THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE AMERICAN NURSE"
Every single one of us has had the experience of being helped by a nurse. They are the first line of medical treatment, the ones who begin caring for us the second we walk through the door. They keep us stable. They answer our questions. They help make us calm if we're nervous. Nurses are indispensable, and we'd be in worse shape without them. The new documentary The American Nurse is a celebration of the women and men who do such important work. This is one of the best films you'll see this year, documentary or otherwise.
Directed by Carolyn Jones, the film follows five nurses working in different areas of specialty. Naomi Cross works in a Baltimore maternity ward. Jason Short does in-home nursing in Appalachia, one of the poorest and most remote sections of the country. Tonia Faust runs a prison hospice program, caring for those who will die behind bars. Brian McMillion is an Army veteran who helps rehabilitate wounded soldiers returning from service. Sister Stephen is a nun who uses llamas, sheep, and other animals to boost the spirits of the senior citizens living in a nursing home she runs.
The beauty of The American Nurse lies in its simplicity. It just lets these nurses speak for themselves, while observing them at work. Jones knows that she doesn't need pointless voiceover narration or fancy graphics cluttering up the screen; she just needs passionate people talking about what they do. Not surprisingly, the nurses are all eloquent on the subject of their jobs, with most of them expressing deeply personal reasons for entering the profession. In one especially touching moment, Naomi reveals her own sad story involving childbirth, and we sense that her efforts to help pregnant women is a form of personal healing. The same could be said for Brian, who has seen the horrors of combat up close and therefore understands what his patients are dealing with – psychologically, as well as physically – when they come home.
What the five subjects do couldn't be more different in terms of location and population, but it also couldn't be more similar. The American Nurse powerfully conveys the idea that good nurses have an abundance of empathy and compassion, and that they are skilled in forming a connection with patients. Those things help people to get better or hang on when treatment is rough. The documentary also quietly, but convincingly, argues that what nurses do is as vital and essential a part of medical care as anything done by a doctor or surgeon.
It's hard to walk away from The American Nurse unmoved. Watching these individuals at work and seeing patients benefit from their efforts is both intellectually and emotionally engaging. The film does exactly what it sets out to do: give you a deeper, richer appreciation for nurses, who make our lives better in ways we often take for granted. After seeing this documentary, you'll want to thank every single one you come in contact with.
( out of four)
Note: The American Nurse opens May 8 at Digiplex Destinations cinemas across the country, and expands to additional theaters following the initial release. To find theaters and showtimes, please visit the Digiplex Destinations website. Also, professionals who see the documentary can earn 1.5 CE credits through an arrangement with www.nurse.com.
The American Nurse is unrated but contains a brief bloody surgical procedure and some mature themes. The running time is 1 hour and 19 minutes.
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