Which medical TV series is most realistic?

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Medical dramas have long since fascinated the world. They give a glimpse of what some of our healthcare workers go through every single day. They can be frustrating and unrealistic to health workers. But some are more realistic than others, and today we are discussing which give the most accurate portrayal of life behind closed doors. This is simply a matter of opinion.

So what are the TV dramas?

  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • House
  • Scrubs
  • Holby City
  • The Good Doctor
  • ER
  • Private Practice
  • Casualty
  • Critical

As I swept through the Internet doing the research for this article I realized that there are many more medical TV dramas than I had initially thought. The curiosity with the medical world is alive and kicking. What was also interesting was reading reports from other doctors about which shows they found to be more accurate.

ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs and House are perhaps the most well known and longest running, could that be because of their sense of realism? These dramas were however made for a US audience and however real, reflect practice in the US.  In these shows doctors seem to do the jobs of nurses, physios and pretty much all other allied health specialists. Surgeons seem to have an impossibly wide skill set spanning multiple specialties from General Surgery, to Neurosurgery or interventional radiology.

For me Grey’s Anatomy is the least accurate. I would score it 3/10 for realism. There are frequent affairs, staff frolicking with each other in any available cupboard, interns performing surgery, bypassing seniors, and apparently knowing all there is to know about all surgical specialties. The cases are rare and extravagant, with experimental surgery and treatment seeming to be commonplace. Private Practice, which is a spin off is even more unrealistic. It focuses on dramatic relationships and completely far fetched situations. Nonetheless it is probably this that makes it entertaining, as day-to-day hospital life is far less exciting.

House is perhaps just as unrealistic as Grey’s anatomy. Firstly there is no doctor in the world who would openly have an (opiod) addiction and still be allowed to practice medicine. Dr House’s brash behavior, unprofessional attitude and frequent mistakes would have lead to a very swift dismissal. Further to this his small band of merry doctors seem to have limitless capabilities, under the non-existent specialty of diagnostic medicine. They also seem to have the luxury of having only one patient at a time. In reality hospital doctors may be providing care for up to 30 patients at a time. Nonetheless it is thoroughly entertaining and I found the discussion on extremely rare cases actually quite useful when studying for my medical school finals.

Admittedly I have little experience with ABC’s The Good Doctor, but reports seem to suggest a reasonable level of accuracy when it comes to the medical jargon, diagnoses and treatments.

ER perhaps best demonstrates life in the emergency department. It shows how busy and high-pressured it can be. It does however over dramatize the cases, the role of doctors and how effective CPR actually is.

TV comedy Scrubs consistently ranks highly on the realism meter. I personally find it to be more reflective of residency training in the US. It has a semi accurate portrayal of hospital dynamics in the US, and has fairly realistic cases.

For life in UK hospital Holby City perhaps more accurately reflects practice than casualty (which is set only in A&E) or any other drama. It quite closely portrays the hierarchical order of doctors, the longstanding hospital politics, the struggle nurses face, hospital/bed pressures, expanding work loads etc. It is however not perfect. It over exaggerates sexual relationships in hospital, it dramatizes the operating theatre and perhaps glamorizes surgery. For some reason they also operate in the dark, which I imagine is for dramatic effect. In reality however theatre/the OR are perhaps the brightest rooms in the hospital. A single episode costs around £370 000 to produce, which I think is money well spent. The hospital set and the atmosphere created is about as close to an NHS hospital as a TV drama can get. If only our offices were that sheek in reality.

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