Emergency Medicine – Is NBC’s ER Realistic?

by Angela Stevens on April 2, 2009

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After 15 years, NBC’s hit medical drama ER is going off the air. Nurses who are interested in a career in emergency medicine may wonder if the TV show is an accurate portrayal of what happens in the emergency room.  A number of emergency medicine practitioners have weighed in on this.

One of the most basic criticisms against ER is infection control.  It wouldn’t be pretty to watch on TV, but real ER doctors and nurses would be wearing masks, gowns, and gloves when performing procedures on patients.  Hospital infections are a real danger, and the ER staff doesn’t do a very good job of protecting their patients or themselves.

The cast of ER also needs to take a basic Red Cross CPR certification course.  It’s not difficult or costly – I’ve taken the course numerous times!  It wouldn’t have taken much of the show’s budget to take an afternoon with a Red Cross trainer to teach everyone the proper technique and compression rate.

Emergency Medicine photo by Mark Coggins via Creative Commons

There is some disagreement as to whether or not the family members of patients would be allowed into the trauma rooms.  In that matter, it depends more on the emergency facility.  While many emergency departments have a family waiting area, others do allow family members into the room while patients are being treated.  It is unrealistic, however, that the doctors and nurses would answer as many questions from family members, because they would be too focused on treating the patient to be distracted.

The pace on ER is definitely not realistic.  Real doctors and nurses have to take their time to ensure mistakes are not made. Medications and procedures have to be documented in a patient’s chart.  Yes, there is a sense of urgency in a real emergency room, but everything is not as rushed as it is on television.

Nurses play a much more prominent role in real emergency medicine. When Abby and Carol were primary characters who were nurses, at least their actions were a bit more realistic. Toward the end of the series, nurses were rarely seen as the hands-on professionals they really are.  I have to give them credit, though, for the occasions in which Sam has been able to hold her own and tell the doctors how it really is – that the nurses are the ones who care for the patients around the clock and keep an eye out for trouble before it happens.

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MIKE 04.25.09 at 5:47 am

For someone expect a TV show to accurately diplict what happens in an ER is unrealistic. I do however, think the show ER does a great job at coming close to how things really are. Some people are so quick to be judgemental on how “real” a TV show is supposed to be. That is what reality TV is for and you can have all of that you want on the Learning Channel and Discovery. I prefer to watch and be entertained as opposed to wanting to point out things that are innacurate. Get “real” Angela!

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