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03/28/2010

Bioethics on TV: Watch What Dr. House Does and Do The Exact Opposite.

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As previously published in the December 2008 issue of The American Journal of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins researchers Czarny et al told us that medical and nursing students watch television medical dramas in droves (almost 80% of them) and are exposed to moral dilemmas in those dramas that way.

But to our shock, how the characters in those dramas handle those moral problems is more than a little disappointing. Not only are the docs (and nurses) in shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House M.D. faced with moral problems, they often create them. And when they are in the midst of these problems, they often do the wrong thing.

At least the wrongdoing, in most cases, is directed toward other doctors, says the latest Czarny study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Most of the time, TV doctor respect people’s wishes and get their informed consent for procedures, says L.A. Times’ Booster Shots.

So the take home lesson here for the 80% of medical and nursing students watching these medical dramas? Enjoy them for their entertainment value, not for the lessons they teach about medical professionalism or ethics. That is unless you take pretty much everything you see Dr. House do with his colleagues and most of his patients and then understand that you should almost always do the opposite.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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