Why a new TV show offends physicians

Relaxing on the couch, my family already in bed, watching TV to calm my mind before leaving for a busy night shift in my emergency department, I was shocked to see an advertisement that insulted me, my colleagues, and my profession.

A trailer for a show called “Nurses” is shameful.

The idea behind the show is admirable — nurses do not get recognition from society for the work they do and the sacrifices they make. I have no problem with the concept of the show. In fact, I am glad to see a show like this, presenting nurses in the role of everyday heroes.

The issue at hand is the trailer. It opens with a group of gorgeous men and women, diverse, with perfectly styled hair and makeup and beautifully pressed scrubs of all colors, strutting forward to the lyrics “beautiful people.” It continues with large, boldfaced words:

“No country clubs. No fancy cars. No limelight. No egos. They are not doctors.”


As if society and the media don’t already paint physicians in this terrible light. The majority of doctors are not at all country club members, fancy car drivers, limelight seekers, or egotistical. There are certainly some within this profession who are, but I promise you that many other professionals are as well. Most of us doctors came into this field to help people. That is the aim of our lives: to make others’ lives better. Heal the sick. Take away pain. We didn’t become doctors to drive a Lexus or seek out fame and fortune. We do what we do every day because we care.

Why would the network and the producers of a show about my exceptional colleagues, nurses, feel the need to throw physicians under the bus in order to garner attention? The claims made in this trailer are libelous and divisive. There is no need to smear the reputation of doctors as a whole and feed into society’s unfounded fear of physicians. Doctors, nurses, and the entire health care team work together to treat patients. We do not work against each other. Our teamwork should be celebrated.

Let me tell you about a normal day in the life of a hardworking physician mother so that you can better understand how contrary this is to the image portrayed in the trailer:

Sunday evening, dinner, bath, and bed, but the kids don’t sleep until somewhere after 10 p.m. She falls into bed around midnight. A few hours later, somewhere around 3 a.m., the preschooler is calling from his bed. He joins his parents and three hours later they wake at 6 a.m. Rousing the older one, they rush through breakfast, lunchbox prep, and they fly out the door in the predawn dark by 7:20 a.m. She drops the kids at school and speeds to work to arrive at 8 a.m. for her shift that begins exactly then. Throwing on her scrubs, she joins the emergency department team for a full day of saving lives, balancing dozens of patients, advocating for testing, asking consultants to evaluate patients. In between CPR on a young father who lived, caring for an elderly cancer patient who subsequently passed away with her family by her side and without suffering thanks to medications prescribed, reducing a dislocated hip, teaching medical students, and keeping a full department afloat and moving, there is barely a moment to sit.

In the emergency department, members of the team from orderlies to unit agents to nurses are able to take breaks multiple times a day. Physicians work the whole shift through; often, she goes to the washroom only once in a 12-hour time span. She eats on the fly — a bite here or there but often skipping breakfast and eating lunch in various bites after 3 p.m. She works from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. And finally, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, she drives home in the dark.

Taking five minutes to cry off the sadness of the day. She sits in the car in her driveway while the children wait expectantly inside wondering when she’ll show up. Then she wipes the tears away, puts on a happy face, and heads inside to see the kids and spouse.

They do it all over again: the dinner/bath/homework/bed routine, and she falls into bed around midnight again with barely a moment to decompress from what she did all day long. And the cycle repeats itself again.

The rousing majority of doctors I know work similarly long and busy days. We work evenings, and we work nights, we work weekends. When many of our friends and family are tucking their kids into bed, we are leaving our children’s sides. When most of the world is sleeping quietly under starry skies, we are driving into work. When our children are sick at home with a fever and any one of a variety of little kid sickness, crying for mommy and daddy, we are abandoning them to their misery and going to care for the children, parents, and grandparents of strangers. We do this, and so do our nurses.

I did not choose my field of work to make money, to find fame, to stroke my ego. I chose medicine because I truly care about people. I honestly want to make your mother feel better when she comes in vomiting at 2 a.m. I vehemently want to chase disease from the door when your teenager has meningitis trying to die. I pray for help from above as I resuscitate your toddler who choked on a quarter. I cry in the washroom during my one pee break because I lost you when you were rushed to our door in cardiac arrest. I beg forgiveness from the souls I cannot help though I tried my hardest. I do not then drive home in a Ferrari and drink champagne with my country club friends. I rush home, spill hot tears quietly in the shower after taking care of all the others in my life, and try my hardest to take care of myself in stolen moments.

So please, retract this trailer. There is no need to vilify the physician, no justification for insulting an entire profession of people who do our best every day to care for you and your loved ones, often at the expense of our own little worlds. We work together with nurses, allied health care workers, and the rest of our teams, and we deserve just as much respect.

Sara R. Ahronheim is an emergency physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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