Medical dramas-the pros and the cons

Khalid Al Aboud , M.D.1

1 Department of Pathology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA

Citation: Al Aboud K. Medical dramas-the pros and the cons. Dermatol Pract Conc. 2012;2(1):14.

Copyright: ©2012 Al Aboud. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Corresponding Author: Khalid Al Aboud, M.D., Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Department of Pathology, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1072, USA. Tel. 336. 713.5933; Fax. 336.716.-7595. Email:


There has been increasing interest in the field of medicine and in the social life of patients as well as health care providers in the realm of the media, namely, films and television shows. Table 1 lists some popular television series that are based on events germane to the medical field [1-7]. These shows constitute a genre in television, the ”medical drama.”

Table 1. Select medical dramas listed alphabetically. [Copyright: ©2012 Al Aboud.]

A medical drama can be defined as a television drama in which events center on a hospital, an ambulance staff, or other medical environment [8]. Dr. Kildare, which first aired in 1961, is generally considered to be the first medical drama on American television. The show was a success and, soon thereafter, the medical drama became a popular television genre.

In the United States, most medical dramas run one hour long and, more often than not, are set in a hospital. Most current medical dramas go beyond the events pertaining to the characters’ jobs and portray some aspects of their personal lives. For example, a typical medical drama might have a storyline in which two doctors fall in love [8]. Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, in his 1964 work on the nature of media, predicted a big success of this particular genre on television because such a medium “creates an obsession with bodily welfare” [8]. These shows have high viewership ratings. For example, the television series House was among the top ten rated shows in the United States from its second through its fourth season; in the 2008-9 season, it fell to nineteenth overall. Distributed to 66 countries, House was the most watched television program in the world in 2008 [5].

Health care providers, in particular, have become more interested in this type of drama and are not only watching the television shows, but are also keenly observing their medical content. There are even websites dedicated to physician reviews on these television series. They review them for medical accuracy [9] and give medical opinions, breakdowns, and expert commentaries on each episode [10]. These television programs have received many awards and critical acclaim. However, they are often controversial in their frank depictions of violence, sexuality, recreational drug use, and surgical procedures [11-16]. This type of drama originated in the United States, but many other countries are developing their own versions of medical dramas [8].

There are some who contend that these television shows can be useful in reinforcing the principles of medical ethics, professionalism (i.e., communications skills, patient confidentiality, and bedside manner, including sensitivity and empathy), history taking, and clinical examination especially for medical students and junior doctors and that they could even replace lecture-based modules [13]. Some even argue that the medical drama is a narrative genre that may foster better emotional engagement with a patient, and moral imagination resulting in a more ethically sensitive student of medicine [11-13]. Some authors think that they may have an impact on the public in that they might be disseminating fundamental principles of medicine in the context of entertainment [14]. In some episodes of these shows, ordinary people are seen saving lives by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other first aid procedures.

It might be that these dramas are putting medical professionals and the medical field in general in a less than flattering light to the public, possibly affecting the confidence they may have in doctors. For example, the doctor in the show House does not wear a lab coat. In my opinion, this can be viewed as non-professional. The social lives and personal behaviors of doctors in a given show from one country might not be viewed well by viewers in another country with a different cultural background. Is the target audience for these shows the health care provider or the public in general? Is the medical content of these shows accurate?

Only the future will tell what impact this type of drama will continue to have on the public. In this author’s opinion, doctors and filmmakers should come together to produce what is of benefit as well as of entertainment to public.


1. Emergency! Web site.! 2010 July 16. Accessed July 16, 2010.

2. ER (TV series). Web site. 2010 July 15. Accessed July 18, 2010.

3. Grey’s Anatomy. Web site.’s_Anatomy. 2010 July 18. Accessed July 18, 2010.

4. House. Web site. Accessed July 18, 2010.

5. House (TV series). Web site. 2010 July 16. Accessed July 16, 2010.

6. Nip/Tuck. Web site. 2010 July 14. Accessed July 18, 2010.

7. Scrubs (TV series). Web site. 2010 July 19. Accessed July 19, 2010.

8. Medical drama. Web site. 2010 June 18. Accessed July 18, 2010.

9. HOUSE Medical Reviews. Polite Dissent. Web site. Accessed July 18, 2010.

10. House M.D. A disease a day. Web site. Accessed July 18, 2010.

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