Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2020: Dr Kildare

Fictional doctors who inspire

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4672 (Published 01 December 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4672
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ
  1. Correspondence to: arimmer{at}bmj.com

Although real life role models have influenced many medical careers, some doctors have taken their lead from medics in books, television, and film. Abi Rimmer asks doctors to describe their fictional inspiration

Have you ever read a depiction of a doctor in a novel, or seen one on screen, and thought, “I want to be like them,” Or perhaps you thought, “That’s the kind of doctor I don’t want to be.” We asked doctors, students, and patients to think about the fictional doctors who have inspired and influenced them. We hope these light hearted reflections conjure thoughts of your own favourites and we encourage you to share them on social media using #docspiration.

Jack McKee chosen by Fiona Godlee, editor in chief, The BMJ

The Doctor was filmed in 1991 but still feels relevant today. In it, William Hurt plays heart surgeon Jack McKee who takes his elevated position in life for granted. He models emotional detachment and expects it in those around him. Then throat cancer forces him to confront his own mortality and the realities of being a patient in his own institution. On the way, he discovers how much can be gained by opening up to others.

The BMJ has carried many personal stories over the years from doctors unpleasantly surprised by their experiences as patients. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that doctors are ever patients in the way that non-doctors are. We have knowledge and networks that can help us navigate for ourselves and our families.

These days The BMJ is more wary of such doctor-as-patient stories, preferring stories from “real” patients. But still, the classic final scene—in which McKee gives his trainees hospital gowns and leaves them to experience 72 hours as patients—is not only wonderful cinema but makes a crucial point: that doctors have to work to understand the patient perspective—what it’s like to feel …

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