For better or worse, the public image of American doctors is forever linked to the portrayal of docs on prime time television shows.
For better or worse, the public image of American doctors is forever linked to the portrayal of docs on prime time television shows. On ensemble doc shows from "St. Elsewhere" to "Grey's Anatomy" and physician superstar shows from "Marcus Welby, MD" to "House," the life and work of doctors has been dramatized beyond recognition. But why not just embrace it and enjoy the show? Over the years, there have been a host of great physician characters to root for. Here's a list of our favorites.
Known for his loud sweaters and eccentric dance moves, Cliff Huxtable was a caring father and dedicated OB/GYN. Played by Bill Cosby, the hoagie-loving Huxtable often delivered sage advice to his children and patients from his basement home office in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.
Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce
Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda, was the lead character of "M*A*S*H." As an Army surgeon during the Korean War, Pierce saw his share of critically wounded patients, but also found time for some pranks and shenanigans to balance out the tragedy around him.
Everyone's favorite hospital misanthrope, House is a brilliant chief of diagnostic medicine with a penchant for unorthodox approaches and radical treatments. Played by Hugh Laurie, House stubbornly refuses to let compassion cloud his objective diagnostic skills, but struggles to do the same in personal relationships.
At 16, Douglas “Doogie” Howser was a fresh-faced boy genius who endeared us with his struggle to be accepted by his fellow surgeons as well as his high school peers. Starring Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie, each episode ended with Howser typing out brief yet insightful journal entries against a backdrop of memorable synthesizer music.
Leonard "Bones" McCoy
As physician aboard the USS Enterprise, Bones McCoy took the doctor's role to new heights, err, galaxies. Played by DeForest Kelley in the original "Star Trek" series, McCoy was the moral compass of the show, acting as a confidant to Captain Kirk and steward of passionately doing the right thing. Perhaps the most quoted of TV docs, he's responsible for "He's dead, Jim," and "I'm a doctor, not a(n)…"
Michaela "Mike" Quinn
Living in the post-Civil War West, Dr. Mike was a pioneer literally and figuratively, battling rattlesnake bites, social issues, and misogynistic prejudices alike on the drama "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." Played by Jane Seymour, Quinn strove to have it all - a successful practice, adoring family, and respect.
Nearly 40 years after the hit drama aired, Marcus Welby endures as the iconic image of the old-school paternalistic family practitioner. The caring and no-nonsense Welby, played by Robert Young, made house calls and had endless amounts of time for his patients - a hard act to live up to in today’s reality.
Part of the ensemble cast of the long-running "ER," George Clooney's Doug Ross was the show's early star. Despite being a womanizing heartthrob with a troubled past, Ross endeared himself to viewers and fictional colleagues alike by being an ER pediatrician who would go to any length to help a patient.
John "J.D." Dorian
Played by Zach Braff, John "J.D." Dorian was a loveable intern, then resident, then attending on the comedy-drama "Scrubs." Prone to vivid daydreaming, petty battles with the janitor, and cheeky voiceover narration, J.D. was goofy and insecure, but showed surprising skill and heart as a doctor.
Admittedly, Leo Spaceman is a questionable character for this list, but the incompetent and unethical doc on "30 Rock" does offer some comic relief. Played by "SNL's" Chris Parnell, Spaceman (pronounced “Sp’chemen”) is a first-rate quack - afraid of needles, prescribing crystal meth for weight loss, and calling 411 rather than 911.
Abigail Beckel is managing editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara Michael is editorial director for Diagnostic Imaging. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Physicians Practice.