The 9-year-old girl had arrived by helicopter at The Johns Hopkins Hospital after having been struck by a car going 30 miles an hour. In the Emergency Department trauma room, doctors buzzed around her, examining charts, monitoring vital signs, exchanging words regarding the next course of action. The girl lay there confused and scared. She did not know what was wrong with her. What were these people doing? Where were her parents?
Then came a reassuring voice from nearby, a voice that said everything was going to be all right, that her parents had just stepped out. Perhaps most important, the voice imparted to her that she was not alone; someone was there for her. The girl reached out and was met with the firm grasp of a hand, a human lifeline to cling to in her time of need.
These were the words and actions of a nurse, a calming oasis of support in the often stressful confines of a hospital.
At times overlooked and underappreciated, these caregivers will be the subject of a five-part documentary, titled simply Nurses, to be aired on the Discovery Health Channel beginning in the first quarter of 2001. Filming of the documentary is just wrapping up.
The cinema verite-style series, shot entirely at the hospital and School of Nursing, seeks to peel away the stereotypes born from the days when these caregivers worked in the shadows of doctors and takes a candid look at nurses' dutiful relationship today with patients and physicians, highlighting their increasingly crucial role in modern health care.
The documentary was conceived and created by Summer Productions, a company based in Alexandria, Va., and one of its major clients, Discovery Health Channel, a member of Discovery Communications, whose family of cable channels also includes the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel and Animal Planet.
Helen Holt, president of Summer Productions and an executive producer of Nurses, says this television show is intended to give nurses their due, and to leave the viewer with a newfound respect for the profession as a whole.
"I guess you could say we are campaigning for nurses," Holt says. "They have certainly not been highly profiled in the past, and we thought we could help break down stereotypes and shine some light on their professional and personal lives. Nursing is a very creative profession, and a nurse's way of dealing with and talking to patients is so critical to recovery and treatment. We were just so stunned and deeply touched by these women, and men, whom we followed."
Holt said the decision to film at Hopkins was based on the institution's "stellar reputation."
"Johns Hopkins Hospital is No. 1 in terms of health care and happens to be associated with a wonderful school for nursing," Holt says, adding that Nurses could become a series focusing on other hospitals. "We felt there were a tremendous number of innovative practices going on here that would serve as good models of nursing as it exists today."
Filming began in mid-May. At various points, up to three crews of five--each with a videographer, an audio specialist, a producer, an associate producer and an intern--were working simultaneously throughout the hospital.
Each one-hour episode will feature nurses in different settings, covering the operating room, emergency room and intensive care unit; oncology; obstetrics and neonatology; psychiatry and neurology; and pediatrics. Video shot with hand-held cameras, with the accompaniment of minimal narration, will show nurses conferring with patients, administering care and in personal interviews.
Holt relates one moment caught on video of a woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer being comforted by a nurse who was a breast cancer survivor.
"The nurse made sure she and her family understood what this illness was all about and that they would be supported each step along the way," Holt says. "We encountered a lot of this holistic approach to medicine, of compassionate people focusing on the physical and emotional aspects of healing."
The documentary also will touch upon the current nursing shortage and its impact on the daily hospital routine.
Sue Donaldson, dean of the School of Nursing, said one result of this shortage is that nurses today are asked to do more, and that requires a wider breadth of health care knowledge and skills.
"To practice nursing in a hospital these days, you really need a master's degree and acute care experience," Donaldson says. "So what you are seeing is more of a partnership. Physicians are saying, We can't handle this all because we are not here most of the time; we need partners and professionals who are here 24/7 and who have these skills. Schools of nursing, accordingly, have been forced to change their curricula to better prepare their students for these new expectations of them."
One significant aspect of the profession not dealt with in the documentary, however, is community nursing, what Donaldson refers to as nursing's "new venue."
"Educating people on prevention, operating clinics and practicing home health care is where nursing really shines, in my opinion," Donaldson says. "Today's nurses are leaders, not just hospital employees."
Holt says they had wanted to dedicate a one-hour episode to community nursing but were unable to do so due to budget and time constraints.
"We were quite sorry to give that up, but logistics made it near impossible to tell that story and do it justice," Holt says. "We would love to come back and just be able to focus on that aspect of nursing one day."
Holt says she was touched personally by stories such as that of the girl flown in after the automobile accident, who has now fully recovered.
"The girl was so afraid, your heart just went out to her," Holt says. "I got to see just how much the nurse is an advocate of the patient, and I feel our camera crews really captured that."