Writing a more believable medical hero/heroine… Day One

Medical image

Image © Shannon Matteson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

A few years ago, I attended a conference.  One of the workshops was on romantic suspense and building a more believable bad guy.

This is good stuff, I thought, stuff I needed to know. So I trotted on to the workshop, notebook in hand…it was a handy notebook. I still have it.  I made notes on the villain I came up with, because sooner or later, that will be a story.

The last…eh…thirty minutes or so weren’t bad.  She gave useful info and I was able to use some of the info she gave me to help build more believeable bad guys.  Like the one in the Ash trilogy.

Normally, I’d be all over buying her backlist, because her info was solid…as far as that goes.

She lost me out of the gate, though.

All because of this…

So when I decided I’d be writing a romance with a doctor for a heroine, the first thing I did was order eight seasons of ER.

And UP goes my hand.

I tried to be nice. Really. It was her workshop.

But that was some bad advice and I couldn’t, in good conscience, let a bunch of writers think that ordering ER was solid research.

She looks at me, smiles… and I go… “Ah, ER is really not very useful for medical research.  Maybe you could try talking to doctors or nurses.”

And she tells me… doctors and nurses are busy.

Okay, then. To be fair, I did buy her book. I read it. And yep, even though trauma isn’t my thing, the medical stuff didn’t come off as remotely believable. Not from a nurse’s POV.  If she’d asked a nurse, or asked a doctor, a few little things here or there, would have made it more workable.

TV is a piss-poor excuse for research.  I’m not a cop, but I’m not going to assume that Law and Order is seriously what happens in law enforcement.

The only medical show I’ve ever watched that didn’t make me want to either laugh or bang my head was House. Grey’s and ER often just made me snicker or roll my eyes so I didn’t bother watching.

But House? That one I liked, because the main character was such a bastard. I loved him.

Some (possibly little known/understood) info about the medical profession, and nurses in particular:

  • In order to practice as a nurse, you gotta go to college.  Take the boards. Pass the boards…and get licensed.  It’s not like applying for a job and just somebody there liked how you interviewed.  It’s more complicated.
  • Nurse doesn’t equal bimbo.  Contrary to how we get portrayed on a lot of TV shows.
  • We don’t tend to view every doctor as possible marriage material. Fact of the matter is, quite a few of us want to get away from that when we leave the job. Marrying a doctor means we take it home.
  • Our feet hurt. A lot.
  • The education thing doesn’t stop at college.  It differs from state to state, but most of them have CEUs, Continuing Education Units, where you have to do just that… continue your education.
  • Quite a few nurses stopped wearing white and those little caps a long time ago. It’s scrubs and tennis shoes or clogs now.

This is just an opening.  Tomorrow, we’re going to going to get down to the nitty-gritty. First thing we’ll talk about? Confidentiality.  That can kill a nurse’s career in a heartbeat.


8 Replies to “Writing a more believable medical hero/heroine… Day One”

  1. Right on. I’ve been a Critical Care nurse for many years. I dislike most medical television shows for the reasons you listed. Also, I hesitate before buying books with medical themes, many have it wrong and I end up yelling at the book (just like I yell at the TV).

  2. I am so with you. I’m a Critical Care CRTT, spent 15 yrs covering ER & ICU. And while I know that it’s impossible to show all the different types of personnel, I’m always thinking – hello! You’re doing CPR? Calling for a vent? Where the hell is the RT?

  3. I take it you never told her you were a nurse?

    I wore Berkies. White clogs with the back strap. Or leather tennies for a change up. The Berkies were better but it didn’t matter. My feet were killing me by the end of the shift.

    I remember a new CNA that came on the step-down unit I worked. People straight out of ICU and a lot of the time, they didn’t last long on our floor and got transferred back. Anyway, she was bringing me extra stuff when I ran out doing a really nasty trach care (I traded ANY job with anyone just so I didn’t have to do those. I can take anything, exposed bone, internal organs, brain matter, but mucous? UGH) but I digress…she had canvas tennies on and dropped part of my kit on her foot. I asked her to imagine that was a dirty needle. She never wore canvas again.

    It’s those little things as much as the big ones that really bother me and half of them really are common sense if nothing else and the authors still get it wrong!

    FWIW, I loved House til the last season or so. Then it got a little weird. Other than that, medical dramas don’t hold any interest for me. They make me want to toss things at the TV. But I did love Trauma: Life in the ER.

  4. Ha! This is so true. I was an L&D nurse and the portrayals of childbirth on TV and in the movies drive me insane. Granted, they can’t show just how messy it is because that would gross all of the viewers out, but still, the inaccuracies are just crazy.

  5. Oh, I mentioned it. It just didn’t matter.

    And that would be the last time I read her. Really makes you wonder…

    the inaccuracies are just crazy

    Yeah, wish I’d had both my girls in less than five minutes!

  6. These posts are fascinating! I know nothing about the medical field so I’m sure all kinds of errors fly right over my head. But car stuff, that’s where I notice mistakes.

    Thanks for sharing this insight. As a reader, I love this kind of inside intel.

  7. I don’t watch any medical shows…well, to be honest I hardly ever watch TV… and all the nurses I know are very opinionated and would LOVE to give their thoughts and POV’s!! 🙂 Including myself, lol.

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