Saturday, May 10, 2008

7 Famous Medical TV Shows

*** UPDATE ***
A follow-up to this medical TV show blog post is available here:
13 Somewhat-Forgotten Medical TV Shows

Over the years, there have been dozens of shows which peer into the medical world, ranging in style from comedy to drama to documentary. Let's go back into time (or to tomorrow's primetime) to refresh the classics and a few new hits. Maybe you will want to be a physician afterwards.

1. General Hospital

The American Broadcasting Corporation launched this iconic soap opera on April 1st, 1963, the same day that the National Broadcasting Corporation launched its own medical drama "The Doctors". Set in the fictional town of Port Charles, New York, the show began as a view into the fictional relationships of doctors, nurses, and patients in a hospital, but over the years, the stories grew more numerous and fantastically more convoluted; General Hospital's hospital is rarely used as a setting these days, and instead the show's producers favor other aspects of the GH-universe, including the Port Charles' mob-scene, the business community, and the Quartermaines' residence. Elizabeth Taylor is noted as being a guest star in a 1981 episode as Helena Cassadine. 45 years and counting, General Hospital is the longest-running drama produced in Hollywood, and there are no signs of stopping.

2. M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the setting for this highly successful "dramedy" television show from the 1970s and early 1980s. The show was an offshoot of the film "MASH", and while it was based on the Korean War, it incorporated many features of the Vietnam War as a sort of allegory of the times. Surprisingly, most of the stories told in the early seasons of the show were based off of producers' interviews with MASH surgeons about their actual experiences during the Korean War. The series won 14 Emmy awards and was capped off with a finale which had a record 106 million viewers watching.

3. E.R.

Any ER doc can attest to the remarkable realism of the portrayal of a busy city hospital. Not. If only all ER visits were for patients in dire need of medical attention instead of the EMTALA/overutilized/underfunded/drug-seeking/primary-care situation we now have in ERs. And that doesn't include all of the inter-personal drama that would make fans of the old General Hospital wax nostalgic; the fact that ER is in its 14th season doesn't help the comparison either.

The E.R. set is allegedly based off of Chicago's new Cook County Hospital on the city's west side, which is next door to the old Cook County, the setting for The Fugitive.

4. Doogie Howser, M.D.

The show's premise is simple enough: child prodigy enters the medical profession. How did that happen? After being diagnosed and treated for pediatric leukemia, he displayed profound intelligence at age 6. He graduated from Princeton at age 10, medical school at age 14, and became a surgical resident at age 16. Even though he was quite capable in academics, he was still incapable of living outside his parents' house, and he was still not smart enough to know to avoid the drama of teenage relationships.

The only problem with the plot? The kid grew up. A television show about an adult medical doctor with ordinary adult problems is just not that appealing. It was cancelled after only 4 seasons.

Bonus trivia: the premise of the show is paralleled in reality with Sho Yano, a 12 year old medical student at the University of Chicago.

5. Scrubs

The introductory credits of this award-winning medical comedy ended with J.D., a medical resident, putting a chest film backwards onto a light box. This was completely intentional according to Bill Lawrence the creator of the show. Scrubs, after all, revolved around residents, who are doctors just graduated from medical school and engaged in post-graduate education. Are they inexperienced to the degree of not knowing right from left on a chest film? Some fans doubted. After emails piled up over the years from fans asking about the error, the show's producers answered the questions with an alternate introduction sequence:

6. Grey's Anatomy

Grey's Anatomy can always be counted on as a perfect portrayal of a surgical residency teaching program and the operating room environment, notable for tawdry love affairs between attendings and residents, highly-questionable medical care, and non-stop drama. The show revolves around the heroic deeds of surgeons in the O.R., but not one of the episodes paints a good picture of what anesthesiologists do, but a couple episodes stand out: one involves the anesthesiologist drinking on the job and the surgeons remarking that he is too "juiced" to do his crossword puzzle; another episode features an anesthesiologist deserting a patient in the midst of a code. These interactions surely paved the way for the subsequent invention of "McSleepy", an automated anesthesia machine which can surely replace the anesthesiologist from the show. The disrespectful representations of anesthesiologists and their role in the operating room even earned the producers of that show a letter from the ASA.

7. House, M.D.

Dr. House is the perfect example of a doctor who excels on the medical diagnosis and treatment side, but who fails utterly in patient relations. The series is a sort of Sherlock Holmes medical mystery show, where a patient presents with disease symptoms that befuddles everyone and it is up to Dr. House to figure out the solution. Hugh Laurie (Dr. House) even played Dr. Watson on a Sherlock Holmes feature on ITV1 in Britain.

Here are some of the diagnoses made on the show: neurocysticercosis, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, colchicine poisoning, echovirus 11, Wilson's disease, phosmet poisoning, ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, echinococcosis, cerebral malaria, brucellosis, Erdheim-Chester disease, bubonic plague, baylisascaris, Takayasu's arteritis, and Chagas' disease.

Do you have any favorite medical television shows that directed you towards (or away) from the field of medicine?


Dr. Matthew Mintz said...

Great post.
Though these shows are somewhat before my time, I think you also need to include "Quincy" which to my knowledge is the first show to take the rare, house-like diagnosis angle and is a predecessor to CSI. Also, "Marcus Welby, MD" was one of the first medical shows. The character set up a shared ideal of what a physician should be, and some patient still hold us up to that model.

Peter said...

Thanks, Dr. Mintz.

I do indeed plan on including those specific shows in a future blog post titled "The Lesser Known Medical TV Shows", which will include Chicago Hope, Nip/Tuck, Trapper John, M.D. Doctor Doctor, St. Elsewhere, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Quincy, M.E. Admittedly, my approximations of which shows were famous was somewhat subjective, so I might have deemed some shows as lesser known but which were famous according to a generation before me.

spynster57 said...

You'll have to go waaay back into the black & white archives, but how about Ben Casey MD? I haven't seen it for 45? years but still remember the "male, female, birth, death, infinity" introduction. Yes, it did have sound even tho it was ages ago. : - ))

gay CME guy said...

Great Post Peter:

I grew up with Marcus Welby, MD, Chad Everett in Medical Center, & St. Elsewhere, to name a few. I also remember planning class schedules at UIUC to go to one of the 3 TV rooms (when there were 3 major network) in the Student Union to catch General Hospital.

Dragonfly said...

House is a legend (not in patient communication though). I learned how to present cases from him and the cottages.
And there are some clear parallels between Scrubs characters and some people in my class.

James said...

I love House; it's great TV. But House really isn't the genious diagnostician everyone thinks he is. A typical show involves him making 3-5 wild attempts at a diagnosis, he's usually done some imaging and maybe even a few biopsies before doing and H and P and nearly killed the patient with incorrect treatment before getting it right - though he does always get it right, in the end. If house were Sherlock Holmes, he'd be wildly accusing everyone in sight of the murder until the actual murderer crumpled and confessed.

On an unrelated note, I love the Hawkeye character in M*A*S*H*. I think he's what inspired me to go into medicine in the first place.

frate said...

There are so many shows on Medical profession. but i prefer to watch House MD and Grey's anatomy. both of them are just amazing. But being a Hugh Laurie fan i love House MD more