Anyone who knows me knows one thing. That I’m self proclaimed “medical show trash”. The interest comes from a love of medical series that my mom, who’s worked at hospitals and medical offices since before I was born, and I watched together. This summer I decided to binge two historic medical tv shows, ER and Saint Elsewhere. Two very different shows, but who’s work I can see reflected in current shows.
St Elsewhere really takes a look into doctors personal lives, and brings a sense of identity to the medical community that I argue didn’t really exist before. Doctors in other shows would be white coats with cold personalities that often just were used to scare the character they were treating. With St. Elsewhere we see a surprisingly diverse cast for a show from 1982, with star studded cast such as Denzel Washington and Christina Pickles. I was also interested in not only was there a female doctor, but they did discuss her over working herself to prove her right to be on staff as a doctor and not a nurse. There was a female Asian medical student, and a student that had traveled abroad that didn’t know English. That’s not to say that show didn’t have a problem with racism or sexism, it did through dialogue and story as unfortunately a lot of shows in the 80s and 90s had.
Speaking of the 90s, in 1994 the medical drama ER premiered and I’ve been binging that as well. ER is such essential viewing if you’re interested in creating a drama, or a medical show because it really set off the idea of emergency medicine and how doctors respond to it. It was one of the longest reigning drama shows on US network television with a record 15 seasons, only rivaled by NBC’s Law&Order with 20 seasons, Law & Order SVU at 19 currently going into the 20th, CSI ended at an equal 15, and the current medical drama Grey’s Anatomy which finished season 13 this year and will be going into 14 in the fall.
ER took the concept of bringing human qualities to those in white coats with a different twist than St. Elsewhere, because what is more dramatic than an Emergency department in downtown Chicago? Location is a very big key reason why this show did so well, shooting in local Chicago areas and developing the industry in the city but also because the amount of trauma they saw seemed relevant to the urban legend of Chicago being such a dangerous city. The cast changes as the seasons grow, and while I have just finished season one I can not speak for the diversity or the topics covered through all 15 years but I can talk about the 26 episodes I have seen. As a viewer you’re thrust into the fray without much explanation of who, what, and where- almost like you’re a medical student alongside doe-eyed John Carter who starts his first surgical ER rotation in the first season.
Notable other series I’ve watched and recommend are: NBC’s The Night Shift, canceled Emily Owens MD (on netflix), Black Box (canceled), Saving Hope( which is a sort of Canadian Grey’s Anatomy that deals with life between death), Private practice, Code Black, Strong Medicine, Chicago Med, and Rosewood.
I think that medical dramas are such a rich environment that really looks at the human condition in such a unique way. There’s this quality about them that writers should strive for, and that’s what’s so beautiful. The best medical dramas to me are not just the white coat doctors trying to save a life, they’re the ones that show you every person’s flaws. If a doctor believes he’s gods gift by saving lives, the intern who just can’t get their confidence up, the kid who followed the family dream and has yet to find our their passion for the art of medicine- all of these characters that exist alongside us in our own civilization.
What a driving force of Grey’s Anatomy was, is the nostalgic feeling of not knowing what you’re doing as an intern. Things got messy personally, and then the patients reflected the personal challenge in the doctors lives. The key for everything is humanity. To show characters as well rounded individuals.
Some TV doctors you see preforming to their best, being messy but saving the day eventually and you say, I don’t want them to save me- but I argue that one of them probably has and you just didn’t know.
I think that the beauty in TV medical shows is that it’s this secret world, you think just happens there but really it doesn’t. You see what makes the news but you don’t know every story of your local ER. It’s magical to think these situations could exist from interns sleeping with their boss and not knowing, to nurses over dosing, irony of neurosurgeons dying from the lack of head CT, or doctors struggling to not become cold and shells of themselves from working so hard. These are human issues. You can sympathize with these amazing casts.
That is what a medical drama should be. You should feel a pull at your heartstrings from the sheer imagination of real people going through this, but also a wonderment of them pulling off the most heroic day of their lives only to wake up and try to outshine it the next day.
Every day heroes. That’s what they all are at their core, and it’s so beautiful to watch them. Medical dramas teach you about medicine, yourself, and what it takes to be a doctor. I’ve learned so much about who I am from the characters I love, and I’ve learned terms, and how to talk myself through injuries, or situations in my life that parallel the screen. You can always learn from TV, never let anyone tell you that you can’t.
So here’s to the tv doctors, the tv surgeons, to the lives saved at St. Elgis, from Seattle Grace to Grey Sloan Memorial, to Cook County, and the lives lost. Thank you for being there. Thank you for being human.
tea: orange zinger celestial tea