Ethics: The Value of Nursing Ethics. What about Nurse Jackie?

By Sorrell, Jeanne Merkle | Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Ethics: The Value of Nursing Ethics. What about Nurse Jackie?


Sorrell, Jeanne Merkle, Online Journal of Issues in Nursing


Citation: Sorrell, J. M., (July 22, 2009) "Ethics: The Value of Nursing Ethics: What about Nurse Jackie?" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 14 No. 3. Available: www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/Columns/Ethics/Nurse -Jackie. aspx

The 1991 film What about Bob? depicts a psychiatrist who is treating Bob, a recluse with an incredible number of insecurities and phobias. Bob becomes so attached to the psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin, that when Leo goes on vacation, Bob conquers his phobia of traveling alone and arrives at the lake in New Hampshire where Leo is vacationing with his family. Surprisingly, Leo's family, who seems to be bored with Leo, finds Bob's wit and fun personality a welcome diversion. Leo, however, becomes so annoyed with Bob's intrusion on his personal time that he finds himself plotting unethical approaches to try to lure Bob back to New York. The film was quite successful with authences, even though some noted it was a dark comedy that challenged credibility; one review of the film noted that the "quirky family comedy. ..encourages viewers to stop being so straight-laced and start having fun" (What about Bob, 2009).

Perhaps this is one perspective for us to consider in relation to a new "black comedy," the Showtime series Nurse Jackie, which has emerged recently as a controversial representation ofthe daily work of a nurse. So, what about Nurse Jackie? Nurses, nursing organizations, and the general public have weighed in on the merits (or lack of them) of the show. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has issued a statement of disappointment at how the show portrays nurses and nursing in negative images that could erode the trust of patients and even discourage young people from considering a career in nursing (ANA, 2009b). And yet, only 53% of respondents answered "yes," to the poll on the ANA (ANA, 2009a) Web site asking for opinions on whether negative images of nursing, as portrayed in TV shows like Nurse Jackie, significantly hurt the profession. Forty-seven percent ofthe 1026 votes submitted online responded that the shows were not damaging.

The character of Nurse Jackie is a skilled emergency room nurse, who is dedicated to her patients, and who in the pilot episode fearlessly takes to task a doctor whom she sees as responsible for the death of a patient, yet blames herself for not persisting with her intuition that the patient had a cerebral hemorrhage. Unglamorous and outspoken, with little makeup, a short, unstylish haircut, food spilled on her scrubs, and a quick rebuke for those who do not meet her expectations, Jackie is definitely not the "naughty nurse" or the doctor's handmaiden that we often accuse the media of portraying. Jackie is smart, caring, respected by her peers, and a vigilant advocate for her patients. She also, however, takes drugs from the hospital pharmacy for her back pain, has a sexual encounter with the pharmacist on her lunch hour, forges an organ donation form, and purposely flushes the ear of a rapist down the toilet because she can see that the legal system will not punish him - all this before she goes home to assume her wife/mother role with her loving husband and two adorable daughters.

The language and actions of Jackie are shocking. And yet, after only one episode was aired, the show was so popular that it was picked up by Showtime for a second season. In fact, it was the highestrated season premiere in Showtime history (Bauder, 2009). People are watching.

And perhaps, when they watch, they will gain a new sense of the ethical issues with which "real" nurses grapple daily. Nurses' comments on blogs have noted that Jackie speaks out candidly about injustices in a way that they wish they could. Many nurses can relate to the irony ofthe hospital administrator warning Jackie about the hazardous effects on patients of working double shifts, and then her being asked to stay for a second shift. …

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