Nurse Jackie Ends Tonight

Tonight is the last episode of the first season of Nurse Jackie and I, for one, will be very sorry to see it go.  As critics have pointed out, this is the one of the best, if not the best, shows on television and it’s about a nurse.  I know,I can hear nurses complaining that Nurse Jackie is not how nurses want to be presented on TV.  Some nurses are down on Nurse Jackie because she has so many problems.  Some nursing groups have complained — rather than congratulated — Showtime because Jackie isn’t picture perfect.  What they ignore is how real Jackie is.  Anyone who wants a nursing show that is “a love song to sensitive nurses”, as Boston Globe TV critic Mathew Gilbert wrote in today’s review of the show will be disappointed.  To desire such a “love song” would also be deeply misguided.  TV shows don’t do lovesongs and if they do, they don’t last.  Gone are the days of Marcus Welby MD.  We now have, god help us Grey’s Anatomy and The Practice.  Perhaps the best show to which to compare Nurse Jackie is Rescue Me.  Along with nurses, firefighters routinely garner the highest scores on public trust.  But Rescue Me doesn’t depict a bunch of saints sitting around the firehouse.  The characters are a group of deeply dysfunctional men and women.  They drink too much, fight too much, and live amidst the debris of failed relationships.  They even disobey the rules when fighting fires and rescuing victims.  But they are unfailing pros who exhibit courage,compassion and expertise when those alarms go off.  Which is why firefighters like the show and why firefighting organizations don’t launch protests against it.

Nurse Jackie fits precisely into this mold, only in my opinion the show is a lot better.  Why do nurses want an angel in the hospital?  Why don’t they understand the difference between early 21st TV drama and a public service announcement for the profession?  I wonder if it has to do with the fact that Nurse Jackie — perhaps inadvertently — reveals one of the profession’s closest held secrets.  That many nurses treat themselves — and each other  –as badly as Nurse Jackie treats herself.  In his review of Nurse Jackie in the Boston Globe ( points out, the compassion Jackie shows her patients “never extends to herself.”  He also notes correctly, that those around her don’t seem to notice how she is self-destructing.  In other words, no one nurses the nurse.

This is one of  the fundamental fact of nursing today — perhaps of nursing perenially.  Nurses are expected and do — as nurse Jackie does —  sacrifice themselves on a daily basis for their patients.  But they don’t take care of themselves and the institutions that employ them all too often treat them like machines rather than valued professionals.  In fact, sometimes hospitals treat their machines better than they treat their RNs and other nursing staff.  Hospitals maintain their high tech equipment far better than they maintain their nurses.  Just ask any nurse when she/he last had her/his lunch break on time or whether she’s/he’s had a UTI recently because of not being able to go to the bathroom and you’ll find that out pretty quick.  When our cars are on empty we fill them with fuel.  When are nurses are running on empty we just ask them to run further.  The result is a lot of nurses who have problems similar to those of Nurse Jackie.  They may not be popping uppers and downers.  But they have more depression, hypertension and other stress related illnesses than the rest of the population.  And just look at the obesity epidemic in nursing.  It’s frightening.  That’s probably because nurses are in chronic stress which means higher cortisol levels, lower immunity, and higher craving for food.

I am saddened every time I talk to nursing audiences about Nurse Jackie and learn that nurses don’t like the show.  What saddens me even more is how many nurses comment negatively about Nurse Jackie but haven’t even watched one episode.  It’s not too late.  The show will certainly be out on DVD and it will, thank you Showtime and Edie Falco and all those who have worked on the show — be with us next year.  I personally can’t wait.

another great review on the show was in USA today

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  1. I was blown away by the season finale and can’t wait for next season. Yes, it’s shocking. Yes, it’s revealing. But it’s real, as real as TV can be anyway. It’s time we nurses stop sugarcoating our needs, desires and issues.

  2. Well, geeze.

    I’ve been told to get off my “high horse” (putting it mildly) and that Nurse Jackie is “just a show” and even “it’s Showtime, what do you expect”.

    I’ve read Sandy Schwartz’s take on the show on “The Truth About Nursing” and been floored that she actually found it acceptable.

    And now I read your blog post that basically says the same thing.

    To sum up, I’ve had my own (online) colleagues read me the riot act, I have watched the ultimate “watch-dog” over nursing’s image give Nurse Jackie the high-five and now I have this blog post saying the same thing from a writer and nursing advocate I highly respect.

    Suzanne, I do have one question. Jackie’s drug addiction and affair can be seen as personal character issues and ones that provide depth to the character. But, how do we explain away blatant unethical behavior such as forging donor cards and stealing from patients? This goes beyond personal issues and into professional integrity. In your opinion, is this a weakness in the show or do you think it serves a beneficial purpose?

    I had better go back and re-evaluate my initial negative gut reaction to this show, because somewhere along the line I misjudged the entire premise based on some disturbing promos.

    And trust me, it isn’t easy admitting I might have been hasty and wrong (and stubborn) : )

    But I’m hearing too many nursing voices disagreeing with me; I must be missing something.

