Thursday, March 22, 2007

IC Column: Grey's Anatomy All that Medicine is Not

I've finally done it. After many failed attempts, I gave up "Grey's Anatomy." My unsuccess in ridding myself of this overtly-sexualized-version of the television show ER is certainly not for lack of trying. It's just that for the longest time, I felt compelled to watch because "all my friends do" or for "educational purposes." I am in medical school, after all.

Some of my colleagues might balk at such a justification, but deep down all of us know that some of what we learn in medical school is about as relevant to medicine as this week's "Grey's." Don't worry, future patients - we're smarter than medical school thinks we are.

At any rate, the event that precipitated my liberation was nothing less than "Grey's" itself. The fact is the show has become completely unbelievable. And, as Mark Twain observed, the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction must be absolutely believable. "Grey's Anatomy" is a patronizing travesty of to what I've dedicated my life. If "Grey's" represents the goal of all this, then the ridiculous amount of hours I lost to the Beast, affectionately known by the name Gross Anatomy, seems for naught.

Yes, yes I know. One must go into it with an open mind and not expect to view "real medicine." Granted.

No doubt, "real medicine" is too frightening, confusing and unbearable for the masses to handle. That's why not everyone is a doctor. The simple fact is, however, that television shows and pop culture images such as those in "Grey's" do a great disservice to the profession.

The problem is not with the glamorization of medicine, for idealizing anything necessarily involves gilding it with elements which are not natural to it. The problem is with its implicit, and sometimes explicit, presuppositions about the nature of the medical profession. The characters in "Grey's" are not in medicine for their patients, (or any higher good so far as I can see) but for themselves.

Nevertheless, in the real world, every single person who gets in to medical school rephrases and means the words "I want to help people" during their interview. Otherwise, they don't get in. This is because the profession values selflessness and does its best to admit into its hallowed ranks only those people who display a certain minimal measure of altruism.

An example: in one episode, an orthopedic resident excuses herself from an operation in order to be "with her boyfriend" who is having difficulty dealing with his father's mortality.


True, doctors are people too, but when a person has placed themselves in your hands, expecting you to take care of them, you leave personal feelings behind you and treat the patient despite your own anger, frustration, sadness, depression etc. If not, then you don't deserve to be in medicine.

Another example, or really a few examples:, is that each of the characters is involved in some kind of complex, ridiculous relationship headed nowhere, and no one seems to mind.

One day Meredith is sleeping with her married attending. The next she is sleeping with her fellow intern and then sleeping with a veterinarian. The various sexual-relations permutations are mind-boggling throughout the show. Besides, would you want someone with as much insecurity and emotional baggage as Meredith Grey to operate on you? No.

Just imagine the indecision and unconfidence on the operating table. "Should I make the incision? No. Maybe he really doesn't have internal bleeding, and the car that struck him was only going five mph. Does the anesthesiologist know what she's doing? I think my butt looks too big in these scrubs. Is that dashing medical student ogling me from the surgery gallery and …." Flatline sound.

A final example: Remember the Hippocratic Oath? Because I do. It says, "Whatever house I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons."

You just can't have sexual relations with patients. It's not right. But one character goes so far as to get "engaged" to a patient, and while he's being treated for heart problems to boot! Can you imagine the exploitation that would take place, if medical ethics were defined by "Grey's Anatomy?" It's a disturbing picture.

What scares me is that, while the show is presently unbelievable. What happens when tomorrow's doctors (my fellow students) make it believable? That is something I don't care to think about.
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