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What Hollywood’s Medical Shows Get Wrong (And Right) About Working In Health

In order to brain cleanse after a long day, I’m currently rewatching the American sitcom, Scrubs. Running from 2001 until 2010, Scrubs followed a group of friends who all work at the same hospital as a gaggle of nurses, doctors and surgeons.
Whilst some jokes have dated poorly, the sitcom is a comedic look into what transpires at a hospital, as well as the friends' interpersonal antics (think: two male best friends pranking one another, dating dramas and the lives of 20 and 30-somethings). 
Of course, it’s a 2000s fictional sitcom. It’s meant to be light-hearted and focused on their relationships, but I have to laugh at the fact that these medical students (and eventually nurses and doctors) have so much time on their hands. Time to prank their friends, centre a whole day around one patient or go on wild adventures just to prove a point. 
This got me thinking about my own friends who work in the health industry. They’re some of the most generous, hard-working people I know, but also love a laugh because when you see people in their most vulnerable states all day long, nothing is really that serious, is it? 
To learn more about the realities of the healthcare industry versus Hollywood’s shiny depiction, Refinery29 Australia spoke with Jarrah Fleming-Gardiner, a nurse from an emergency department in Brisbane.
Since completing her university degree, Fleming-Gardiner has worked in medical and surgical wards, intensive care units and outpatient clinics for nearly 15 years. She's truly seen it all. 
If you’re thinking about changing careers into health or nursing, universities like Charles Darwin University offer flexible, online nursing degrees that can help you fit learning around your lifestyle. Especially if you’re still working while studying.

Refinery29 Australia: What do you enjoy about nursing?

Fleming-Gardiner: I like that every day is different. I’m always on my feet (averaging 15,000 steps a day) and although I am a control freak, I thrive on the chaos and drama of the job. I never leave the hospital without a story. My biggest regret is not keeping a diary of all of the amazing cases I have been a part of.
One was when I was a team leader and a 94 year-old lady was in our short stay observation area. A colleague told me that her condition had changed.  I walked into the room and moments later the patient had a cardiac event. I immediately started CPR. Moments later, she regained circulation and started breathing.
I assisted her to sit up. She opened her eyes, looked at me and asked me for a cup of tea. My two immediate thoughts were "I just saved this woman's life" and "The simple pleasures of a warm cuppa are worth living for". This woman was transferred to the cardiology unit, received a pacemaker and was discharged home.

What made you want to study nursing in the first place and what did you enjoy the most about your degree? 

It was the night before I had to put in my university preferences and my grandmother suggested [a bachelor of] nursing as my sister did it. I have a great paying job that offers a lot of freedom. I work long, hard days, but equally have lots of days off to do what I want. I don't often take holidays as I have so many days off, I can work my roster to travel and take time off. Recently, I had two weeks off without needing to take a day off work. 

Do you ever watch medical shows or does it feel like work?

I think I’ve watched every medical show there is. I love them. It definitely doesn’t feel like work. Healthcare is second nature, so I find I can zone out with medical shows because I understand the ‘language’. 

Which ones do you think most accurately portray the medical field?

To be honest, none of them are accurate. 
I find it fascinating that all of these shows invest money and hire healthcare workers to help the legitimacy of the show and they get it so wrong. The trick for me is to take them for what they are: a dramatised story.

I also find all the mistakes and dramatisation thoroughly entertaining. My favourites would be Grey’s Anatomy (cliché), The Good Doctor, House, and New Amsterdam.

What couldn’t be farther away from reality?

Medical shows tend to show the nurses as two types of people: Disgruntled and on the sideline (often in a corner of the room) or as the doctor's dirty secret or partner.
In actual fact [a huge portion] of the job that the doctor does in the show is [thanks to] the nurses. 
I can only comment on the Australian healthcare system, but doctors don’t perform brain surgery in the morning, a lung transplant at lunch and diagnose some weird infectious disease (The Good Doctor). 
Doctors stay in their department in their specialty field and they don’t stray. Surgeons are either general surgeons or they specialise (gastro-intestinal tract, urinary system, renal, gynaecology, colorectal, breast and endocrine). 
The nurses are the glue that keeps things running.
Nurses spend 95% of the day with the patients. Doctors on the ward [do rounds] and spend a few minutes a day with their patient (unlike on TV where the doctors get emotionally invested – insert eye roll). The nurses do the emotional groundwork with distressed patients.
I like to see that I made a difference. I don't need the acknowledgement, but knowing that I made someone's day a little easier or that I made a life-changing decision is so gratifying. 

What would you say to people who want to get into nursing because they’ve watched a show like Grey’s Anatomy?

Medical shows don’t portray real life or they show an extremely dramatised version which is healthcare on speed. The cases they have in one episode, you may stumble upon once every six months rather than multiple [times] a day.
Nursing and health is an ecosystem of opportunities, all you need is a passion and to follow it. 
No one understands what a nurse does until you work in the job. Nursing isn’t for everyone but you won’t know until you try it! It’s not about glory, as TV portrays.
So there you have it. Whilst you may not have the spare hours in a day to goof off like J.D and Turk from Scrubs, there'll certainly be a book's worth of stories (and drama), you’ll be able to make a real difference in people’s lives and be part of a team for the rest of your career. 
To learn more about nursing degrees, head to Charles Darwin University, a leader in online degrees (CDU has delivered online and distance education for more than 30 years), and Australia's most-connected university.
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