Feature Christmas 2014: Media studies

Healer, dealer, heart stealer: portrayals of the doctor in popular music

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g7179 (Published 11 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7179
  1. Rob Stepney1,
  2. freelance medical writer,
  3. Nick Surawy Stepney, third year medical student2
  1. 1Charlbury OX7 3HJ, UK
  2. 2University of Manchester M13 9PL, UK
  1. Correspondence to: R Stepney walcot2{at}freenetname.co.uk

Doctors are often subjects in songs. Rob Stepney and Nick Surawy Stepney look at how they are portrayed

Typing “doctor + lyrics” into a well known search engine retrieved 8.4 million results—far more than the 1.3 million hits generated by a similar search involving “lawyer,” for example. Doctors are intimately involved in our lives from birth until death, so it is perhaps not surprising that musicians are interested in them.

The portrayal of doctors in popular music is revealing and varied. In Goodness Gracious Me, Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers sing of a doctor who has innocently stolen his patient’s heart. By contrast, in One of Us Cannot be Wrong, Leonard Cohen’s doctor has a lustful obsession with the love life of his patient. A New York physician noted for supplying amphetamines is the subject of Dr Robert by the Beatles,1 and The Rolling Stones’ Dear Doctor concerns a request—made less than a year after the first such transplant—for a surgeon to replace the singer’s heart.

In 2012 the Guardian’s music blog asked readers to recommend songs about doctors.2 Although contributors were not necessarily representative of the wider population, the list was probably compiled by people unconnected with the medical profession. The blog provided a degree of objectivity and a more manageable volume of material than that generated by an internet search.

A preliminary assessment of the songs in the blog, supplemented by our own knowledge, suggested three themes: the doctor as provider of illicit drugs; other forms of unprofessional conduct, typically sexual involvement with patients; and doctors in their caring role—either literally, or metaphorically as healers of love sickness and broken hearts. The first 75 songs on the list …

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