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Doctors in the movies
  1. G Flores
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr G Flores
    Center for the Advancement of Urban Children, Department of Pediatrics, Medical College of Wisconsin, 8701 Watertown Plank Rd, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA; gfloresmail.mcw.edu

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Healers, heels, and Hollywood

The world continues to have a passion for movies. Moviegoers worldwide spent $20.3 billion and purchased 8.6 billion admission tickets to see films in 2003.1 2002 was a record breaking year at the UK box office, with 176 million cinema admissions, £755 million in total box office receipts, and 369 films released.2 In the USA in 2003, there were 1.6 billion cinema admissions, $9.5 billion in box office receipts, 473 films released, and home entertainment sales to dealers of 1.1 billion DVDs and 294 million video cassettes.3

Movies have a powerful influence on popular culture, due to their international popularity, easy accessibility, and profitability as an industry. Cinematic depictions of doctors thus have the potential to affect public expectations and the doctor-patient relationship. In a 2002 paper, I conducted an in-depth analysis of the portrayal of doctors in the movies, reviewing 131 films from nine countries spanning eight decades.4 Key findings from this research included: (1) compassion and idealism were common in early doctor movie portrayals but have become increasingly scarce in recent decades; (2) since the 1960s, positive doctor portrayals declined while negative portrayals increased; (3) doctors frequently are depicted as greedy, egotistical, uncaring, and unethical, especially in recent films; (4) a recurrent theme is the “mad scientist”, the doctor-researcher who values research more than patients’ welfare; (5) because negative portrayals of doctors are on the rise, patients’ expectation and the doctor-patient relationship may be adversely affected; and (6) films about doctors can serve as useful gauges of public opinion and tools for medical education. The aim of this paper is to use this extensive database, supplemented by several more recent films, to explore selected key themes about the portrayal of doctors in the movies. In contrast to the prior paper, …

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