Nursing Can’t Compete with Grey’s Anatomy

In Ontario, secondary school students are required to do a set number of hours in community service as a prerequisite for graduation, and the Emergency Department at Acme Regional is naturally a sought-after assignment. The excitement! The drama! The glamour! Et cetera! However, students expecting the pace and intrigue of Grey’s Anatomy or House are pretty quickly brought to ground with the reality of the never-ending flow of nursing home patients presenting with the chief complaint of Very Old (with variations), unhandsome physicians with the appeal and charm of Voldemort, and unsexy middle-aged nurses griping about back pain. And then there’s me, the charge nurse, who sees these students as an opportunity to sort out that back supply closet which has been in shambles since 1975.

For these 17-and-18-year-0lds, it’s a reality check.

I was therefore interested  in watching the reaction of a particular student to a nearly continuous series of traumas and codes that presented the other day. If you’re an emergency nurse, you know the scene, the chaotic ballet of nurses and physicians organizing care and treatment, the chatter back and forth, people running in an out, and so forth. At the end of it, I asked the student her impressions.

“It’s not like Grey’s Anatomy,” she said, in her very serious, 17-year-old way.

No, I agreed. It is nothing like television. Not even in the teeniest way.

She went on. “I was really surprised by how much the nurses do.”

I brightened a bit. “Are you thinking about pursuing nursing as a profession?”

“Oh no,” she said. ” I really want to be a paediatrician.”

Sadly, I wasn’t all that surprised. I’ve had this conversation many times before, and I have yet to meet a high school student who excitedly, definitely wanted to be a nurse. Not one. For me, it’s interesting that even after years of positive advertising — think of Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future, among many — the dominant societal meme about nurses and nursing is still one of passive and subordinate actors in providing health care, and that nursing is an inferior choice compared to medicine or even any of the other allied health professions. Which makes me think: why does the nursing profession remain so poor in articulating its own public image?

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  1. #1 by Sarah on Thursday 03 March 2011 - 2035

    As one of those allied health (and doing exactly what I set out from high school to do – I never wanted to be anything other than a pharmacist), I don’t think that I could do what nurses do – 12 hours of running flat out, being shit on from all sides and still bringing out the care and compassion. I was chatting with one of the nurses on my unit the other day – she was 3 hours from the end of her 12 hour shift and that was the first time all day that she had sat down (never mind eaten). Being a doctor looks cool and if you memorize well and can put your thoughts together you can do it. Being a nurse requires brains and physical and emotional endurance. What you do is amazing… but intimidating too.

    I just found your blog today through nurse K… you and I work within an hour or two of each other… my hospital is full up too.

    • #2 by torontoemerg on Thursday 03 March 2011 - 2132

      Thanks Sarah — I might have trained in your hospital!

  2. #3 by Robert on Tuesday 29 March 2011 - 0137

    Physicians need physical and emotional endurance too, if they want to be any good. Just as nurses have a lot to memorize.

    I enjoyed being a medic, and one of the things I liked, in retrospect, was the holistic way the job required you to perform the physical and the intellectual aspects of care. You could hold a hand, start a line, wipe up vomit, or analyze a 12-lead or tube a code. Now that I’m a physician, I miss some of the “nursing” that I used to do.

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