Nurses get so little respect. They deliver critical care to anyone who’s sickand constantly get grief from both patients and doctors. But on hit comedy Scrubs, actress Judy Reyes gives as good as she gets as feisty nurse Carla Espinoza. Reyes is no stranger to dealing with doctors and nurses: Her sister’s a licensed nurse practitioner, her dad’s had multiple surgeries, and her mom is a breast cancer survivor. Health spoke with the 39-year-old actress about giving nurses the props they deserve.
Q: Does your sister think your character gets nurses right?
A: When she first saw the pilot, she said, “You stole my character!” She thinks I adopted her “no bones, no bull” attitude. And her real love of the work. She did inspire me, but I also trailed nurses at a few hospitals and I saw how confident and strong they were. When interns come in, they’re all about earning their stripes, and they think they can boss you around because they’re doctors and you’re a nurse. But if you’ve been working in that hospital 9 or 10 years, they also have to rely on your expertise. We exploit that tension for laughs on Scrubs.
Q: So that means patients can rely more on nurses than doctors?
A: Rely on yourself first. I’ve learned that it’s super-helpful to inform yourself and trust your inquisitive instinct. I’ve made the rounds of hospitals and I’ve seen how it’s easy to treat medical professionals, doctors or nurses, as gods. Over time, you start to see that they’re humancapable of making mistakes. My mom was misdiagnosed at first, and had she not been, she might have been able to keep her breast. So don’t be shamed into silence.
Q: Why do real nurses seem overworked and stressed out?
A: Nurses are often delaying taking care of themselves to take care of others. We think people in the health-care profession should live by example, but they don’t. I think my sister certainly takes better care of her patients and kids than she does of herself. That’s hard.
Q: Now that she’s been around awhile, has Carla become a role model for nurses in training?
A: I do run into nurses who are excited to see me. Once a young nurse started crying, saying, “Oh, my god, you’re such an inspiration!” That kind of freaked me out, actually. It was flattering, but I want her to understand that I’m inspired by her. Her job is so much more important than mine. She helps people. It’s just unbelievably ironic to me that someone in such an important profession would be so moved by my work.