Movie & TV Nurses

Revisiting the TV Show “Scrubs”

This popular medical sitcom still delivers more than just laughs

I have to admit that when “Scrubs” originally aired on network television (2001–2010), I never once watched it. I was so self-righteous about the way nurses were portrayed in the media that I condemned it without even a glance.

I assumed that “Scrubs” was yet another TV doctor series where nurses were always made to look sexy and subordinate and never given a chance to show that they could make smart decisions, so I steered clear.

After finally watching the show on Hulu recently, it was a real joy to find out how wrong I was on so many levels. I feel like offering an overdue apology to series creator Bill Lawrence.

“Scrubs” presents an insider’s view of medicine, following new intern D.J. Dorian (played by Zach Braff) as he learns the ropes at a fictional California hospital alongside his good friend, surgeon Christopher Turk (played by Donald Faison).

Each episode is framed as an excerpt from D.J.’s diary, with his internal monologue as narration. We watch not only his mistakes, but also his imagined do-overs and all the conversations he wishes he had had.

A Chorus of Nurses

I was delighted to find in the very first episode that it’s the nurses everyone turns to over and over again. They’re like the chorus in a Shakespeare play: In any given scene, there they are, sitting at the nurses station, handing out the old paper charts, or at a patient’s bedside to adjust drip rates and offer advice to newbies.

RN Career Events

Led by RN Carla Espinosa (played by Judy Reyes), they stand up for themselves and have a deep well of information to draw from as they smoothly pave the way for patients to heal. Carla is a sexy young Hispanic nurse who lives with her mother and has her own methods for keeping doctors interested in her (which involves NOT sleeping with them on the first date).

This is not exactly the way I’d like to see a show’s main nurse character portrayed, but I soon warmed to Carla. She’s a good judge of character, the other nurses look up to her and she stands up for them. In all, Carla is basically every nurse I looked up to in my hospital career. She’s sexy, true — this is television, after all — but considering this long list of attributes, is that really a minus? (The show’s other nurse characters look much like I remember my hospital colleagues looking: some are heavy, some move on the slow side, some wear goofy jewelry.) Over the show’s run, Carla becomes head nurse and marries Turk.

Nursing Education

Truthful Storytelling

“Scrubs” is all about relationships — between doctors, nurses, administrators and patients — which, as we know, is what medicine is all about. However, the show isn’t all fun and games and kissing in closets. Along with great entertainment and a lot of fun, nonsensical scenes, it tackles many of the topics nurses would like to see handled more skillfully.

Every single medical story featured on the show is based on a real case, handed to the writers by the show’s three medical supervisors (for whom the characters on the show were named). We see the interns learn how to talk to patients about death, tackle gender inequality and explore the ethics of patient care.

I especially enjoyed noting minor details I remember from my own hospital career that are out of date now: paper charts, X-rays on film and even an IVAC fluid pump that I could still probably program if push came to shove. “Scrubs” won a Peabody Award in 2006 and was nominated for numerous Emmys. It’s easy to see why it was successful for so long.

Most of the 182 half-hour episodes (which originally aired on NBC and later ABC) are now available to stream on Hulu or Amazon Prime. It’s well worth a look for some light-hearted entertainment that will make you think or reminisce.


CHRISTINE CONTILLO, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, from infants to geriatrics.


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