tv nurses

At the Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday, Sept. 23, actress Edie Falco was once again up for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of a TV nurse, prescription pill-popping “Nurse Jackie.” While some nurses praise the fictional RN’s clinical prowess, others, including the American Nurses Association and the NYS Nurses Association, have protested the character’s violations of the nursing Code of Ethics.

Without a doubt, it’s difficult to find a realistic nursing role model on the big or small screen. From finding a cure for a rare disease within the hour, to giving a patient an injection in an inappropriate site (the forearm!?), to shocking a patient who has flatlined, medical TV programs rarely seem to get it right.

We asked our Facebook community to set the record straight and share the most shocking inconsistencies between what they see on television and the way they practice in real life settings. Here are their top four:

Pay No Mind to Privacy 

If you’ve ever walked into a doctor’s office, you’ve likely signed a form related to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects a patient’s health information. Despite this federal law, TV nurses seem to be easily bought and sold when it comes to their patient’s privacy.

“HIPAA violations are the worst…the nurse always does the cute doctor or estranged relative a ‘favor’ with patient information.” – Melissa G. 

Stealing Time for Romance 

In the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” romantic entanglements abound in the halls of the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital – including those of the doctors dubbed “McDreamy” and “McSteamy.” While this might give the impression that romance blooming in the ER is common, having time for a workplace relationship when you’re a healthcare provider is next to impossible, say our nurses.

“I must be doing something wrong because I barely have time to go to the bathroom since I’m busy doing paperwork, calling doctors, acting as a social worker or case manager, and oh yeah, taking care of patients!”— Adriane W.

Operate Outside the Nursing Scope of Practice 

The TV series “House” has been cited among medical programs that show doctors doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to patient care, while largely ignoring the important role that nurses play. On the flipside, many TV nurses practice outside of their scope, our community noted.

“Doctors doing nurse work (House), nurses doing doctor work (HawthoRNe).”— Phyllis W.

“Physicians performing all the work that nurses actually do. Start IVs, transport patients, draw labs……” – Craig C.

No Gloves, No Mask, No Problem? 

TV nurses who practice without gloves or masks are commonplace on television hospital sets. Not to mention that nurses on the small screen seem to throw hand hygiene guidelines to the wind…

“Not washing their hands… ewww.” – Lisa G.


Nurses, what’s your pet peeve when it comes to medical dramas? Share with us the biggest mistakes you see TV nurses making below!

  1. Improper blood draws are common place. They access the blood vessel with the needle in a vertical position and they pull the needle out before removing the tourniquet.

  2. I love it when you can obviously tell the ETT is not even in the mouth! I get that it is a show but at least have it look like its in the mouth!!

  3. If I see one more patient on a non-rebreather mask that is deflated I just might scream. TV shows are killing patients with CO2 poisoning daily. Can we get some oxygen please!!!

  4. The lack of gloves thing just drives me NUTS! Seriously a misrepresentation of safe standard precautions in patient care. I also think it does the nursing profession a terrible disservice when we are shown practicing out of our scope. A made for TV movie recently appeared on ABC in which Mandy Moore played as hospice nurse. She took so many liberties that nurses are just not entitled to and it just flew all over me.
    There are plenty of mistakes that nurses make in real life, many of them comical. Why wouldn’t they put things like this on tv: “Oops” moments nurses hate to admit!?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>