Dastardly Doctors

Historically, members of the medical profession have always been held in high regard. Along with this, comes idealistic (and often unrealistic) expectations about what doctors are able to deliver, how doctors should act, and the kind of people doctors should be. More information about the reasons why this is can be found here.

Despite spending years at university, passing numerous exams, and completing rigorous training, at the end of the day doctors are still human beings. And thank goodness, as our humanness is essential in connecting with patients and practicing empathic, patient-centred medicine. However, despite the lofty expectations placed upon doctors by society at large, doctors (in all their humanness) are fallible and are not immune to making mistakes.

There is a significant difference between a doctor making an honest, human mistake, and a doctor who abuses their position of power and privilege to intentionally cause harm. Between these two ends of the spectrum, there exists a vast grey area, where intention and fault is unclear. Consider the role of the individual within the context of the medical system – who is really at fault?

This part of The Vault exhibits a few examples of behaviours that, on reflection, may not be acceptable. This includes poor behaviour from single individuals, groups of individuals, and the medical system more broadly. Some examples show doctors making honest mistakes. Some are a little less innocent. A few show examples of downright dastardly doctors.


  • Doctors and medical professionals are held in high regard within society.
  • Despite the lofty and somewhat unrealistic expectations placed on medical professionals around what is and is not acceptable, doctors are still human beings, and as such are fallible.
  • Doctors will always make mistakes. How do we define what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour for doctors, and to what degree is this governed by the medical system in which doctors operate?

Bizzarre Medical Endorsements

Got a headache? Feeling a bit under the weather? Here, have some heroin! Over the course of history, it has not been uncommon for advertising agencies to utilise the societal status possessed by doctors as a promotional tool.

Collection #1: Coca Cola

Collection #2: Cocaine, Heroin and Other Drugs

Images sourced here, here and here.

Collection #3: Cigarettes

Read more about doctors promoting cigarettes here. Images sourced here, here and here.


We’ve all been in the anatomy dissecting rooms at UoM. We also all know how much of a privilege it is to be able to learn in this way, and the sacrifices made by the patients and families who have donated their bodies. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the way it was done.

Graverobbing or bodysnatching was a common practice throughout the 19th century as a means of obtaining corpses for anatomy dissection lectures. Often, it was the bodies of people belonging to socially and economically marginalised societal groups. Read more here.

Image #4: Medical students play poker with an anatomy cadaver (image sourced here and here)

Image #5: Doctors drink and cajole while graverobbing for bodies to dissect (image sourced here).

Unruly Individuals

Image #6 (sourced here): Make Medicine Great Again

Wearing a white lab coat and a gold plated stethoscope, there was a lot of chat on the internet about whether this guy was actually a real doctor. Turns out that he is a real physician. He certainly created a stir by positioning himself so stealthily behind Trumps podium. It’s hard not to question this guy’s M.O.

Image #7 (Sourced here): “False hope? There’s no such thing.”

You’ve all probably heard about Dr Charlie Teo, an Australian neurosurgeon who operates on brain tumours deemed, by cost-benefit risk analysis, to be inoperable by other surgeons. There has been significant controversy surrounding Teo recently, particularly around the exorbitant fees he charges for his risky procedures.

Is Dr Teo a cowboy surgeon skating on thin ice, or is he a well-intentioned doctor trying to advocate for his patients working within an oppressive system? Hero, or antihero?

If you’d like to know a bit more about Dr Teo, you can read more here, or listen to this informative 7am podcast. You can watch his Ted Talk below.

Image #8 (sourced here): Dr Death

Formerly a neurosurgeon working in Texas, Christopher Duntsch a.k.a ‘Dr Death’ had a promising future and medical career until drug abuse and mental health problems sent him into a downward spiral. Over the course of two years, he operated on 38 patients in the Dallas area, leaving 31 paralysed or seriously injured, and 2 dead as a result of surgical complications.

He concealed his adverse outcomes by moving from hospital to hospital. Duntsch was inadvertently aided in his endeavours by shifty medical organisations (including Baylor Plano) who swept his behaviour under the carpet with the aim of continuing to profit from his surgeries. Despite numerous poor patient outcomes and growing suspicion that Duntsch was a dangerous physician, he continued to operate, luring patients under the knife with his arrogance and false promises. In 2017, he was convicted of various crimes and sentenced to life in prison.

Read more here, or listen to the Dr Death Podcast.


Check out The Vault’s reading & film recommendations.

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