Opinion: Do Medical Teleivision Shows Teach Or Confuse?

In the past few months I have been had first hand experience at being a patient advocate for my husband. We are fans of the television show “House,” a show one nurse in the ICU unit told me to not watch until life was saner. I listened to that advice.

Still I am glad I had some of the knowledge of a hospital setting prior to the insanity that is ICU.

The latest issue of American Journal of Bioethicsjust released a study on the effects of watching medical dramas on the ethical reasoning of medical and nursing students. The study was the result of research done at Johns Hopkins. Science Blogs reported on the study showed that there are pluses and minuses for those students that view these types of shows.

Television medical dramas frequently depict the practice of medicine and bioethical issues in a strikingly realistic but sometimes inaccurate fashion. Because these shows depict medicine so vividly and are so relevant to the career interests of medical and nursing students, they may affect these students’ beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions regarding the practice of medicine and bioethical issues. We conducted a web-based survey of medical and nursing students to determine the medical drama viewing habits and impressions of bioethical issues depicted in them. More than 80% of medical and nursing students watch television medical dramas. Students with more clinical experience tended to have impressions that were more negative than those of students without clinical experience. Furthermore, viewing of television medical dramas is a social event and many students discuss the bioethical issues they observe with friends and family. Television medical dramas may stimulate students to think about and discuss bioethical issues.

Another recent study by Kirby Goidel and Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D of the School of Communication at American University was published last year in the Public Understanding of Science showed that viewers of science fiction shows were more supportive of therapeutic cloning research than those who watched other genre of television.

That study and the one by Johns Hopkins show that rather than turning their viewers away from controversial biomedical research it may open the door for moral debates on ethical questions.

The study by Nisbet and Goidel even leads to the theory that television shows centering on science fiction and medicine could be added to the general curricula.

Yet the nursing staff disagrees family members with patients in acute care from watching such shows.

The staff is partly correct on this matter. True recovery in acute situations is not a quick process like it is on House or Grey’s Anatomy. Weeks, even months pass as a patient recovers. Television shows give an unrealistic time frame when it comes to recovery.

Still there is something to be said for having some basic knowledge of the equipment and the science involved in patient care. Shows that focus on teaching hospitals give a realistic view of rounds and studies that are ongoing. By being slightly familar with the ways of a hospital the environment is not as frightening. Knowing that an advocate does have the right to know what is going on and being aware enough to question is a good thing.

Watching medical dramas by no means makes one educated enough to do the work of the staff in a hospital. It can however give one the knowledge to understand what is going on in a crazed time. A little knowledge can be powerful.

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