"Honey, you're at the hospital," says the nurse to the semiconscious man. Should he be reassured at those words, or stricken with panic? CBS News suggests tonight there's at least one more reason for the latter view than was previously thought, in "CBS Reports: Nurse, Where Are You?" at 10 on Channel 9.
Correspondent Marlene Sanders, looking a trifle blank on camera, hosts the hour, shot at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. We must take it on the word of CBS News that this is a typical hospital and that the crisis facing nurses there is duplicated at hundreds of other hospitals across the country.
And there are figures to back up the argument. Sanders reports ther fewer women are going into nursing now -- the opening up of other jobs to women having had some effect on that -- while the number of women dropping out of nursing is increasing. Bad pay and bad hours are factors; the average nurse earns $14,000 a year, it is reported, and that's less than the average supermarket cashier and $56,000 a year less than the average doctor.
The nurses interviewed for the report make their plight sound undeniable urgent. Jan Mason, a nurse for eight years, says she is about to quit, a victim of burnout and of having too much responsibility with not enough authority. "You kind of lose your humanity,"she says, "and then, it's time to get out."
Unusually candid footage finds nurses having spats with doctors or interns over the course of action for a particular patient; in one of the two cases, Sanders suggests, the nurse was right, and taking the intern's route might have endangered the patient. But Florence Nightingale herself might not be able to function in a system in which -- according to this report -- an estimated 90 percent of American hospitals have a "serious shortage of nurses," and nurses must work such long hours that, says one, "You're lucky if you get bathroom breaks."
"Nurse," while not in the realm of landmark documentaries, is a solid informational hour, produced by Judy Towers Reemtsma. During a brief segment on the nurse stereotypes passed on in TV shows and movies, the CBS Television Network's own execrable "Trapper John, M.D." is cited as an offensive example. The citation, and this report, are reminders of what hours and hours of weekly exploitation programming may prompt one to forget: CBS is still the network with class.