Hollywood Myths, Cracked: What Movies And Shows Get Wrong About Doctors
It’s a pretty well-known fact by now that many a doctor — and just anyone who actually works in a hospital — will likely tell you that, of all the TV shows about medical practitioners, Scrubs is the one they relate to the most. The show’s depiction of everyday life in a building full of sick people seems to be more accurate than most, which … we guess implies that there’s at least one compulsory Musical Day per year in every hospital around the world.
But while Scrubs seems to connect with those tasked to save lives in the real world, most other shows and movies can oftentimes get under these professionals’ skins — especially when their patients fall for the CIA-effect (i.e., believing the things they see in movies and TV shows) and start asking questions about some secret Flatliners Club. We get it: The stuff that studios churn out for our entertainment needs to be, well, entertaining. Who wants to see a normal, non-dramatic surgery when we can get, say, a leg amputation on a yacht? Or some emergency surgery done in the middle of a highway? Honestly, why hospitals and operating rooms even exist is beyond us.
So what is it that doctors and nurses and grumpy janitors say is so absurd about the talkies that feature their jobs? Well, for one thing …
Where The Hell Is HR?
You’d be hard up to find a well-represented human resources department in medical shows because if these people were present, our fictional doctors would be spending more time dealing with complaints against them than looking at charts and making out in storage closets. Dr. Gregory House, the TV doc only masochists would want, reportedly visits the HR department twice a day on average, and yet he keeps getting away with running his unfiltered mouth because “suffering genius” or whatever.
Shows and movies will have us believe that the doctors and those elite top surgeons are the ones running the hospitals when, in fact, it’s the HR Department that manages all personnel, conducts training and performance monitoring, run employee meetings, and make sure everyone complies with the rules and regulations. Running a hospital is no mean feat, what with things like safety, hygiene, and patient care being so incredibly important. But, nah — the hospital staff we usually see on screen seem to run on a “worse behavior” policy like it’s a competition.
In reality, that scene would be followed by some serious HR intervention, patient damage control, and nobody getting anything else done for the rest of the day. In an episode of The Good Doctor, many of the hospital staff accidentally ingest a hallucinogenic drug, but apparently, they’re just allowed to carry on like it’s a party for God knows how long.
Just … so many violations in that clip.
It’s Almost Never As Gory As In The Movies
During the 1950s, a group named the Physician’s Advisory Committee (PAC) was responsible for advising TV, radio, and movie producers on how to accurately portray all things medical in their productions. The PAC was eventually disbanded during the ‘80s, and since then, studios were left to hire whoever they wanted as consultants (and if they even wanted) — leading to the fast-and-lose handling of medical practices we see on screen today.
Of course, these studios will often choose drama over accuracy, especially when it comes to things like wounds, blood, and the splatter of an artery.
According to Dr. Peter Chai from the University of Massachusetts, that scene up there is just not how it happens in real life. “Even when you hit an artery during surgery, it's coming out a little faster than when you hit a vein, sure, but you’re not getting blood on the wall on the other side of the room.”
Back in those PAC days, medical practitioners would literally tell the writers how much blood would be present in every type of procedure. These days, however, it seems that blood and gore gets top billing because it’s visceral and elicits a powerful reaction in viewers. It’s a manipulation tactic, there to gross us out and up the stakes because it’s easier to understand that someone might die when you see them bleed out by the buckets.
Dr. Chai also debunked the whole thing about bullets being removed at crime scenes or in the middle of a hallway in a crowded hospital. “If the bullet is in, it stays in until they’re in an operating room.”
Doctors Who Just Do Everything
In the movies and, let’s face it, especially the TV shows, it seems that if you have any kind of license to practice medicine, you get to practice it all. Interns get to perform solo surgeries, there’s no such thing as actual specialists, and physicians and surgeons are interchangeable and seem to do the same things. Naturally, that’s all bull.
Dr. Richard Beddingfield, an anesthesiologist, explained that a patient requiring surgery would end up talking to “half a dozen different physicians” and deal with many different nurses and physicians’ assistants. But not in the fictional worlds of TV shows. “Medical dramas often portray a single physician first seeing a patient in the emergency room, admitting him to the hospital, reading his CT scan images and then donning sterile gloves in the operating room.”
Grey’s Anatomy, the medical primetime show that just won’t quit and has been renewed for its 19th season, is especially guilty of showing interns doing whatever the hell they want, often bypassing their superiors without getting so much as a notice.
Many medical practitioners have debunked the show’s smorgasbord of liberties — from the fact that there exists a myriad of speciality departments and not just one doctor who will deliver babies and also get to perform brain surgery, as well as the way patients are treated in general.
Doctors also don’t run out to the ambulance to receive and diagnose their patients. Those patients are first seen and inspected by emergency doctors on staff. But, you know, it’s Grey’s Anatomy, a show more about who’s boinking who in that hospital than any medical accuracy.
The High Cost Of Medical Care
We’d argue that it would, in fact, be pretty dramatic to see patients filling out stacks of paperwork and trying to wrap their heads around the medical cost associated with surgeries, treatments, and general hospital admission. For one, it’s highly relatable. For two, it puts things into perspective, because while these shows applaud the good doctors and nurses who do nothing but their very best (even when they’re being their very worst), its the patients who, at the end of the day, carry an insane amount of stress. The surgeon sews his patient back up, the physician dusts his hands after a diagnosis well done, but it’s the patients who are left having to deal with all those medical costs while probably high on addictive painkillers.
Medical bills are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy among U.S. citizens. Suzanne Garber, co-founder of the digital hospital network Gauze, has said that “most patients who visit a hospital or doctor's office deal with insurance and have to pay a copay. These medical shows never show this side to healthcare.”
In an episode of The Good Doctor, a college student has a cyst removed that apparently caused him to develop a “split personality” because medical shows are so bizarre. Check out this scene where he watches his “lost personality” tell him that he did, in fact, consent to his surgery.
While there’s just … a lot to unpack here, the real point is that no, College Guy, you’re probably not going to be okay for a very long time. Not only is he most certainly knee-deep in student debt at this point in his life, but now he also needs to deal with a colossal stack of medical bills. Good luck with that, buddy — and also every other patient in these shows who displays sincere gratitude toward their doctors, only to go home, develop another life-threatening illness thanks to the burden of financial stress, and probably end up having to launch a GoFundMe campaign.
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