely gets to see nurses as smart, assertive, critical thinkers who provide emotional support for patients and their families, and who work together with physicians.

Here’s the network’s description of the debut episode of Nurse Jackie.

“Life is Full of Little Pricks”

In episode 101, the series premiere, veteran ER nurse Jackie Peyton bends the rules to create something good from a patient’s senseless death, while concealing her addiction to a pain killer she gets from her secret boyfriend, hospital pharmacist Eddie. 

The writeup fails to mention how Falco’s character gets her breasts grabbed by some male colleague.

It appears from the description of the characters that the offender is Dr. Fitch Cooper.

“Throwing a wrench in the machine is the young, seemingly perfect, Dr. Fitch “Coop” Cooper who typifies the smug, Ivy League doctors who have trolled the hospital halls for decades on their way to the golf course, leaving the nurses to deal with the repercussions of their drive-by diagnoses. He has these manic highs and lows. When he gets nervous he acts out with inappropriate sexual touching.”

I’m really not quite sure why the producers needed to stereotype the role of a doctor.

And did the producers really need to make Falco’s character a drug addict?

Now I’m well aware that prescription drug abuse is a huge problem that affects people in all professions, including some nurses and doctors. But why focus on the rare negative exception rather than the many positive examples?

Then, of course, there is the obligatory sex scene. OK, but couldn’t the writers allow Falco’s character to be in a relationship with some romance?

Again, that’s the trailer for the season premiere, so I’ll be watching and hoping things take a positive turn as the series unfolds.

Here’s TNT’s description of Hawthorne:

The tough-yet-caring Chief Nursing Officer at Richmond Trinity Hospital. She prides herself on standing up for her patients and preventing them from falling through the cracks of hospital bureaucracy. She’s a hero who acts out of good intentions, even if she occasionally violates hospital policy or protocol in the process. But being there for her patients means she isn’t always there for herself and her daughter. She is trying to move on after her husband’s death, but she hasn’t really had time to grieve because of her work duties. Her relationship with her teenage daughter can at times be strained, especially when Christina puts the hospital first. Still, she is a loving mother with a creative way of handling family issues.  

Well, that sounds more encouraging: a heroic but imperfect woman who thinks of her patients first and tries to balance her work and home life.

But there are problems: When Pinkett Smith’s character rushes to the hospital during the night and breaks through security to prevent a suicide attempt, she’s the first one there. That may seem a bit unrealistic, but it’s just the trailer of the opening scene.

We’ll see how things unfold.

When I first learned about Nurse Jackie, I felt great that there might finally be a TV drama that portrays nurses accurately.  I wanted to be part of it.  I got in contact with the associate producer, who politely told me, “We actually already have an advisor on the show.”

From the trailer, at least, it appears the advisers were not nurses. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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  1. 1

    Let me first say that I am by far not an expert in the field of nursing. I started an accelerated bachelor’s in nursing problem only last September. However, starting schooling for a career whose workings I knew little about and that I wasn’t even sure I wanted provides me with a degree of “outsiderness” balanced with experiences of someone near enough to the inside.

    That being said, from what I see of this drama, I have to voice an opinion of disagreement with the opinion of the author stated here. I firmly believe that the image of nursing today is insanely skewed. Nurses aren’t represented in medical dramas to even nearly the extent doctors are, despite the fact that nurses are the ones who make anything in a hospital possible. However, I don’t see this representation of nurses as particularly negative. A major problem with the image of nursing is its perpetual association with femininity and traditional feminine characteristics (i.e. beauty, nurturing, passivity). I don’t deny that a caring attitude is necessary to nursing, because it certainly is. I just find this take on what a nurse is to be different and even refreshing.

    From what we see here, Jackie is argumentative and aggressive. She doesn’t lie down and take the disrespect so many doctors give nurses. She’s attractive, but she isn’t inherently sexual. She displays knowledge and toughness, necessities to working in a fast-paced ER. Yeah, she’s a drug addict. But this gives her character and makes her more human, something traditional “Angel of Mercy” images of nursing seriously lack to an appalling extent. And her relationship? It’s more sexual and physical than emotional and romantic? Who gives a crap? Again, this separates her from those nauseating images of the perfect, pretty nurse, doting on handsome doctors, just waiting to fall in love and have kids so she can stop working and become a full-time domestic.

    Nurse Jackie is different and probably doesn’t represent the majority of nurses, but neither does the “Handmaidens” or “Naughty Nurses” we’re so accustomed to. The “negative” light in which she is portrayed is actually a welcomed change. I’m very interested to see where this series goes and I am sincerely hesitant to condemn it just because it’s not all smiles and rainbows.

  2. 2

    It was funny, but not even close to real.
    Jackie would be out on the streets in 5 minutes and unemployable.

    I am also very tired of TV glorifying people cheating on their spouses.

    I wish it would have been a funny show which showed
    how hard nurses work instead of as drug-dependent, loose women.

    It makes it look like she has so much power, which in itself, is laughable.
    It is, what it is, edgy… and pure fantasy.

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