Nurse can’t take Pulse. Seriously.

This week in Australia ABC TV screened Episode 1 of a new medical drama called “Pulse“. It is said to be inspired by a true story of a transplant patient who became a doctor. Sounds cool, right? Well, it isn’t. From my perspective it’s pretty crappy, even for TV fiction. I started my career as a nurse in 1988. I’m not fond of nurses being ignored or misrepresented. Pulse does both. In spades.

Following are four reasons why I can’t take Pulse seriously (complete with Episode 1 timings, for those who want to check via iView):

1.  The cast. 

See how in the cast photo there are nine doctors and two nurses?

source: http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2017/06/gallery-pulse.html – I’ve added the labels

How does that compare to the actual health workforce in Australia?

In 2014 there were 610,148 registered health practitioners. Over half of these (352,838) were nurses or midwives – over 3 times the size of the next largest group [source: www.aihw.gov.au/workforce]. So, if we put gender-mix aside for a moment (about 90% of Australia’s nurses are female, about half of our new doctors are female) this would be a more accurate visual representation of what a real-life Australian health drama cast photo should look like:

source: http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2017/06/gallery-pulse.html – I’ve duplicated the original and added the labels

2. The patient is critically unwell, but the nurses are nowhere to be seen.   

At about 7:00 into Episode 1 there is a large group of doctors (no nurses) at the bedside of a patient. One doctor asks (referring to the patient), “What’s her oxygen saturation?” Another doctor looks around bewildered and is the prompted by yet another doctor to use the oximeter. He does and (instantly!) announces that O2Sa is 88% (this is spookily low for most people).

The fact is that nurses are the ones who are usually at the bedside, and are the ones who monitor the progress/deterioration of a patient, including measuring vital signs regularly. This monitoring would have been very frequent in someone who has low oxygen sats. The nurses would have the info on hand, and most likely would have been discussing care options with the doctors. Maybe the Pulse scriptwriters haven’t heard about multidisciplinary health teams, and don’t know that Australia’s largest union is the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) [source: anmf.org.au].

3. When you do finally see/hear the voice of a nurse it’s just two gossipy snippets. 

At about 8:40 the nameless character listed in the credits as “Scrub Theatre Nurse” (played by Lara Lightfoot), stands around doing nothing while the doctors perform surgery. Her role seems to be solely to deliver these two consecutive bits of dialogue:

“I heard from the head of department there’s an MVA that didn’t make it upstairs. There may be a potential donor.”

“The head of surgery is retiring, right? Guess they’ll be looking for a replacement.”

It’s important to note that Scrub Theatre Nurse is not depicted as actually doing anything (other than gossiping). For the non-nurses out there, please be reassured that your tax dollars are not being wasted on employing nurses to just stand around in operating theatres doing bugger-all. The roles and skills of peroperative nurses are many and varied: visit the Australian College of Perioperative Nurses website www.acorn.org.au and/or follow their link to “A day in the life of a preoperative nurse“.

Logo from @ACORN_org Twitter page

4. The only other two lines of nurse dialogue portray her as an unprofessional unethical antisocial bitch 

Carol Little RN (played by Penny Cook) has just two lines of dialogue, as below:

At about 13:00 Carol Little RN says to Dr Tabb Patel (in front of the patient and another doctor): “This time do not catheterise the cliterous, intern.” Lead character Dr Frankie Bell (correctly) advises the intern that female catheterisation is usually a nurse’s role and that the nurse was bullying him. Carol Little’s behaviour is not just a breach of common decency, but also of about 27 different aspects of the codes of conduct and ethics that set the standards for all health care workers, nurses included.

At about 17:30 lead character Dr Frankie Bell enquires on the whereabouts of a man who was meant to be receiving haemodialysis. In reply Carol Little RN gets her only other line of dialogue: “Do I look like a fucking concierge?” Is that verbal abuse or just lalochezia? The former, I think.

