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Keywords:

  • communication;
  • conflict;
  • metaphor;
  • nurse–physician relationships;
  • nurse roles;
  • power relations;
  • television

Metaphors of medicine are common, such as war, which is evident in much of our language about health-care where patients and healthcare professionals fight disease, or the game, which is one way to frame the nurse–doctor professional relationship. This study analyses six pilot episodes of American (Grey's Anatomy, Hawthorne, Mercy, Nurse Jackie) and Australian (All Saints, RAN) medical television programmes premiering between 1998 and 2009 to assess one way that our contemporary culture understands and constructs professional relationships between nurses and doctors. Analysis shows that these popular television programmes frequently depict conflict, with games, civil war and mutiny between nurses and doctors over patient safety rather than professionals working collaboratively in teams to deliver health-care. Although the benefit of this televised conflict is the implication that nurses are knowledgeable, skilled professionals, the negative connotations include a dysfunctional and dangerous healthcare system, and also ongoing power struggles. Given that popular culture can sometimes influence the public's understanding of real-life nursing practice, it is important to explore what these metaphors of conflict are communicating about the nurse–doctor relationship.