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Nurse Jackie's Top 5 Hidden Nuggets of Nursing Wisdom

By Cicely Wedgeworth, Apr 18, 2011

The nurse that nurses love to hate is back – Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” just started its third season. It was praised by critics in its first season and showered with eight Emmy nominations for its second. The star, Edie Falco, won an Emmy. The show, which chronicles the life of a nurse addicted to painkillers who also has a bad habit of lying, was not so warmly embraced by real-life nurses. After its debut, “Nurse Jackie” was denounced by the New York State Nurses Association. The president of the National Federation of Nurses, Barbara Crane, said she found the character of Jackie “extremely insulting.”

Admittedly, Jackie is far from being a role model – she’s been cheating on her husband with the hospital pharmacist who supplies her with painkillers – but does she really represent a threat to the Code of Nursing Ethics? On closer examination, tucked into the show’s storylines are some nuggets of wisdom for nurses – and anyone else in the working world.

1.     Stand up for what you believe in.

Jackie may be too certain she’s always right, but she does have her patients’ best interests at heart. While faking documents, such as donor cards, should definitely remain a no-no, conflicts between nurses and doctors over patient care are pretty common, said Hyewon Suh, an operating-room nurse at a San Francisco hospital.

“Ultimately, the patient is our first priority,” Suh said. “We’re there to be their advocates, and just make sure that their safety and well-being is the ultimate priority.” If a nurse feels that what a doctor is doing is not in the patient’s best interest, Suh says it’s time for that nurse to speak up.

2.     Get in good with the right people.

Jackie certainly knows how to cultivate the right people, as her affair with hospital pharmacist, Eddie, shows. Office flings are generally a pretty bad idea, and throwing drugs into the mix makes it a doozy. But in any job, it’s important to develop one’s relationships with key people. Platonically, that is.

“As funny as it sounds, it’s the orderlies,” Suh said. “They get beds for you, they help you get equipment, they know where everything is.”

The senior nurses, who have been around for decades, are also key figures, according to Suh. “They can either make your life miserable or make it really easy.” On the show, the young nurse Zoey has a sort of hero-worship of Jackie. Is she as naïve as she seems, or tactically brilliant?

3.     Keep your home and work lives balanced, but separate.

We’re not talking about how Jackie juggles her husband and boyfriend, but how, no matter how crazy things get at the hospital, Jackie always has a cheerful attitude when she’s with her two daughters. That’s no easy task, coming home from a job where lives are on the line. 

“I don’t know if people realize how mentally, emotionally, and physically draining it all is,” said Suh. “You’re always in go-go-go mode.” It’s best to take some time to unwind before dealing with the rest of the world.

But a nurse’s schedule can actually fit the demands of parenting, Suh says, pointing out that the day shift, which usually is about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., is in sync with the school day.

4.     Notice the small stuff.

In the pilot episode, Jackie is with a patient who’s been in a car accident. She notices that something is off with the patient’s responses to her questions, but the doctor treating him ignores her warning. It turns out the guy has bleeding in his brain, and he dies.

Nurses are like “the doctor’s eyes and ears,” Suh said. They interact more with the patients than the doctors do, and are more likely to notice changes in condition that could be significant. And, if there’s a disagreement? See No. 1.

5.     Always be ready to help.

It seems like other people are always having health crises around Jackie, even when she’s outside the hospital – a woman choking in a restaurant, a taxi driver having a heart attack. As a medical professional, she’s never really off duty if someone is in need.

Suh recalls tending to a man who collapsed while she was at a concert, and describes shifting gears from a fun evening with friends.

“You go into this automatic mode of prioritizing what the guy needs – knowing what to look for, the symptoms, responding to the thing that’s the most important,” she said.

It may be kind of a hassle, but like many nurses, Suh says she is wired to be the go-to gal in times of need.

“The majority of us, we’re helpers,” Suh said. “We want to serve the public, help them.”

 
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