It’s interesting that Australians have voted nurses as the most ethical and honest profession for 23 consecutive years (1994-2017) [source: www.roymorgan.com], but the Pulse scriptwriters think otherwise.

Winding-Up

Look, Pulse is just TV fiction. The hilariously fanciful depiction of lead character Dr Frankie Bell leaving hospital to jump on her bicycle and visit the home of a dialysis patient who didn’t show-up for treatment, then stay at his bedside overnight after he receives a kidney transplant is evidence enough of creative imaginations at work. Pulse is not pretending to be a documentary. It is very clearly just another hospital TV drama. An old formula, acted well, shot beautifully, just scripted awfully.

I guess it’s not really all that important whether people watch Pulse or ignore it in the big scheme of things. My bias is such that I’d rather watch Australian TV than imported shows – it’s good for us Aussies to hear our own voices and see our own stories on the telly. However, this isn’t anything like an Australian story. Bananas in Pyjamas does a better job of portraying an Australian reality.

I will not bother watching any more episodes of Pulse because it insults nurses and nursing. Nevertheless, we should give credit where credit is due. In one simple seven-word sentence the Pulse scriptwriters managed to capture the sentiment of what it feels like to be a nurse who is angry about their skills being misunderstood, underestimated and devalued:

Dialogue scripted for the character Carol Little RN in Episode 1 of “Pulse”

End

Thanks for reading my first outing as a television critic. As always, your feedback is welcomed in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 22nd July 2017

Short URL: meta4RN.com/pulse 

 

30 thoughts on “Nurse can’t take Pulse. Seriously.

  1. Cate

    Ha ha. Do you think the viewing public will think this is believable? I’ve got to watch it now for a laugh. Loved your comments.

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    1. Paul McNamara Post author

      Thanks Cate.

      Maybe the public won’t be fooled consciously/while watching, but TV certainly has an influence on public perception. Google “The medium is the message”.

      The flip side is the we (Nurses) now have direct access to mediums and messages too – thanks to social media. We couldn’t defend ourselves 10 years ago, we were relying on others.

      The others are not reliable. The reviewers in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/jul/20/pulse-review-dull-formula-and-tin-eared-dialogue-plague-abcs-middle-of-the-road-medical-drama?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other) and New Daily (http://thenewdaily.com.au/entertainment/tv/2017/07/19/pulse-tv-show-abc/) didn’t see a problem with the (lack of) portrayal of nurses.

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  2. CeeSea

    Am I the only one that liked the concierge comment? Colleague told Consultant she wasn’t his Secretary. Gold (he WAS asking he to do that role).

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  3. Mandy christie

    Paul if this was an assignment- it’s a HD. I adored your post and although excited to watch PULSE it was agony to watch, made me angry and frustrated- no
    Pleasure at all. Thank you for taking the time to write your excellent critique- brilliant.

    Liked by 2 people

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  4. Susan

    Maybe there should be a test for these shows similar to the bechdel test. That 2 nurses with names speak to each other for more than 2 sentences on a subject other than a doctor. (Preferably patient care needs). I wonder if any medical drama could pass this test?

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. Kate Sloan

    I agree with everything you have said. I was Looking forward to it because I want to love TV produced in Australia. It was so disappointing, and as you said the nurses were MIA. I was particularly offended by the dying patient in the glass walled room where everyone could wander past and have a look, and the patient being catheterised in a non private area. I hope the general public don’t think that this happens. I only saw about half of it. My husband was so sick of my complaints he turned it off!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Tracey Steen

    Completely agree with you Paul! Both my husband and I are nurses and we turned it off after 45 minutes! The shocker was the nurse swearing at a colleague and getting away with it!
    The portrayal of nurses as handmaidens is depressing and sadly an indictment on the shows scriptwriters. Nurses are the backbone of healthcare and it’s about time we were recognised for our unique set of skills!

    Liked by 2 people

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  7. Clancy

    I have to agree with the above sentiments. Im a nurse and I used to work on an extremely busy Transplant ward. Most of the portrayals of the doctors behavior was completely ridiculous, and unbelievable. And I also found the absence of competent nurses very irritating. Im wondering who the script consultant was for this trash?

