How TV and Film Are So Wrong About Nurses and Medicine

tv and medcine

Film and television have come a long way in the past 100 years. Films could only be watched in cinemas until the VCR became popular in the 1970s, and televisions weren’t common household items until the 1950s. As technology improved, plots evolved into more complicated, cinematic and dramatic works of art. From being able to only watch a couple of different stations in the 1950s to now having hundreds of movies and thousands of shows to choose from, entertainment is only a button away. And yet with all of the advancement in film and television and the advent of the internet, movies and television shows still get nursing so wrong.

It’s common to flip on the TV and be greeted by commercials advertising reruns of House or new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. These shows are without a doubt a huge success, and may even encourage some people to look into the medical profession as a career option.

The biggest downfall of these and other popular medical dramas, of which very few people are aware, is their inaccuracies.

Grey’s Anatomy/House

Although ten years on air and numerous Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and wins suggest that Grey’s is a hit, it can be difficult for anybody in the medical profession to watch. The biggest failure of both Grey’s Anatomy and House is the lack of supporting hospital staff, including lab technicians and nurses. The surgeons and doctors are shown discussing treatments with patients, running MRIs and monitoring IVs. In reality, nurses are in charge of basic patient care.  Both Grey’s and House portray nurses as the grumpy lackeys of the surgeons, shown only when a surgeon needs to bark out an order for medicine. Nurses and doctors work in tandem with each other and other hospital staff, and they have their own tiered system of management. Suggest to a nurse that a doctor can do everything they do, and you may well be laughed out of the building.


It would seem any average Joe can perform CPR after seeing it performed in movies or TV. CPR is portrayed as the ultimate life-saving act, to be pulled out if someone chokes, has a heart attack or was drowning. After three breathes and a handful of weak compressions, the victim coughs, blinks and continues the discussion you were having previously.

While it might make for a dramatic scene, CPR does not work like this. Someone who suffers cardiac arrest should be given hands-only CPR (to the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive”). Because of the amount of correct pressure required in CPR, the patient will probably end up with a couple of cracked ribs. Even if a victim does start breathing on his own, it’s not likely they will wake up and be able to start carrying on a conversation. And yelling at someone to wake up doesn’t usually work either.


Another one of the most popular medical dramas was ER, which ran for 15 years between 1994 and 2009. Although the show did portray in-depth and intelligent nurses, it too fell victim to assigning doctors basic nursing functions. Because the show was physician-oriented, it allowed the nurses to stand by the wayside as Dr. George Clooney triaged and gave medication.


Look Bruce Willis, we know the bullet in your shoulder really hurts and you have to keep going in order to defeat the terrorists, but unless you want to lose your arm, get rid of the tourniquet. And maybe evaluate how you get yourself into these situations.

Although it would make sense to make sure extra blood doesn’t go pouring into a leaking body part, tourniquets actually cut off most blood supply.  Tourniquets should only be used as a last resort, but many characters in action movies immediately tie a strip of fabric or their belt around their arm or leg immediately. Tourniquets stop circulation, and it could lead to severely damaging or killing tissue. So while our action hero may not be bleeding as much, he will soon be lugging around 30 pounds of useless muscle and flesh.

Are you interested in learning more about the real world of medicine? Contact us today about enrolling in our accelerated second degree nursing program.

Don't Wait on Your Nursing Future

Our ABSN has three start dates a year, so you can begin nursing school whenever you're ready.

Get More Information

By requesting information, I consent to be contacted by Utica University through my email, phone, and text using automated technology regarding enrollment.