Zoey Barkow in Nurse Jackie

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Showtime’s newest program, Nurse Jackie, chronicles the day in, day out life of the heroine, Nurse Jackie. However, behind the spotlight sits Zoey Barkow, a first year nursing student and Nurse Jackie’s nurse assistant. Zoey is an uncommon example of the role of the nurse assistant in a modern hospital.

Halfway through the first episode, Jackie and Zoey wheel in a battered prostitute, covered in bloody gashes, holding the severed ear of the client responsible for her injuries. Though it is entirely unbelievable to think that a nurse and a nursing student would be the only people attending to a patient with such extensive trauma, Jackie’s faith in Zoey on her first day of work is even more ridiculous.

During the altercation, the prostitute managed to cut off her attacker’s ear. Jackie trustingly gives Zoey the ear to take care of. A Nurse Assistant on her first assignment would not be trusted with a body part, as evidenced by Zoey’s immediate reaction: vomiting on the floor.

In the eighth episode, “Pupils,” Zoey lets Jackie know about a show she watched about eyeballs, and Jackie admonishes her for not paying enough attention to them during check-ups. Zoey’s neglect of the area has her passing out drugs to patients without real problems. As Jackie says, “You like pupils so much, you just make sure you’re checking them.”

Would a Nurse Assistant be handing out drugs to Dave the Addict? No. Hospitals have mechanisms and employees that prevent hazards like these from occurring. This is again show in the eleventh episode when Zoey accidentally overdoses a patient on pain killers, causing him to lapse into a coma. A Nurse Assistant would never be allowed to administer so many drugs to a patient without supervision.

One of the most true to form interactions between Zoey and her coworkers is her relationship with Dr. Eleanor O’Hara. In the third episode, Zoey parades around with her new stethoscope, which is promptly taken by O’Hara during one of her procedures. Though it is unlikely that Zoey would have been putting in IV’s as she claims to have been doing when her stethoscope is found missing, the power play between the two is true to form.

Jackie informs Zoey of the impoliteness of doctors and their way of taking things. Things like “sandwiches. Stethoscopes. Credit,” urging her to assert herself to Dr. O’Hara in order to reclaim her property. However Zoey is unable to muster the courage to ask for it, and Dr. O’Hara tells Jackie over lunch that she’s aware that she took the stethoscope, but has enjoyed watching Zoey obsess over it.

Many first year nursing students suffer from the same fears as Zoey. She’s a different breed than her coworkers, wearing panda earrings and patterned scrubs. She’s young. It’s completely logical that a newcomer to the field would fear someone with so much more experience. This would be a leading cause of the power disparity between a nurse assistant and an emergency room doctor.

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