What Medical TV Shows Portray Wrong About The Life Of A Doctor

By Elana Goodwin on July 24, 2015

This article is brought to you by Kaplan, the leader in test prep for over 90 standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT.

There are a fair amount of medical TV shows that are either on the air today or were recently, and while some facets of hospital and doctor life may be similar to how we see them on TV, there are also a number of things medical shows portray wrong.

Viewers have long been fascinated by medical shows — from the cult favorite “Grey’s Anatomy” and its spinoff “Private Practice” to shows like “General Hospital,” “ER,” “Casualty,” “House,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “Scrubs” and to the forthcoming series “Code Black” and “Chicago Med,” which will premiere during the 2015-2016 TV season.

It’s obvious by the number of medical shows that people love to watch series that seemingly give them a taste of what being a doctor is like.

The cast of “Scrubs”
Photo Credit: reddit.com

But with the exception of the half hour comedy “Scrubs,” which aired from 2001-2010, which has surprisingly been lauded as the most accurate portrayal of doctors and hospital life on TV, many medical TV shows give viewers a false impression of the medical profession.

In “Scrubs,” the show follows narrator and protagonist J.D. and shows him not only doing medical procedures and learning from an intern to a full-fledged doctor, but also captures the in-between moments in the hospital, such as interactions between doctors and nurses. Additionally, J.D.’s reflective internal monologues have been praised as being similar to what a young beginner doctor would think when starting out and facing difficult medical cases and decisions.

Aside from that show, most other medical TV shows portray doctor life wrong.

Image via Pixabay 

Firstly, viewers almost never see the medical school years on TV – usually, medical shows will begin following interns, residents, established doctors, or a mix of the three. If you’re wondering why that is, it’s because medical school has been said to be incredibly awful – and if they were to show that on TV, perhaps we’d have less people eager to become doctors.

Between the long hours, hard work, and competitive atmosphere, we pretty much already have a TV show that portrays med school: it’s called “Survivor” – just subtract the hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans and the ability to practice medicine, and voila.

Secondly, even TV shows whose main characters start out as interns or residents portray many aspects of hospital life wrong. For example, if you watch “Grey’s Anatomy,” you’d think that working at a hospital basically means you’ll have the most dramatic life, complete with whirlwind romances and exciting surgeries (oh, and of course, everybody will be good-looking).

In actuality, unlike the interns on “Grey’s Anatomy,” interns rarely ever see the inside of an operation room when they’re at this status; instead, they’re responsible more for the care of patients on the floor. The same goes for surgical interns – they’ll be doing a lot more scut work than surgical work, and many second-year residents will continue to do so, along with consults.

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House from “House”
Photo Credit: housemdconfessions.tumblr.com

Thirdly, many of the medical situations and cases featured on medical TV shows are also far-fetched, simply because they make plotlines more interesting or create some kind of drama. Sometimes a headache is just a headache and not a symptom of lupus or a fever is just a fever and not a sign that you have swine flu.

Lastly, there are a number of things about hospital life that many medical TV shows commonly get wrong. One being that doctors will operate outside their specialty and perform pretty much any and every procedure needed, even if it’s a different specialty than the one they were trained in. Another is that doctors are responsible for every step in patient care.

In reality, nurses actually do almost everything in hospitals (and this was accurately portrayed on “Scrubs”). Third, most residents and doctors don’t and aren’t able to leave the hospital at the same time and go to the local pub for a drink. Lastly, while doctors may hook up throughout their years in med school or a hospital, medical TV shows drastically increase the number of romantic relationships occurring at work, as well as the magnitude on-call room nookie. Also, in most hospitals relationships with a superior are a big no-no (sorry, “Grey’s”).

All that being said, even though medical TV shows aren’t entirely accurate and commonly portray aspects of hospital life and being a doctor wrong, they do excel at being entertaining and it’s clear their lack of veracity doesn’t affect that. God bless and long live “Grey’s Anatomy.”

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By Elana Goodwin

Uloop Writer
I am currently serving as the Director/Managing Editor for Uloop News. I've been part of the Uloop family since 2013 and in my current role, I recruit writers, edit articles, manage interns, and lead our National Team, among other duties. When I'm not writing or editing, I love being outside, reading, and photography! I have a Bachelor's degree in English with a double-minor in Sociology and Criminology & Criminal Justice from The Ohio State University.

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