Medical shows continue to be one of the more popular TV genres. In addition to the usual workplace drama often depicted in TV shows, the added action of medical scenarios heighten the tension.
But how realistic are these shows? It seems every odd disease has found its way into Dr. House’s hospital; large scale calamities are constantly wreaking havoc in Seattle for Dr. Meredith Grey’s staff on Grey’s Anatomy; as for Scrubs, the medical residents at Sacred Hospital are always finding themselves in goofy scenarios.
We looked at each of these shows to determine which one portrays the medical profession most accurately.
House M.D. was a riveting show that followed Dr. Gregory House as he diagnosed patients at the fictional Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey. From his deductive reasoning and psychology, to diagnosing peculiar cases, to his drug addiction, Dr. House is the Sherlock Homes of modern medicine. But this drama, like the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels, was more fiction than reality.
One of the first flaws often pointed out is that despite House’s opioid addiction, he was able to continue practicing medicine. In her review of medical shows, Dr. Nikki Stamp sees this as an obvious flaw. “The medical profession takes substance abuse pretty seriously, and Gregory House would have been parked in rehabilitation as his services declined with his opiate addiction. Brilliant as he may be, anyone with such a serious problem would be directed to the appropriate services.”
The second major issue is that the doctors perform all the testing. There is a reason specialties exist. In the real world a doctor won’t perform a blood test on their own and then run off to monitor an MRI. This inaccuracy really gets to Dr. Stamp. “Oh wow, this one grinds my gears….We specialize. We outsource to experts. You just cannot be abreast of all of these procedures. ”
While House is compelling as a TV show, you probably won’t see Dr. Gregory House teaching in med school anytime soon. Especially since it is always lupus.
Dr. Meredith Grey tries to run a tight ship at Seattle Grace Hospital – but it seems like there are leaks everywhere. From love affairs to drug addictions, the staff still manage to find the time to practice some medicine at Seattle Grace. While we often suspend our disbelief when watching TV, the show is still rife with medical no-no’s that are hard to ignore.
If only we could get away with the errors of these residents! Sure, residents screw up from time to time just like any doctor. But some of the mistakes depicted are so glaring that they would have been ejected from the residency program, no matter who their esteemed surgeon was. The most striking example is when Izzie cuts her boyfriend’s LVAD wire so that his condition will worsen and bump up his ranking on the transplant list. In the real world, not only would she get fired but she would most likely lose her license and face criminal charges. If only good looks were enough to get you out of trouble like that.
Respecting the chain of command is a fundamental principle of hospital life. However, on Grey’s Anatomy, it seems that the idea of authority serves only to add drama to the show. “An intern who bypasses a chief to bring important patient information to an attending (physician) would irritate both the chief and the attending (physician)”, says Dr. Amanda Kirzner.
Everyone dreams of going into the OR and finding their McDreamy or McSteamy. Unfortunately, you will more likely find a McTired at the end of their 24 hour shift. Those scrubs never seem to fit as attractively as they do on the show. Speaking of which….
Scrubs was a medical comedy set in Sacred Heart Hospital centered around John ‘JD’ Dorian, an internal medicine resident, and his colleagues. The show is mostly a goofy take on the life of a resident, and can often dip into the realm of ridiculous. Nonetheless, one of the most surprising aspects of the show is how faithful it remains to real world of residency, and in its realistic depiction of how patients are treated.
Scrubs was initially built around the stories of a cardiologist friend of Bill Lawrence, creator of the show. The writers consulted with several doctors before each season and used the funniest stories they had experienced in their careers. Lawerence says that “nearly every medical scenario on the show has originated with a real-life situation, tweaked a little bit for drama and the constraints of half-hour comedy.” This is what makes it so enjoyable for doctors and non-medical professionals alike to watch. It turns out finding a light bulb in someone’s rear-end isn’t so far fatched.
The other aspect of the show that makes it realistic is how accurately it portrays everyday life at a hospital. From the tension between the internal medicine and surgical residents, to the fear and self doubt that residents are often saddled with, to the pure exhaustion and hunger they experience. While certain things are over-exaggerated – the chief of medicine’s penny pinching, and residents going over the top to the get the best assignments – everything is based on real events.
The most accurate medical show on TV is…..
Scrubs! The irony is that the most realistic series is a comedy. To be fair, it’s hard to fault these medical shows, conceived as they are for entertainment, not a blow-by-blow documentary of hospital life. Honestly, who would want to see a show where a patient comes in to get a couple of stiches after cutting their hand trying to open an avocado? Knowing all this doesn’t mean we won’t all flock to our Netflix to watch the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy or try to out-deduce House. Who knows, maybe McDreamy really had lupus the whole time.