Learning Nursing Concepts Through Television Programs
Engaging students while developing an understanding of nursing concepts is a challenge to nurse educators. In nursing education, one of the primary pedagogical goals is to ensure students develop a set of analytical and critical thinking skills to be safe and efficient nurses in the practice setting. The theories and concepts learned in a nursing course are not something just to be memorized for a test and then forgotten, but are practical, dynamic, and applicable in real-world health care environments.
Instructors and textbooks try to structure case studies for teaching, but these activities can be sterile and lack the richness and the uniqueness of getting to know others in a nursing situation. Audiovisual images, such as television programs, compress complex stories into rich, visually intense images and bring situations to life in a more powerful way than the traditional lecture approach does. Television programs can provide the basis for creating experiential exercises and interactive activities that offer unlimited possibilities in the classroom. Television is a permanent fixture in American culture, and most students have grown up watching television and are familiar with the characters and situations encountered in many shows. As a result, popular television shows are a potential gold mine of fun and meaningful examples to demonstrate a variety of nursing concepts.
These activities are designed to engage students and to facilitate their developing understanding of nursing concepts and behaviors. The following are just a few examples of how television programs can be used to teach nursing concepts and behavior in an Introduction to Nursing course early in the curriculum.
Students are asked to find clips of the four main characters from Seinfeld (Seinfeld, Mehlmanard, Gross, & Greenburg, 1989) to demonstrate the principles of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Students assess and analyze each character’s behavior in relationship to Maslow’s levels. For example, Kramer’s focus is on physiological needs—food, sexual pleasure, and having a place to live—whereas George’s quest is for a job and a sense of safety and security separate from his parents. On the other hand, Elaine’s need is to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation through meaningful friendships and sexual intimacy, demonstrating the love and belonging level of the hierarchy. Finally, Jerry’s need for positive reviews of his performance, in all facets of his being, is a model of the esteem level of the hierarchy.
Through the years, programs have been based on the concept of family. Segments can be shown as a montage of program clips to reveal the changing meaning of family, differing family types and structures over time, or to compare and contrast the variety of ways families cope with a particular situation. Over the years, family-based shows have addressed the addition of new family members, either through birth, marriage, or moving in, and its effects on family dynamics and roles. Many shows also confront explaining death (of a beloved pet or family member) to children. The opportunity to use these programs to assist students in understanding the family life cycle, structure, dynamics, communication patterns, and child development are abundant.
Soap operas such as General Hospital (Hursley & Hursley, 1963) and All My Children (Nixon, 1970) have many scenes involving nurses in hospitals. Although the images from soap operas and other television programs may be all the student has as a context of the nursing profession, nursing practice setting and professional role today is different than what is portrayed at either General Hospital or Pine Valley Hospital. Segments from these programs showing nurses in action can illustrate teachable moments on a variety of topics including professional appearance and comportment, interdisciplinary collaboration and communication, the role of the nurse, and nurse-patient interaction, as well as the concept of professional boundaries.
Finally, in an episode of The Golden Girls (Vallely & Beyt, 1992), Rose is hospitalized in the intensive care unit, and the nurse enforces the immediate family-only visiting policy. Rose is separated from her friends and roommates during a time when she most needs their comfort and support. This program segment highlights the importance of the nurse seeing the uniqueness of each nursing situation, being a patient advocate, and using critical thinking and professional judgment when responding to the individual nursing situation.
Student response has been overwhelmingly positive. The activity generates significant discussion, and even a little laughter, among class members. The use of familiar television program situations and characters to introduce beginning nursing students to new concepts associated with the study of nursing provides a way for them to begin to build a knowledge base and to see the dynamic nature of nursing concepts as applied to a variety of situations. Students have stated that the viewing of these television program segments and the associated learning activities have made the concept they read about come to life and have helped to clarify their understanding and use of the concept. These responses provide evidence that the use of television programs in the classroom is an effective and fun strategy to facilitate the teaching and learning of foundational concepts in nursing.
- Hursley, F., & Hursley, D. (Creators). (1963). General hospital [Television series]. Hollywood, CA: American Broadcast Company.
- Nixon, A. (Creator). (1970). All my children [Television series]. New York: Creative Horizons.
- Seinfeld, J., Mehlmanard, P., Gross, M., & Greenburg, S. (Producers). (1989). Seinfeld [Television series]. Hollywood, CA: Sony Pictures Television.
- Vallely, J. (Writer) & Beyt, P.D. (Director). (1992). Home again, Rose: Part 2. [Television series episode]. In P.J. Witt & T. Thomas (Producers). The golden girls. Hollywood, CA: Columbia/Sunset Gower Studios.