2009 News

Boston Globe Features Interview with MNA President Beth Piknick Regarding Two New Nurse-Oriented TV Dramas

06.29.2009

Two new cable television shows have challenged the formula of prime time medical dramas that traditionally focused only on doctors. TNT’s “HawthoRNe,’’ starring Jada Pinkett-Smith as a heroic chief of nurses, and Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,’’ featuring Edie Falco as a dedicated albeit pill-popping ER nurse, both portray nurses as essential members of the hospital staff. David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said he’s received many calls from nurses around the state who both laud the attempt to portray nurses more prominently on television and deride the inaccurate portrayal of the profession (Nurse Jackie’s unapologetic prescription drug abuse, for example). Here is an edited interview with Beth Piknick, the association’s president and a registered nurse at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis for 37 years, who has watched “HawthoRNe.’’ TARA BALLENGER

Q. How have other medical dramas like “ER’’ and “Grey’s Anatomy’’ inaccurately portrayed nurses?

A. They’re all about physicians. It’s physicians making the decisions and physicians spending time with patients. But 90 percent of the time, it’s the nurses advocating for the patients and spending time with them. It’s not the physicians on the front lines. Shows like “ER’’ show one nurse, among millions of physicians.

Q. Does “HawthoRNe’’ get it right?

A. It’s nice to have a program that centers on characters that are all nurses, but it’s unrealistic that a chief of nurses would be spending so much time with the patients, like Jada Pinkett-Smith does. She’s portrayed as a heroine, which is good on one hand, because she’s a nurse. On the other, it’s unrealistic because the staff nurses are the ones who are spending all that time with patients.

Q. “HawthoRNe’’ and other nurse-centered shows portray nurses not being taken seriously by physicians. Is that a reality in hospitals?

A. Absolutely. In my work in the intensive-care unit, I’ve been lucky to be able to collaborate and discuss with the physicians and residents, but in other areas [of medicine] it’s just not so. A lot of the newer physicians coming in have a better understanding of how to communicate with nurses, but some just don’t listen to what you have to say and can be very bullying.

Q. Nursing seems incredibly tough. Have you ever thought of leaving the profession?

A. I always wanted to be a nurse and I’ve always wanted to take care of patients. I enjoy the challenge. Every so often I’d feel like “this is exhausting,’’ but then a patient or a family comes along and will remind you of why you’re doing this.

Q. What is your favorite medical show on television?

A. I like “Trauma: Life in the E.R.’’ [on TLC] because it shows real-life situations.

FPO