In the Media: Readers and Nursing Associations Register Their Views on How Nurses are Depicted on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" and TNT's "HawthoRNe"

    • July 30, 2009

Showtime’s new drama ‘Nurse Jackie,’ a dark comedy about a drug-addicted emergency-room nurse who regularly pushes ethical and legal boundaries in the course of her work, has set off a debate about the show’s impact on the image of nursing.

Debra Cooper Dibartolo, a nursing supervisor at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y., called Jackie—played by Edie Falco—a “nauseating” representation of nurses. Cooper Dibartolo, R.N., C.E.N., S.A.N.E.-A., S.A.N.E.-P., wants an apology from Showtime for its “incredible lack of consideration and respect” to the profession.

“Nurse Jackie has serious medical and psychological problems,” she writes. “Addiction is a serious medical illness that unfortunately affects far too many people. Laughing at her bad behavior and glamorizing her drug addiction not only is unfortunate for nurses, it is unfortunate for people (and their families) who suffer with addiction.”

Elaine Ritchey, a clinical nurse leader in Oregon, holds a different view. Ritchey, M.S., R.N., C.C.R.N., C.N.L., finds Jackie’s character “a relief from the classic misrepresentations of nurses” on television. Still, she finds her “a bit of an embarrassment,” and adds: “Her drug addiction, while a great story line, would not fill me with confidence if I were a patient.”

‘Nurse Jackie’ sparked protests from the American Nurses Association, as has another new nurse-centered drama: TNT’s ‘HawthoRNe,’ which tells the story of Christina Hawthorne, a chief nursing officer and widow who struggles to balance the stressors of life on the hospital floor with the demands of single parenthood.

‘HawthoRNe,’ which premiered on June 16 and stars Jada Pinkett Smith (whose mother is a registered nurse), puts nurses in a more positive light, but still drew complaints because it includes another nurse character who engages in inappropriate behavior with her patients. 

What do you think? Tell us your impressions of nurse characters on these back-to-back nurse-centered dramas. 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.