    It’s time to re-evaluate.

    • I think you raise a lot of good issues. The problem here is that this is television dark comedy not a reality show or documentary. You are perfectly free to dislike, as you do, certain aspects of the show. But I think to ignore the fact that finally we have a nurse who is strong, competent, skilled and tough is a mistake. Of course, you shouldn’t like the fact she’s addicted to meds (although let’s remember why, — she was injured like so many nurses on the job. You don’t have to like the fact that she’s a mess and having an affair. ( I personally don;t like the fact that she has hidden the fact that she’s married. I find that hard to believe on any level since how would her family get health care given that her husband is self-employed). The real point here is that there is enough real about the show — mostly her competence. Plus, this is a hollywood drama. There is not a single TV drama/comedy about any professional today in which the main character is not deeply flawed.

    • I think we have to remember here that the American television hero of the 21st century is a rule breaker. So when Jackie forgers a signature the issue is, yes she is breaking the rules, but is she doing it for good reasons. She breaks a lot of rules, but rules a lot of other nurses and docs break as well. For example, a lot of nurses and doctors help dying patients to exit life with dignity. What she always does however, is demonstrate knowledge, competence and compassion. Frankly, the only thing I have not liked about the show was when she pulled out the guys catheter. ouch! we could have done without that.

  3. Hi Suzanne,

    I hear what you are saying. This may be a case of me “not seeing the forest for the trees”. I didn’t want to watch the last episode without seeing the rest of the series in order. I’ll be looking to see if it is (a) re-run on Showtime or (b) available On Demand through Comcast. I might be a bit behind the curve, but I’ll catch up! : )

  4. You know, one thing that no one has mentioned when reviewing the show’s ‘tarnishing’ of the profession’s image is that Jackie is not the only Nurse on the show! Zoey, Mohammed and even Mrs. Akalitis are all nurses too, no?

    As far as the drug addiction is concerned, not once have either the writing nor the performaces ever presented Jackie’s addiction to painkillers as even remotely positive. Keep in mind, the show so far has consisted of 12 half-hour episodes. The degree of humour, drama, psychological insight and character development is high considering the amount of airtime it has had. For all we know, season 2 may give us new characters, backstory on how Jackie started using and the consequences of her actions catching up to her.

  5. Personally I agree with Suzanne to a degree. First I am a nurse myself. Nurse Jackie is a dark comedy, Unfortunately what this show is telling 75% of what is seen hospital settings all the time. I know most of you are pissed right as someone has told the truth! Nurses are gossipy and for the most parts snake in the grass. Always waiting to throw the other under the bus. With that being said, patient care is rarely anything less than excellent. Lets keep in mind everyone…….the nurse takes care of everyone…and there is never anyone there to take care of the nurse. Nursing is a thankless JOB.

  6. By the way….I love the show can’t wait until next season!

  7. Just joined Twitter and saw your Tweet about the IOM Committtee. It’s wonderful to find your blog. I’ll be following and letting other nurses know about it.

  8. Suzanne, I love your blog. But I want to commiserate with the large numbers of nurses who feel offended about the unethical things Nurse Jackie commits. The show, overall, is a departure from the nurse-less medical contrived shows aka Grey’s Anatomy, etc. I like the fact that a nurse is the central character (FINALLY!). However, I understand that a nurse with a dark side is what keeps the show on. The show has cleaned up some, and I am grateful for this. It is a himan story about a nurse, and as such it shoud be commended. I had stopped watching, but I did not miss the final episode. WOW! that is all I can say…

  9. I love Nurse Jackie. I think it’s important to the profession to show all aspects of nurses as competent, wise, compassionate as well as messed up and out of control. My hope is that the public will see this and start asking questions about what it’s really like to do this work. As nurses, we can use this show to educate and elaborate on the many issues that Jackie has to deal with. I am planning a post in my leadership class regarding the value of Nurse Jackie. (hope I get perfect!)

  10. Pingback: Change of Shift: Vol. 4, Number 7 // Emergiblog

  11. As newer nurse with 2 years experience, but a nearly 10 years as a union rep for nurses I can tell you that Nurse Jackie probably represents nurses-as well as the other characters-in a somewhat realistic. I know I’m a nurse, but a lot of us nurses are addicted to chaos (affairs at work, drug addiction), and also very competent and compassionate individuals who do keep the patients first. Keep in mind though that most TV medical shows only represent the ER nurses and not the other 90% working in the rest of the hospital.
    The entire conflict and issues with the Omnicell dispensing machine was a complete replica of what was happening in real time in my hospital and now we waste time getting meds out of vending machine, see less of the pharmacists and this takes us away from the patients for approximately an hour or more of our shift.

  12. When will the second season air, does any one know?

  13. I think Nurse Jackie is a decent show. But it’s just that–a show. Escapism. I don’t think it reflects anything close to “real life”, and I certainly would NEVER want to have a “Nurse Jackie” taking care of me if I wind up in the hospital.

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