Why You Should Stop Watching Medical Dramas on TV

by Minion_Sparrow on April 2, 2015 - 4:58pm

As a student who always had a prevalent interest in the field of health and illnesses since elementary school, I watched medical dramas on television during my high school years. A medical drama is a show that is set in a hospital or any medical environment. One of the most popular shows of this genre is Grey's Anatomy, an American television series that airs on ABC. It focuses on the lives of surgical interns, residents, and doctors who try to balance their personal lives and their professional lives. With eleven seasons already aired, it is actually one of the most watched prime-time television series (Nauert). More information on the show can be found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey's_Anatomy. House M.D., another medical drama, follows Dr. Gregory House and his trainees, as they diagnose and treat the most difficult cases. This show airs on Fox. More information on House M.D. can be found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_(TV_series).

Although I have been enjoying the show throughout high school years, as I got interested in applying to medicine, and as I got aware of the fundamental responsibilities of a doctor, I realised that the show was actually portraying a very unprofessional image of doctors. Moreover, according to Anita Ho, professor at the W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics in the School of Population and Public Health, and director of Ethics Services at Providence Health Care, "medical shows on TV make certain treatments look like miracles". In fact, popular medical TV shows often portray cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as being perfectly successful in saving the patient's life (Ho). However, in real life, CPR often results in cracked ribs and/or internal bleeding, even leading to an eventual death (Ho). Because of the popularity of medical shows on TV, such as Grey's Anatomy or House M.D., patients have misconceptions on the effectiveness of certain treatments, believing that all treatments are hundred percent successful. This makes the job of a real-life doctor very hard because patients get extremely upset when they apprehend that a certain treatment, that is, most of the time, successful on TV shows, fails to function in real life. In a word, what is shown on medical TV shows in terms of the recovery rate of patients after certain treatments is not a true reflection of what actually happens in reality.

It is because these shows may influence people’s ideas about medicine that this is a moral dilemma. The counter argument would be that this is just entertainment, and that viewers should not associate what they see on hospital dramas with the doctors one interacts with in real-lives. However, I think that the broadcasting of these hospital dramas is unethical because, although the intent of these shows is to entertain the viewer, and that their highest good, or summum bonum, would be to entertain more viewers to make more money, one of the outcomes is that the viewer subconsciously assumes that the fictional events presented on the show derive from events happening in real-life hospitals. I believe that it is not only the intention that qualifies something as either moral or unethical, but that the outcome has a bigger importance.

Moreover, some of what is shown on these hospital dramas is actually against the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Code of Ethics. This Code provides an ethical framework for Canadian physicians, and it is very similar to the code used in the United States of America. The seventh fundamental responsibility of a doctor is to "Resist any influence or interference that could undermine your professional integrity" (Blevins), and in one of the episodes of Grey's Anatomy, an intern (Izzie) falls in love with her cardiothoracic patient (Denny) and makes the patient sicker in order to move the patient to the top of the waiting list for a heart transplant (White). Moreover, throughout the show, doctors constantly have sex in closets and empty rooms in the hospital (White). The viewer may believe that both of these medical unprofessionalism cases, that go against the seventh fundamental responsibility of a doctor, actually happens in our real-life hospitals. This could lead to a long-term trust issue between the patient who is constantly suspecting the doctor of unprofessionalism, not being able to trust him/her completely, and the real-life doctor.

Also, a medical student and faculty directors from the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics analyze the two seasons of the show Grey's Anatomy and House M.D. for bioethical and professionalism issues (Nauert). They notice 179 depictions of bioethical issues in the first two seasons of the shows (Nauert). Out of the 49 ethical incidents of informed consent, only 43 percent are judged "exemplary consent discussions" by the analysts (Nauert). Moreover, 22 incidents are qualified as "ethically questionable departures from standard practice" (Nauert) since they depict doctors endangering patients for their personal reasons. The worst part is that in 18 out of these 22 incidents, the doctor implicated is not penalized (Nauert). This goes against the third General Responsibility (under Responsibilities to the Patient) of a doctor, which is to "not exploit patients for personal advantage" (Blevins).

In a word, I am against the broadcasting of hospital dramas, such as Grey's Anatomy and House M.D., since the current stories presented have a negative impact on the viewers. That is why I believe that the writers of the shows should take that into consideration, and make sure that the characters in the shows abide by the CMA Code of Ethics.

Works Cited

Blevins, Dallas R. "CMA: A PROFESSIONAL DESIGNATION FOR PROFESSORS AND STUDENTS OF MANAGERIAL FINANCE." Journal of Financial Education     No. 17 (1988): 39-43. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Ho, Anita. "Q&A on Medical Ethics." School of Population and Public Health SPPH. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Nauert, Rick. "Ethical Failures Found on 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'House'" LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 30 Mar. 2010. Web. 02 Apr. 2015.

White, Nancy J. "Grey's Anatomy, House Present Skewed Ethics | Toronto Star." Thestar.com. N.p., 31 Mar. 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.


Even though facts are facts and I cannot possibly argue them, I am hesitant not to rebuttal to this post because I believe that this shows are being brought up in the wrong light. Let me just put something out there before I begin; these shows that are mentioned are classified as TV Dramas not Reality TV shows. With this being said, I think that the whole idea of having these shows abide by the CMA Code of Ethics is a little far fetched. Let me explain... TV shows out there that fall into this Drama category have some realistic aspects and far more unrealistic aspects, as mentioned; thus why not considered Reality TV. Let me give an example from another type of show. Take any CSI, NCIS or cop show and we could quickly realize that there comes a time in certain situations where a cop must draw his/her weapon. Do these moments directly align with reality? Absolutely not. This is why the realization of the audience’s summum bonum is the only realistic aspects to these DRAMA shows. Having a bunch of sound effects go off, a bunch of actors rush in and try to “save” another actor while he/she is “kicking the bucket” on this “OR table” keeps viewers alert and on their toes while watching there shows. To finish off, I believe that these shows should be able to be written and acted as the creator wishes, which obviously is filtered by the network, and not have to deal with ethical guidelines like the CMA. These types of shows are designed to hook viewers through their characters and their stories, which provide the viewer with what they want to see.

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