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Monday, October 21st 2013

Neurosurgery Makes For Drama

I’m sure that homicide detectives watch Law & Order and cringe or that White House or congressional staff watch The West Wing and are put off. Same for some doctors and nurses and other health care professionals. Some medical dramas (and comedies) get it better than others but some are downright gut wrenching to watch.

I obviously have a particularly hard time suspending my disbelief when a show depicts a neurosurgeon.

That seems to happen a lot. Surgeons in general seem to get a lot of focus in medical daramas. In particular it would seem to me the neurosurgeon, cardiac surgeon and plastic surgeon. Despite the fact that neurosurgeons only comprise perhaps half a percentage of all U.S. physicians I’ve come up with at least five shows that have a lead as a neurosurgeon that have premiered in the last five years. It is a mixed bag to say the least.

Here is the ridiculous first scene from the, rightfully, canceled show Do No Harm.

What’s interesting is that this show was a retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and hardly a traditional medical drama.

Here is the quality, and sadly ended, Monday Mornings based on Sanjay Gupta’s book of the same name.

Another interesting drama to find a (former) neurosurgeon in is the crime procedural Body of Proof.

And let’s not forget that Jack Shephard on Lost is portrayed as following in his father’s footsteps as a neurosurgeon.

Back to recent more traditional depictions of neurosurgeons in a medical environment we find the short lived 3 lbs and the British House, MD knock off, Monroe.

And of course there is the classic show currently carrying the medical drama torch, Grey’s Anatomy.

And while the number of medical dramas, including the number featuring neurosurgeons, has grown recently the specialty has long held a special place on television it would appear. Consider the 1975 NBC drama Doctors’ Hospital. Here is NBC’s promo for the 1975-76 fall line up, including that show.

The brain has a special place in culture and the idea of operating there holds a certain mystique and provides for acuity and drama. But its more than just the activity of the surgery. Neurosurgeons in particular seem to be players in shows that are more than traditional medical dramas.

There are, to be fair, plenty of examples of other archetypes of physicians portrayed beyond classical medical dramas/comedies. The physician in non-medical sitcoms is easy to think of. For example Frasier or Northern Exposure or Arrested Development or more recently, The Mindy Project. I’m having a harder time thinking of dramatic representations of non-neurosurgeon physicians outside the clinical setting. Perhaps the psychiatrist working with police? But even that is them clinically practicing their specialty.

You should post a comment if you can think of a non-medical drama featuring a physician or former physician.

I think the neurosurgeon appears to hold a special place in drama. I think that’s because in making a drama giving your character a backstory as a neurosurgeon achieves some immediate things. The people who would dare, or achieve, to operate on the brain make for interesting characters who are automatically endued with accomplishment, intelligence and perhaps ego and a rough character. Whether those perceptions are accurate is another thing but there’s no doubt the audience has specific stereotypes of a neurosurgeon. The audience automatically understands something of Megan Hunt or even of Jack Shephard based on the given past as that of talented neurosurgeons.

Such displays probably only reenforce our own egos as surgeons. And sometimes the stylization can be hard to watch.

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