9 Times TV Shows Got It Wrong About Nursing (And Medicine In General)

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Medical TV shows can make for some entertaining TV, but they’re not exactly known for their accuracy. While the rest of the world eats this stuff up, a lot of medical TV shows leave real-life nurses and physicians shaking their heads.

1) Doctors and Nurses Working Outside Their Specialties

Shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy have a tendency to show surgeons performing just about any procedure imaginable. Then, of course, there’s House seeing walk-in general practice patients, although there’s an in-universe explanation for it. In real life, physicians — as well as many nurses — have specialties. A cosmetic surgeon isn’t going to deliver a baby or remove an appendix, and a general surgeon won’t be the one handling a delicate brain surgery. The variety of things you’ll see physicians and nurses do on TV is squarely in the realm of fiction.

2) Employed Physicians or Nurses with Serious Drug Addictions

If you’re ever watched House, you know that the title character is a functional Vicodin addict, a condition that he developed due to prescription painkillers after a surgery on his leg. In real life, Dr. House would have been pushed into rehabilitation for his addiction, as practicing under the influence would be a danger to his patients. The same goes for the titular character of Nurse Jackie. While it’s true that there are many opiate addicts who can function day to day while under the influence of narcotics, addiction is taken very seriously in the medical world. Plus, many nurses are subject to drug testing, so chances are, the addiction would be discovered at some point.

3) Physicians Doing Everything Themselves

On TV, doctors are often shown carrying out testing or procedures that, in real life, would be handled by either a nurse or a different specialist. For example, Dr. House is often shown conducting radiological testing, which would almost certainly be done in the radiology department of a real hospital.

4) Insulting or Disrespecting Your Patient

House is the biggest culprit on this front. The title character is an absolute jackass, and in real life, that kind of behavior toward patients simply wouldn’t fly. Even the doctors and nurses with the most questionable bedside manner don’t outright insult their patients to their faces. In the real world, we act like adults.

5) Everyone who goes into cardiac arrest recovers after CPR and an electric shock.

In real life, CPR has a high risk of failing. While some cardiac arrest patients do come back, many don’t — a reality that’s rarely seen on TV. Also, not everyone can be resuscitated with defibrillation. While it’s still a good idea for everyday people to consider learning CPR, and it can save lives, the majority of people who undergo CPR outside of a hospital environment do not survive, and it has a survival rate of about 10%.

6) Inappropriate Ways of Handling Seizures

A study from Canada found that nurses and doctors on TV shows generally didn’t respond correctly when a patient had a seizure. These shows love to show seizures, as a grand mal seizure can be quite visually dramatic and intense. But they also show mistakes like pinning the person down, attempting to stop a person’s involuntary movements, or putting something in a person’s mouth to prevent them from “swallowing their tongue.”

7) Inaccurate Portrayals of Schizophrenia

TV isn’t the best when it comes to realistic portrayals of schizophrenia. While some shows, notably Bojack Horseman, have done a good job portraying depression, schizophrenia is constantly misrepresented. From false conflation with multiple personality disorder, to other problematic misrepresentations, medical dramas do no favors to this already stigmatized and popularly misunderstood psychiatric disorder.

8) Physicians and Nurses Hooking Up On the Job

While office romances do happen, nurses and physicians are far too busy during the workday to have sex in janitor’s closets.

9) Stabbing someone with adrenaline to treat an opioid OD.

Okay, technically, this one’s from Pulp Fiction, but it’s still terribly wrong in every way. Stabbing Mia Wallace in the chest with adrenaline simply wouldn’t have worked. Intracardiac adrenaline is only really given during open heart surgery when the heart is exposed already. Pushing a needle into someone’s heart through their chest — assuming the person even hit the heart without being able to see the organ — could cause the heart to bleed, inducing cardiac tamponade and potentially killing them.

TV Never Gets It Right
TV never seems to get it right when it comes to portraying what it’s really like to work in medicine. We have to settle for engaging plotlines and good storytelling, maybe some memorable characters, but actual medical accuracy? Probably not going to happen, although Scrubs gets a shout-out for being somewhat accurate.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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