Have ‘Mercy’! One Nurse’s Take on the Latest Nurse Drama

MercyScreenshotBy Peggy McDaniel, BSN, RN

As a long-time fan of ER and Grey’s Anatomy, I looked forward to watching the first episode of Mercy, an NBC drama that focuses on three nurses instead of using doctors as the primary characters (click the image to visit the show’s Website, where you can check out the first episode). At the same time, while I’ve often laughed aloud at the tasks doctors are seen doing on Grey’s Anatomy, such as putting patients through a CT scan, it’s the characters that make the show compelling—and as a clinician, I choose to enjoy them and ignore that you rarely see a nurse at the bedside.

ER, unlike Grey’s Anatomy, featured what I would consider “real” nurses doing “real” nursing tasks backed by intelligence, education, and intuition. Maybe it made a difference that it was originally created by Michael Crichton, a doctor who obviously knew something about what happens in a clinical setting. ER skillfully blended clinical action and personal stories of strong, engaging characters. As a clinician, I loved the accuracy and drama.

I have mixed feelings about Mercy. The first episode introduced the characters, who appeared to be at least interesting, if not scintillating. Veronica, the primary character, suffers from PTSD after her return from service in Iraq. While she showed a slightly softer side in the end, I couldn’t get past her rude comments and actions to both coworkers and patients. I understood that she was sharp and competent, but her stressed-out, edgy manner distracted more than engaged me, and I yearned for a more positive portrayal of competent nursing.

Another important character, Sonia, is trapped in the “hood” and looking for a way out. In an early scene, she’s brutally attacked by her patient and responds in like manner. The scene succeeds in revealing her powerful internal struggles as a character—but workplace violence is a big issue for health care workers, and having Sonia fight back and then just walk away doesn’t teach the public anything. In fact, it seemed to excuse the violence.

The new nurse, sweet Chloe, graduated top of her class with a master’s degree and has now been dropped into the fire—where she’s harassed and given minimal guidance by her experienced coworkers. That part of the drama was probably the most accurate. And the characters did perform some nursing tasks, such as checking an IV bag and assessing patients—or at least checking on them. Chloe inadvertently made a big catch, and then spoke up to her mentor—a moment I found both realistic and inspiring. (Considering the way the senior nurses treated her, I was surprised she said anything!)

Two particular comments (“just some stupid nurse” and “nurses, what are you good for anyway?”) stung me when I heard them. Spoken by a physician and a patient’s spouse, these comments seemed a bit heavy-handed in their negativity about the nursing profession, though I understood that they were intended to win the audience to the nurse’s side.

What did you think? Since TV continues to focus on nurses doing such activities as passing trays and cleaning bodily fluids, how can we let the public understand the knowledge and expertise that we base our actions upon? I wrote in a recent post about some things we can do every day. Check it out, and let’s take it one patient at a time. Oh, and are you going to continue to watch Mercy?

Related posts on this year’s new crop of nurse dramas:

AJN’s editor-in-chief emeritus takes a sneak peak at first six episodes of Nurse Jackie.

AJN’s interim editor-in-chief wonders if the cringes outweigh the recognition in Nurse Jackie.

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2016-11-21T13:22:09+00:00 September 25th, 2009|career, nursing perspective|3 Comments
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. […] recent shows (Nurse Jackie and Hawthorne), this drama features nurses as the lead characters. As I explained here a while back, my response to the first episode was very negative. Disparaging comments made about […]

  2. Sean September 26, 2009 at 10:33 am

    I didn’t get a chance to watch the pilot. But I would have been ‘hot under the collar’ had I heard those nurse comments during the show.
    I guess we all have to separate ourselves and the real world of nursing from all these ‘nurse’ -type or ‘nurse’- like shows.
    They are such two very different realities.

  3. notratched September 25, 2009 at 11:54 am

    I’ll keep watching it because I’m powerless over medical dramas, but I was not impressed. I agree that ER is the only one that has ever shown nurses as intelligent beings; I watch the others because of some other factor X (eg, House is funny, Nurse Jackie is compelling like a slow-motion train wreck…), but is it too much to ask to invent a nursing show that doesn’t make us look like overgrown toddlers who can neither control our impulses nor do a vital professional job? Apparently. Also, as I mentioned on Twitter, there is far less sex being had in actual hospitals compared with what these dramas would lead the public to believe…

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