In the Media: Is Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" a Vigilante Hero Fighting on Behalf of her Patients in an Unjust World, or an Unprofessional and Unethical Misrepresentation of Nurses?

    • June 24, 2009

A new television program is getting mixed reviews from nursing advocates seeking to improve the image of nursing on TV.

The New York State Nurses Association gave a thumbs down to “Nurse Jackie,” a dark comedy about an emergency room nurse in New York City that premiered on June 8 on Showtime. The group wants a disclaimer tacked on to the end of the show that says "Jackie,” played by Edie Falco, is an aberration because she repeatedly violates the nursing profession’s code of ethics, according to the New York Daily News.

But Sandy Summers, R.N., M.S.N., M.P.H., co-author of the recently released book Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk, doesn’t think that’s necessary. While Summers doesn’t necessarily support Jackie’s behavior in the show, she says the show’s depiction of nurses’ skills and duties counters many long-standing stereotypes found in most television shows—stereotypes such as the angel, the battle-axe, the sex object or the handmaiden.

Summers describes Jackie as a kind of “vigilante hero” fighting on behalf of her patients in an unjust world, and praises Jackie’s clinical expertise and her competence. “Shining a spotlight on nursing expertise and dismantling stereotypes—that’s exactly how we’re going to change how people think about nursing,” Summers says.

What do you think? Tell us your impressions of nurse characters on these and other new television shows, including TNT’s “HawthoRNe,” premiering this month. Share your views at nursing@rwjf.org

Please note that this column is designed to feature feedback and comments from readers. Editors reserve the right to use the comments our readers submit to nursing@rwjf.org, but will only use a commenter’s name with express permission.