ER ruined it all. When I went to medical school, ER was in its prime. I remember in college, people would get together on Thursday nights to watch it. It was a social event, more so than Desperate Housewives could ever hope to be. It was big.
And as any doctor my age can tell you, it ruined the field of emergency medicine. There was a glut of ER applicants, and it quickly became highly competitive, a field that became a separate specialty relatively recently.
And as you might imagine, for every one emergency medicine applicant for residency, there were 10 bitter pre-meds that didn't get in, and missed on their chance to be Dr. Ross or Dr. Greene or Carter. It was a rough time getting into med school when I was applying, with the average rate being somewhere around 1 spot for every 8 or 9 applicants throughout the Midwest.
The problem is, as anyone that's worked in an ER can tell you, the show is nothing like a real ER. There is none of that drama and tension and romance and horror. ER is not real. The #1 question I was always asked was, "What's it like to work in the hospital. Is it like ER?" It was such an absurd question.
Now I see it again with Grey's Anatomy. It's so ridiculous. People watch it and think that life is really like that, as if being a doctor is somehow so automatically dramatic. And I'm always asked now if I watch Grey's Anatomy, and is it really like that to be a resident.
I think if you took a poll among doctors, we as a group tend towards Scrubs. When I saw this show, I felt a real connection. I didn't start watching until my clinicals, and after watching episodes on breaking bad news and patients dying and bad outcomes, I was instantly enthralled, because that was me. I was the person telling Mrs B that her cancer had returned. I was the one holding Mr H's hand when he found out that he needed a bypass surgery. I was the one offering tissues to the family of Ms S as they found out she'd died.
Through all the humor and flashbacks and weird characters, far more surreal than any of the other medical dramas, it actually ended up far more realistic. It didn't shy away from laughing at disease. It didn't hide from medicine destroying our personal lives. It was honest.
I would watch a show like ER and it would pick up on all the bad things in medicine. It was all codes and crash surgeries and everything horrible. But I could come home and watch Scrubs, and it was healing. It was like sitting in the resident lounge, talking about my patient that died and how she never got to finish her needlepoint of her favorite NASCAR driver's car, and getting a cheap laugh. JD would realize something, and I knew it too.
Nowadays, even Scrubs has departed from this coveted status. The only medical show I watch now is House, because I enjoy the diagnostic challenge. Honestly, Erdheim-Chester? C'mon. That's awesome. But if you were to ask me what TV shows a young and budding pre-med should watch, I'd say the early seasons of Scrubs, and maybe St. Elsewhere. That's what feels right to me.