Nurses get their due on series

Preview: Discovery Health Channel's `Nurses' follows another vital part of the Johns Hopkins team at work.

January 20, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

LOS ANGELES - The audience won't be as large as it was for ABC's "Hopkins 24/7," but Baltimore's renowned medical center will be back in the prime-time national spotlight starting Jan. 28 with the premiere of "Nurses" on the Discovery Health Channel.

The five-hour documentary series, which focuses on a part of the Johns Hopkins medical team that was sorely overlooked by ABC News, was among the programs featured by the Bethesda-based Discovery cable channels in a presentation to television critics here yesterday on the Winter Press Tour.

"This series puts nurses and their patients front and center," Kathy Quattrone, the head of programming for Discovery Health, said in introducing a panel that included two Hopkins nurses, Pamela Butler and Germaine Williams. Butler is a pediatric nurse, while Williams works in critical care. They are featured in Parts 1 and 2 of the documentary.

"What you're going to see in this series is hospital-based bedside nursing - every day, all day," Butler said.

When asked what she thought about prime-time drama depictions of nurses that often sexualized them, or series such as "Hopkins 24/7" that overlook their work, Butler said she got involved with the Discovery production to counter such media treatment.

"I was very passionate about doing this for that very reason," she said.

"I think nursing as a profession has relegated itself to the background. What this series gives you is how much brainpower it takes to do what we do. We talked at length with the producers before getting involved about what they were going to show. And what they show is that I don't change diapers and give Tylenol. I assess and teach."

Only the first hour - the one featuring Butler - was available for preview. If the rest of the series is as strong, Discovery Health has a winner in "Nurses."

Like "Hopkins 24/7," story lines about patients in trauma and/or life and death situations instantly engage the audience's emotions. But this series does a better job of explaining the work of nurses and the culture of nursing from the inside out.

For example, viewers see Butler asking a 5-year-old child who has a buildup of fluid around his brain where his head hurts, as the boy cries and calls for his "mommy." Our hearts go out to the child, and we can't help but be impressed by Butler's gentleness and caring.

But instead of just giving us that emotional bedside scene, Butler later explains why she asked the questions she did, and how the exact sequence of her queries allowed her to translate what the boy was saying into a more precise assessment of his pain.

A part of a larger series called "Lifeline," the goal of the "Nurses" documentaries "is to capture events in medical centers as they happen, so that we can show the medical professionals and patients engaged in the drama as it is occurring," Quattrone said.

She said the series' specific goals included "showing the diversity - not only of the nurses, but also the work they do."

The producers spent March to June of 2000 at Hopkins filming the stories, according to Quattrone. As with ABC News, access was only granted after what Discovery executives yesterday described as extensive negotiations between them and Hopkins officials.

In addition to "Nurses," Discovery also announced the debut of a new hourlong weekly news-magazine, "Deadline Discovery," to premiere at 10 p.m. Jan. 31. The magazine will cover topics ranging from scientific breakthroughs to societal trends. It will be co-produced with NBC News' "Dateline" in New York.

The Discovery Health Channel is available in about 20 million of the nation's 100 million television households.

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