so why do you want to be a doctor? (revisited)

Well, because I can do completely unethical things like fall in love with a patient and then proceed to cause him harm (ultimately resulting in his death) with no consideration at all for all of the colleagues that I selfishly dragged into the mess in the process and still be a doctor, of course!

Did that sound just a bit wacky there? Well, it is exactly what Grey's Anatomy is telling us. And, yes, of course, I know…it’s TV—they’re supposed to stretch things a bit. But when such a show is causing our young impressionable youth to consider medical careers, I would hope that they would be a little more careful. But then of course, being careful never did bring in the ratings, right?

For the two of you out there who do not watch this show, here’s a little recap of what’s happened: Denny is a patient who needs a heart transplant because of a cardiomyopathy. Izzie (one of the interns) is assigned to his case and proceeds to fall in love with him. After coming thisclose to getting a heart, he disappeared for awhile only to return in slightly worse shape, requiring the use of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) as a bridge to transplant. Conveniently enough, once the device is implanted, Denny has to stay in the hospital until he gets his transplant, which leads Izzie to fall further in love with him, so much so that when a heart does become available but is assigned to someone else who beat Denny onto the transplant list by only a second or so, Izzie purposely cuts Denny’s LVAD wire so that his condition would deteriorate and therefore take priority over the other person. In the mess that ensues, all of the other interns and even the attending cardiothoracic surgeon become involved and Denny gets his new heart only to die from a stroke caused by a clot that broke off from his sutures. Oh yeah, right after he wakes up from his transplant and before he dies, Denny proposes to Izzie and she accepts. Izzie cannot deal with his death and quits the program after admitting to the Chief that she was the one who cut his LVAD wire.

And really, it should have ended there because what Izzie did was so horribly unethical that there was no way she should have been allowed to continue had she even wanted to. I literally squirmed during the episodes where they showed her falling more and more in love with Denny and jumped off the couch and shrieked in disbelief when she cut his LVAD wire and when everyone on the team proceeded to help her cover it up after they found out. I was glad she quit. But this is TV, so it was inevitable that they would bring her back somehow. And that they did, by spending several episodes focusing on her moping around being an attention whore because her fiancé died because she cut his LVAD wire. Then her resident convinces the Chief to let her come back by effectively taking a good share of the blame for what happened, but she still dilly dallies for more dramatic effect until the Chief himself has a talk with her, telling her that he also made a mistake as an intern that resulted in his patient’s death. Uh, hello! Cutting an LVAD wire is NOT a mistake! So, Izzie finally rejoins the program and her punishment includes counseling as well as community service and not being allowed to have anything to do with patients until she can prove that she won’t get too involved with her patients again (now that’s an understatement). It also includes shadowing a different colleague each day. Last week’s episode had her shadowing super-bubbly-annoying resident who took over when her resident went on maternity leave. When the resident tried to get her to talk about Denny as part of her counseling, Izzie blew up at her and ran off. Instead of realizing how wrong she was to do such a thing when she doesn’t even deserve to be there in the first place, she just sulks until the super-bubbly-annoying resident sought her out and confided that she lost a pediatric patient as an intern too.

What bothers me besides the fact that Izzie should have never been allowed back into the program (or any other program for that matter) is the fact that everyone keeps comparing what she did to some mistake or other they made during their training. It’s NOT the same. Doctors make mistakes and those mistakes sometimes harm patients. But purposely cutting someone’s LVAD wire is NOT a mistake—it was a selfish act that was done because she fell in love with her patient and wanted him to be better because of her personal feelings for him. And then after they let her back into the program, she acts like a complete snob, avoiding counseling and breaking rules when she should be groveling to prove that she deserves this extraordinary second chance that she’s been given. Is this what we want our future doctors to believe? That it’s okay to fall in love with patients and do actual physical harm to them without much punishment at all? Then why do medical schools put us through the torture of ethics classes? I know that modern medical TV shows portray more of the flawed human side of doctors, but do they really have to perpetuate the idea that grossly unethical actions go essentially unpunished? I already found some of the ethics of my classmates to be lacking, but how much more will the ethics of our future students be eroded because they have been exposed to TV shows that make them think that it’s okay to be unethical?

And yes, I know, perhaps I take it all too seriously, but I can’t help it because I’ve had way too many cousins-in-law, brothers-in-law, and other high school (their parents let them watch such things?!) and college kids telling me that these TV shows make them want to be doctors to ignore the grossly inaccurate aspects of the career that these shows perpetuate.

