Doctors in Pop Culture

Doctors are always appearing in popular culture, as characters in films, TV shows, books – you name it. For this reason, these representations play a significant role in shaping how doctors in reality are perceived by members of the general public. Additionally, these characters reflect public attitudes towards doctors, medicine and science more broadly within our community.

Television, films and the like aim to entertain. It cannot be denied that directors and producers often exaggerate in order to achieve this goal. That said, characters are inspired by lived experience and are grounded in reality. While some of the characters presented in this museum seem farfetched and at times, laughably detached from the reality of modern medicine, elements of these portrayals must hold true. Think about some of the doctors included in this museum – do you identify with any of them?

There are all kinds of different characters represented: extreme narcissists; beautiful arrogant heroes with excellent bedside manners; exceptionally smart with no beside manners at all; sex-obsessed, drug-addicted antiheroes; crazy harebrained scientists; all the way through to the downright clumsy and inept. Do any of these qualities align with your definition of ‘a good doctor’? What are the implications of presenting medical doctors in this way for the provision of healthcare?


IN A NUTSHELL

  • Doctors are often not presented accurately in popular culture, and this creates unrealistic expectations around who doctors are, what their lives are like, and what they are capable of.
  • Elements of these characters, as much as we are ashamed to admit it, are grounded in truth. Perhaps this means that as a profession we are not as reputable as we might like to think.
  • Keeping this in mind, it is important to consider what the qualities of a good doctor are, and how this might differ from those represented in popular culture.

Check out this article for more.


Television

Image #1: Characters Dr John Dorian, Dr Elliott Reid and Dr Christopher Turk from Scrubs (2001 – 2010) (sourced here).

Image #2: Characters from medical drama Greys Anatomy (2005 – present) (sourced here).

Image #3: Characters Dr Nick and Dr Hibbert from The Simpsons (1989 – present) (sourced here).

Image #4: Characters from M.A.S.H (1972 – 1983), a show that depicts the lives of doctors working in an army hospital in the Korean War (sourced here).

Image #5: The many different portrayals of ‘The Doctor’ in the Doctor Who series (2001 – current), who despite being an alien adventurer possesses skills in clinical medicine (sourced here).

Image #6: The Good Doctor (2017 – current) portrays the experience of a young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome (sourced here).

Image #7: Excellent yet unorthodox diagnostician, the enigmatic Dr Gregory House from House M.D. (2004 – 2012) has an inflated ego, antisocial tendencies and a serious addiction to narcotics (sourced here).

Image #8: Keeping it close to home, All Saints (1998-2009) is an Australian medical drama set at the All Saints Western General Hospital, focusing on the experience of doctors and nurses working on the ‘garbage ward’ (sourced here).

Image #9: Perhaps a little less medicine and a little bit more romantic comedy, Offspring (2010-current) is another Aussie show depicting the life of Nina, a 30-something obstetrician and her ‘many romantic ventures’ (sourced here).


Film

Image #10: Psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (1991) has been in maximum security for 10 years for being a serial killer who cannibalised his victims. Manipulative and cryptic, Lecter is a likely psychopath and homocidal maniac (sourced here).

  • Are you looking for sympathy? You’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.” – Lecter

Image #11: Adapted from the acclaimed novel by the same name, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) tells the harrowing life story of brilliant but unorthodox Dr. Victor Frankenstein who is on a quest to conquer death (sourced here).

Image #12: Dr Doolittle (1998) is a doctor who can speak to animals. Enough said (sourced here).

Image #13: Dr Strange (2016), a brilliant neurosurgeon, must put his ego aside after a tragic car accident and learn the secrets of the metaphysical world (sourced here).

Image #14: Dr Spivey, a psychiatrist in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975) is addicted to opiates and is notoriously submissive to the controlling Nurse Ratched. Spivey eventually gains spirit and courage from McMurphy (Nicholson), one of the patients on the ward (sourced here).

Image #15: Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960) is a horror film that tells the story of officeworker Marion who ends up checked in at the Bates Motel, run by introverted Norman. Dr Bill Raymond, appears in the lesser known Psycho II (1983) as Bates’ psychiatrist (sourced here).

WANT MORE?

Check out The Vault’s reading & film recommendations.

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