Thoughts and insights from medical students
Lessons Learned from Medical TV Dramas: House
Medics can be divided into two groups: those who, after a long day on the wards or in lectures, want nothing more than to unwind at home and do anything other than medicine; and those who for some bizarre reason, like watching shows that imitate our lives (albeit a bit more ridiculous and exciting), such as House, Scrubs, Casualty, ER, Grey’s anatomy, etc. I fall into the latter; my infatuation with the medical television show began in 1st year, when I correctly guessed the diagnosis of one of House’s patients, as it happened to be some bizarre metabolic abnormality I’d learnt about in a lecture that week. Four years on and a few correct diagnoses later (it makes me feel better to know that House and his team always gets it wrong at least twice each episode), I’ve decided to compile a list of what I have actually learnt from watching House.
1. Fact: romantic relationships with your fellow medical colleagues will be discussed in intricate detail by all of your co-workers. Take Cameron and Chase; 13 and Foreman; House and Cuddy; House and Wilson (ok, scrap that last one!) The message is clear; relationships in a medical environment can be difficult, because apart from the fact that you see your partner for hours a day in a hospital (probably one of the most unromantic venues ever- lots of ill people, unflattering lighting), everyone you work with will know that you are dating and will be constantly analysing your every conversation, action, and smile, to be used for coffee break gossip. Just be grateful that your boss is not House, planning elaborate traps to ruin your relationship and embarrass you.
2. It can be tricky being a disabled doctor, but it shouldn’t be. One issue that I find really interesting about the complex character of House is that he blames a lot of his problems on his injured leg, and thinks that patients treat him differently because he isn’t physically perfect. That made me think about how we as medics we view our profession, and how patients view us. The paternalistic view of medicine sees the doctor as wise, superior and I suppose that impression involves us being physically less vulnerable, because we are supposed to be able to ‘master’ disease. I’m glad we’re moving away from that attitude towards doctors being considered as knowledgeable advisors. It puts less pressure on us to feel we have to be superhuman, and allows us to be comfortable discussing our own ailments such as injuries, alcohol problems and depression without any stigma.
3. Being the smartest person in the class does not necessarily make you the best doctor. House is brilliant; he always works out incredibly complicated diagnoses that no other doctors can. He loves the puzzle, and is really good at the science of medicine. But would you want him treating you? We all know that doctors need to have an excellent bed-side manner and good ethics to be able to practice efficiently, and for me, House really brings this point home.
4. Know the limits of your competence: there are certain people you just shouldn’t treat. In one episode, House and Cuddy, whilst dating, treat Cuddy’s mother. Needless to say, it does not end well (she tries to sue the hospital). In another, House treats his ex-wife’s new husband. You may feel, that like House, you’re the best person for the job, but if you can’t face up to treating someone because a problem is too close to home or you can’t cope with it, refer them on.
5. However many times you say vasculitis in a differential diagnosis, it rarely is. Ok, this may not be an important lesson, but is it just me who notices that vasculitis is always in their differential discussions, and never, never, ever (ok, once), happens to be the diagnosis?!?
So, I like to feel that the many hours I’ve spent watching House may have taught me a thing or two. I may not have improved my diagnostic skills to House-worthy standards, but I have learnt some important life lessons, and the programme has made me consider some tricky ethical issues. Please comment below if you have any other pearls of wisdom acquired from House.
Thanks for reading,