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Maria Kennedy

    I was really looking forward to this series, being Australian made. I am not an RN but have worked in hospitals and Theatres. I too was a bit shocked at a number of things mentioned by others. Especially the deceased donor in a room with glass walls and no curtains. I will probably watch some more but don’t think I’ll last the distance.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. Jan

    I totally agree with you sentiments. I am also heartily sick of nurses being invisible and the tremendous contribution they make to the health of the nation

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. Damien Hurrell

    I didn’t watch (was working, of course) and am even less inclined to do so now.

    I’m very concerned about the “MVA upstairs didn’t make it … could be a potential donor” line. I don’t have time to write about all the ways that is unethical, inaccurate and just plain wrong, but it’s disturbing how ignorant of the actual process for organ donation the writers of a program about organ transplants appear to be. It’s probably too late now, but I’d be happy to put them in touch with any number of people who could inject some realism into their fiction.

    Liked by 2 people

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  11. Peter Peake

    As an ex RN, 37 yrs, mostly ICU, I thought this show might have potential and was going to iView it but you have saved me the trouble, thanks for that. It’s a shame as I usually like to support Ausi productions. Looks like I’ll have to stick with re-runs of Outback ER.

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. Brian Mitchell

    Hallelujah – though spare a thought for professions even more ill-treated. My wife is an experienced hospital social worker and it would shit her no end that on all the medical dramas in Australia and overseas, her profession was completely written out, with the duties that hospital social workers manage written into the roles for Doctors and Nurses.

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  13. Julie Sharrock

    Hey Paul You are the most famous person I know!
    Thanks for your critique-I watched but kept my mouth shut as it drives Pete crazy when I complain about crappy medical shows (but you should hear him when a crappy law show is on)
    If staff went out to visit patients who don’t turn up for dialysis there would never be any staff in the hospital!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Mark

      I was impressed by the fact that Frankie Bell could jump on a bicycle and ride off to a patient’s house without being constantly harassed by her pager/phone. I wish I’d known about this hospital when I was choosing where to go in my intern year. As for the lack of nurses – maybe they are trying to highlight the nursing shortage (I’m trying to be charitable here).

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  14. Virginia Gourley

    Agreed with all your comments, definitely embarrassing to watch, so unbelievable. Think the show needs a better consultant who actually has some idea of what actually happens in a hospital.

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  15. Annette

    The promo shorts put me off even watching the show. Very glad I didn’t bother. Like your wrap up, well written and accurate!!!

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  16. littlenightingale8

    Paul you had me in sutures! But all jokes aside, how funny is a such a tragic portrayal of our noble profession. I feel we have come a long way from the “Carry On” gang and their merry band of horny and clinically incompetent nurses. ‘Pulses’ may indeeed protest to be just a rollicking good time, but it’s hard to not feel offended at the gross inaccuracies in basic patient care. Sure, give the nurse character the smart arse mouth with the impossibly rude one liners, (come on admit, we’ve all wanted to snap ‘it’s a hospital not a hotel’!), but to imply we wouldn’t be all over a patient with SpO2 of 88%!!! Now that’s where I draw the line!!!!

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  17. Jane Creighton

    As an RN of 43years I found the first episode an insult to both doctors and nurses unrealistic reflection of actual relationships among health workers.
    As for the “fucking concierge ” comment in our PC health service never tolerated.

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  18. Sarah

    I’m also a nurse and absolutely agree. The show seems well researched and it’s great to hear some medical language that isn’t dumbed down for the masses. However the lack of nursing presence is insulting and the amount of bedside work shown by the doctors is laughable. It is the nurses who support the patients, explain and discuss the medical treatments, advocate for patients and their families and notice the clinical signs of deterioration. The doctors are more often than not informed and guided by us. In this regard, this show is completely unrealistic and offensive.

    Perhaps we need a nurse to write the next Aussie drama?! 😉

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