TV Show Illustrates Nursing's Role In Health Care

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Two new TV shows highlight the growing importance of nurses at a moment when the Obama administration is preparing to reform the nation’s health care system, but the shows also run the risk of further marginalizing the often overlooked contributions of nursing, says a Duke University nursing professor.

Showtime's new program, “Nurse Jackie,” stars Edie Falco, and TNT's new program, “HawthoRNe,” stars Jada Pinkett Smith.

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“I’m pleased to see nursing getting the attention these programs will bring, particularly as the country embarks on a historic debate about health care,” says Dori Taylor Sullivan, a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the Duke University School of Nursing. “However, I do worry that television’s need for melodrama could result in a new set of false stereotypes about nursing.”

Sullivan says network dramas featuring doctors as lead characters “tend to oversimplify or ignore the complex roles nurses play, putting at risk the public's appreciation for what nurses do.

“I hope these new programs will help Americans understand the extent of what nurses actually do and illustrate how our health care system should be looking to nurses to play an even greater role in treating patients and making health care more affordable and accessible. Nurses are on the front lines of combining high-tech medical procedures with compassionate and coordinated care for patients and their families."

Sullivan has participated in several national initiatives related to nursing education, leadership development and the quality and safety of patient care. She also has served as a national health care alliance consultant.

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