What Is The Most Medically Accurate TV Show?

I always nominate a two shows: MASH from the operating theatre perspective and Scrubs for the best overall realism (yes, realism!) in Intensive Care.

I have been a nurse for 14 years now in Theatre and Intensive Care. I don’t watch many medical shows as I get paid for that kind of thing, you just want to leave work at work (people never get this bit – have I seen this show or that show – probably not).

I knew of a doctor who worked on a locally produced medical drama. They’d ask him to nominate a particular procedure/condition that would fit with the story line. Then he’d stand by and watch as the producers/scriptwriters would change fundamental aspects of his input for dramatic effect. It’s hard to respect that kind of TV show, and when you see those kind of changes it’s kind of hard to keep watching.

A big example of this (without giving everyone an education into two specialist areas of healthcare) is when a patient on a TV show is INVOLVED in the drama – you get the patients fears, thoughts, love and wise words for the forlorn or over involved staff member. Some of the ways TV staff get involved can actually be illegal or unethical and subject to sanction by professional or licensing authorities. Great way to lose your job (and ruins your plots for future episodes!)

In the big metropolitan ICU I work, we rarely get to speak to our patients – not a ‘conversation’ anyway ( because of airway tubes and ventilators), and except for our long term tracheostomy patients, it is rarer still to get to know them. We communicate with our trachy patients by lip reading (it takes practice) and charades (most are too weak to write clearly). You can get to know people but we try to keep them socialised not institutionalised – we want them to go back to their lives. TV seems to be the other way round. As it is, most of our our long termers need to be reassured that the rest of the hospital knows what they’re doing – they get quite dependant on the feeling of safety from 1 on 1 nursing. It can be harder still to reassure the relatives!

We do experience our patients through their family and friends. Given it’s often a life threatening experience for our patients, it’s rare to hear anything bad about anyone. I’m realistic and know I’ve looked after some ratbags (or scum and villainy- to quote the wise man.)

We get prisoners with prison guard escorts (and the occasional escape) but most of us never want to know what a prisoner patient has done (I tell myself it’s fraud – if the guards are armed then it’s tax fraud), so we don’t ask. Our professional requirements don’t allow us to judge our patients or change our care, so it’s easier not to know.

Family members pick a number on a monitor and focus on that, and some go and talk to Doctor Google and think they have the answers. Others point all information to a nurse friend or family member who (as an insider into healthcare) just wants to be a friend or family member. Lots of friends and family refer to TV shows as a touchstone “I saw this in House/on ER/Chicago Hope/etc” and then refuse to see the uniqueness of their own situation – “it’ll go how it went in that neat hour long episode and we’ll all learn something”.

All of this can provide drama enough. I had to leave for six months and get counselling related to my experiences in my current job (I’m back now). I’ve known nurses to leave the profession for similar experiences. I can’t talk about them to my colleagues (who all understand anyway).

Unfortunately, it’s hard to translate that into a TV drama. People want details, but don’t need those kind of details. So that doesn’t make for good TV.

There is a succinct example of why it’s MASH and Scrubs that get all the of the everyday workplace experiences right. I’ve never yelled at the TV when those shows are on. I can watch them over and over and tellingly, I still cry at the episodes that remind me of my own experiences – the everyday cycle of life and death they show, and the staff using all the skills they have to do a job that is just not in most people’s idea of normal experience. Especially if they get their ideas from any other medical show I’ve ever seen.



This post originally appeared on Quora.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s