Oh, and since all the blame can’t be placed on Grey’s Anatomy, I cover the same sort of issue with the current House versus Cop storyline in this post.

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  1. the doctor will sleep with you nowAm I the only one who found Wilson’s having slept with his cancer patient (on House) particularly disturbing? Sure, I realize that it happens. But Wilson?! And with a terminal patient? That just seems extra wrong because it reeks of taking advantage of somebody at their most vulnerable. Is the sense of closeness that develops between a cancer patient and their oncologist any basis for a meaningful relationship? It doesn’t seem likely to me. What’s left for the patient when the doctor tires of her? Wilson’s cancer patient conveniently found a new lease on life so we can assume that she was okay. But what happens in real life? I’m sure the consequences are much more devastating. And then there’s Izzie and Denny on Grey’s Anatomy, where she has so clearly shown that her ability to make unbiased-by-personal-feelings judgments has been severely compromised by her amorous feelings for her patient (yes, I realize that's a huge understatement). Everyone saw what was going on before it came down to its disastrous conlusion. Yet everyone did nothing. How can this be the case when the AMA has clear guidelines regarding sexual misconduct? Whose job is it to make sure these guidelines are followed? Well, I guess it wouldn't have been any fun if the romance had been nipped in the bud on Grey's Anatomy.  But I still think that they went too far in portraying such a thing in the first place.  I know, I know.  Doctors are flawed.  But I sincerely...
  2. who needs a doctor anymore……when all I have to do is use Google? I’m just waiting for my mother-in-law and/or sister-in-law to tell me that and insinuate that it means even less to them now that I’m going to be a doctor since Google can do my job. I can just see my sister-in-law sticking her nose up in the air at me now. My job’s better than yours because Google can’t do it for me (oh, but it can—Google can do everything). It’s already bad enough that patients like my mother-in-law don’t trust doctors—do we have to really make it worse by making it widely known that sometimes, we need to use Google? Really, I’m fine with using Google to look up stuff, even medical stuff, which I was guilty of from time to time during my first two years of med school. But does everyone have to know? I know, I know—patients these days are more informed than ever before. And I’m fine with that. Really, I am. That is, if these patients have enough sense to realize that their internet searches cannot replace all the years of medical training that doctors have received as well as all their years of experience. And my mother-in-law is not one of those people. People like her will turn this study into leverage against doctors when they don’t tell them what they want to hear and every argument otherwise (like the fact that Google wasn’t very good at getting the diagnoses if the symptoms were...
  3. izzie isn’t the only thing grey’s anatomy gets wrongI've written more than once (here and here) about how Grey's Anatomy has things all wrong when it comes to portraying young surgeons.  And my biggest problem in those posts was their whole Izzie falling in love with a patient storyline.  Well, that's not the only thing wrong with Grey's Anatomy.  I've completely neglected the other major plot that's playing out this season: the Christina and Burke story.To summarize, at the end of last season, Burke gets shot while going back to Seattle Grace to check on Denny (thanks to Izzie) and has surgery to remove the bullet and repair the damage.  Of course, he was shot in a bad place, making it possible that he would never regain function of his right arm/hand.  The beginning of this season shows him struggling to regain function as he suffers from persistent and unpredictable hand tremors.  Both he and Christina cannot accept that he may no longer be able to be the God of cardiothoracic surgery and through her pressuring him and his own lack of balls to stand up to her, they form a team in which she is always by his side as he operates so that she can take over the instant there is a hint of a tremor.This plot was annoying because as much as I like Christina because she is most like me, they take her whole not-being-quite-human flaws a little too far by having her refusal to accept that Burke was not better lead her to...

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2 Responses to “so why do you want to be a doctor? (revisited)”

  1. 1 rumorsweretrue

    There is an episode of Scrubs where a favorite patient of Dr. Cox is finally able to receive a liver transplant and Turk (the surgical intern) is involved with the case. The patient is incredibly happy, celebrating with his family in his hospital room, and Turk sees that he has a glass of champagne. For those awaiting liver transplants, alcohol is strictly forbidden. Turk denies the patient the transplant in what at first glance is an incredibly harsh and unforgiving move. Dr. Cox disagrees and is ready to go to war over this favorite patient, but eventually (with the audience) comes to realize that Turk was right. When the stakes are so high there is no tolerance. For such a silly show, it consistently delivers the correct message where so many other shows balk.

    Thanks for writing this, topher.

  2. 2 mylifemypace

    Oh yeah! I remember that episode! Maybe I should write about how some shows actually get it right for a change…..

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