Tuned In: Five local nurses are 'Scrubbing In'

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The five stars of MTV's "Scrubbing In" (10 p.m. Thursday) who grew up in Western Pennsylvania had not seen the premiere episode of the show last week, but they were convinced it will live up to what the show's producers promised.

"We can only hope they show us in that professional light," said Crystal Burrell, 23, of Apollo. "They told us it would be 50-50, a healthy balance of inside and outside of work."

If Thursday's premiere is representative of subsequent episodes, the promised 50-50 percentage may be off ... by a lot.

The first episode spends little time showing the nurses on the job; when it does it's mostly to lay the groundwork for a fight between two nurses. The bulk of the episode shows the nurses as they unwind after work at dinner, at a club and on a "booze cruise" in typical "Real World" fashion.

"Scrubbing In" begins in Pittsburgh as the five friends who worked in the trauma ICU at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side commiserate -- in seemingly staged scenes -- about their plans to leave Pittsburgh to become traveling nurses at a hospital in Orange County, Calif.

"I'm so sick of this weather," says one of the five in voiceover narration as they walk alongside one of Pittsburgh's rivers.

"I'm so over Pittsburgh," says another.

In a phone interview last week, the women emphasized their love of Pittsburgh but also their desire to see the world, an understandable longing among 20-somethings.

"I bleed black and gold, and Pittsburgh is always going to be my home," said Nikki Cirrincione, a 2004 graduate of Ford City High School, who earned her bachelor's degree in nursing from Duquesne University and a master's in interior architecture from Chatham University. "But I've always wanted to travel and see different areas."

"We just peaked at our jobs and did all there was to do at our positions," said Michelle Battisti, 24, from Centre Township. "We wanted to see what was out there and explore a little bit."

At a July MTV press conference promoting the show -- then titled "Nurses" -- producers presented the series as a high-minded exploration of a career field.

"The story of the health profession is not an embarrassing story, and I feel that a lot of great work is going on in hospitals, and some hospitals are very proud of their nurses," said executive producer Mark Cronin. "What's so great about this show is that it's a cast of professionals, highly educated, highly skilled young people who are working in a very important profession. It's kind of a new thing for reality television, and we're really excited to be able to do it."

Mr. Cronin cited the 50-50 plan.

"We're trying to capture the 360 experience of what these women and men are going through," he said. "The stress from their personal lives they need to compartmentalize from their professional lives. It's a very interesting psychological and physical and mental dance that they do in their jobs."

The only Pittsburghers at MTV's press conference, Ms. Burrell and Chelsey Ferri, 25, of McMurray, spoke of their hopes for what "Scrubbing In" will show about the nursing profession.

"The perception is the scripted shows," said Ms. Burrell of what viewers see about nursing on TV through programs like "Grey's Anatomy." "There's not a reality real-life show about what we do."

But in the premiere, Ms. Ferri claims, "Hospitals are just like on television: Doctors [bleep] nurses. Nurses [bleep] doctors. Everyone's crazy."

Certainly on "Scrubbing In" that's true. The craziest of the cast appears to be Tyrice, who is not from Pittsburgh. She gets into a fight with a male nurse named Chris about whether he threw her under the bus in front of hospital administrators and then picks another fight with Adrian because he didn't defend her when Chris supposedly "got up in my grill," something MTV's editors conveniently don't show, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions about what really happened in the altercation.

In the first episode, at least, the Pittsburgh five don't come off the worst among the cast, whom producers found through a nursing placement company. They first contacted Ms. Ferri, who approached her four Pittsburgh friends with the potential opportunity to work as travel nurses and appear on an MTV show. (The women all said they had never applied to be on a reality show.)

"I think a few of us, myself included and Michelle, were a little hesitant at first," said Heather Ambrose, 27, of Canonsburg. "We all wanted to do it to bring a positive light to nursing. When you ask most people what a nurse does on her shift, it's bed pans and meds, but that's not a full depiction of what we do."

Ms. Ambrose is one of the central characters in the premiere episode. She's shown at Smokin' Joe's Saloon on the South Side talking with her boyfriend about her plans to leave Pittsburgh.

"I think because I do my makeup and have big fake boobs, people think, she looks like a stripper so she's an idiot, and that [ticks] me off because now I have to prove to the world I'm the whole package," Ms. Ambrose says in the "Scrubbing In" premiere. "I'm an awesome [bleeping] nurse."

It's a great MTV sound bite but how will a potential employer react to such a boast? Or other revelations, including cast members whose past, since expunged, DUIs delay their California nursing license paperwork?

Perhaps it's a combination of naivete and wishful thinking, but the women are unconcerned that allowing their hard-partying off-the-clock lives to be filmed will hurt their future career prospects.

"We never did anything that would jeopardize our patients or careers," Ms. Ambrose said last week. "We're young 20-somethings living life. Who doesn't go to a bar and have a few drinks? We never drink before our shift, and we're nothing but professional at work."

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

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