Dr. Cooper and Dr. O'Hara: Nurse Jackie's MDs

In Nurse Jackie, Zoey Bristow, a nursing student who shadows Nurse Jackie Peyton through her everyday life, muses on the life of the doctor, in awe of their ability to heal patients. Jackie catches her, saying, "The doctors are here to diagnose, not to heal. We're the healers."

Nurse Jackie ER Doctor
Photo credit: The Internet Movie Database

Although Nurse Jackie is undeniably balanced, there is some truth to that statement.

In Nurse Jackie, the representative ER doctors are Dr. Eleanor O'Hara and Dr. Fitch Cooper, played by Eve Best and Peter Facinelli, respectively. The characters are completely unique, despite performing the same job. Dr. O'Hara is an uninvolved detective, determined on saving lives without dirtying her brand new Jimmy Choo pumps. On the other hand, Dr. Fitch Cooper is a clueless wunderkind, one of the most brilliant health care professionals on staff, who loves to get involved with his patients, though his bedside manner is awful.

Dr. O'Hara sums up the difference between nurses and doctors over lunch as Jackie complains about her position, and the power struggle between healthcare professionals. She says, "Healing, helping, fixing... fantastic, that's why you're a nurse. When I was a little girl, I took a butter knife and opened up a dead bunny to see how it worked; that's why I'm a doctor."

Though not all doctors are as callous as Dr. O'Hara would make them out to be, there is a definite difference in the amount of time each worker spends with patients. Not all ER doctors would cringe at the eight-year-old who wants to thank her for saving his twin by hugging her thighs - no matter how expensive the pantyhose - but ER doctors do have a reputation for distance.

The Emergency Room is a fast-paced area in a hospital. Patients are constantly coming in with a number of symptoms, few of which are ever the same. After being triaged by a nurse, and being directed to the proper area in the hospital, the patient may be seen by an Emergency Room doctor.

However, in the case of true emergencies - if a patient arrived coding, needed resuscitation, or required any number of other live-saving intervention techniques - the doctor would need to be ready. An ER physician spends his or her shift on her feet, constantly on the move in order to cover the patient load as needed. Unlike the continual negligence displayed by Dr. Cooper, or Coop to his friends, an ER doctor would never be allowed to forget to turn on his pager.

Additionally, cases in the ER can be some of the most traumatic in the hospital. As a result, doctors are warned about getting close to their patients, as excessive empathy can lead to compromised decisions regarding treatment. In this sense, Dr. O'Hara's form of health care management makes sense. By not allowing herself to become involved in the lives of the patients she treats, she allows herself distance from her patients. Following this logic, O'Hara's response to her mother's body in the season finale makes sense. In order to maintain a detached outlook on the situation, she needs to lose her connection with the patient.

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