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Medicine in Media

For most of my life, everything I knew about medicine, I learned from M*A*S*H. This mostly involved triaging fictional war wounds and distilling gin, so there wasn’t much I could apply to my life in elementary school. In middle school, I was introduced to E.R., and that was where my education really began. E.R. was the first media that very frankly discussed safe sex, drug use, HIV, AIDS, homelessness, and medical subspecialties. A lot of issues that had been subtext in M*A*S*H, like racism in medical practice, were text in E.R. The natural successor to E.R. is, of course, Grey’s Anatomy, whose creator Shonda Rhimes has made empathetic hospital drama a high art form.


Dozens of women line a hospital hallway in support of a sexual assault survivor who is being wheeled on a gurney to the OR.

image source:×640.jpg

[Dozens of women line a hospital hallway in support of a sexual assault survivor who is being wheeled on a gurney to the OR.]


Realism aside, popular media portrayals of medicine influence what we learn about health, build empathy, and instill preconceptions about what our doctors do, how they should act, and who they are. They humanize patients and healthcare providers and try to tell important truths about our systems of care, the experience of being ill, and death.

[Still photo from the set of M*A*S*H. Corporal Radar hides behind Major Nurse Houlihan who hides behind Captain Dr. Pierce.]


Media is a powerful tool at our disposal. It is both a source of education for patients and providers as well as an important reflection of social norms. For example, there were no regular cast members of color on M*A*S*H, but the first season of E.R. included Dr. Peter Benton (played by Eriq La Salle), and the top billed actors of color on season one of Grey’s Anatomy include Dr. Miranda Bailey, Dr. Richard Webb, Dr. Preston Burke, and Dr. Christina Yang. And ultimately, media is a form of entertainment! Very few of us were watching George Clooney’s debut as Dr. Ross for tips on pediatric medicine.


The Media and Medicine guide has been compiled with all of this in mind. It includes links to literature, graphic novels, podcasts, and social media accounts. The goal is to provide the user with options to educate herself or connect others with resources. As always, you can reach out to your library staff for more suggestions!

[Dr. Doug Ross and Nurse Carol Hathaway kiss in the break room of the E.R. set.]