Projected on TV: How TV Dramas Influence Career Paths
By Lauren Nehorai
As she dissected a fetal pig in her ninth grade biology class, Isabella Huang ‘19 mimicked the surgical movements she had watched on “Grey’s Anatomy” the night before. Holding her scalpel in gloved hands and cutting precise incisions, she imagined herself working alongside Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang in the operating room.
“I felt like I was working at the Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital as I dissected,” Huang said. “It confirmed for me why I love the field so much.”
Huang said that watching medical dramas as a child inspired her to want to go into the medical field.
“Medical TV dramas were fun and really opened my eyes to this fictitious idea of the physician career for me,” Huang said. “Before watching, I never thought about what being a doctor entailed. After, I really started to consider my future.”
Huang is not the only one who has been influenced by career-based TV dramas. According to a study by Indiana University, popular career-based television shows have a considerable influence on students’ major and career choices.
Isabella Baradaran ’20 said she never considered the possibility of being a doctor, let alone a surgeon, until watching “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“There is something so empowering about it,” Baradaran said. “The more I watch, the more obsessed I get, and I can learn about the inner workings of hospitals and surgical protocols all while being entertained. It almost makes me feel as if I could step into an [operating room] and assist on a surgery.”
The inspiration Baradaran feels while watching “Grey’s Anatomy” is furthered by the complexities of the characters, she said.
“I like how they aren’t portrayed as perfect people,” Baradaran said. “It makes them seem more human, which also makes their accomplishments seem more attainable.”
For Makenzie Munman, 17, medical dramas contributed to her pre-existing love for the field.
“I would not have started “Grey’s Anatomy” if I was not already interested in the medical field,” Munman said. “I think they do a good job of depicting working in the medical field if you take it with a grain of salt because entertainment is always dramatized. I also believe much different hardships are depicted in the shows than the reality of problems people run into.”
For some, however, the depiction of these hardships can function in the opposite fashion and shift students away from potential careers. Sophia Schwartz ’20 said she had always been interested in pursuing a career in medicine, but after watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy, decided against it.
“I saw this whole other level of hardship surgeons endure, and I realized that I simply don’t want that as my future,” Schwartz said.
The hardships shown in career-based shows are largely true-to-life, Rutgers Assistant Professor of Communication Bernadette Gailliard said. According to a study by Rutgers University, scripted shows are accurate in their depictions the day-to-day responsibilities of characters with jobs.
Sam Torbati, an Emergency Room Doctor at Cedar Sinai Medical Center, agreed that many of the hardships of his job are reflected accurately on the screen. While he said he finds that certain details are exaggerated and tedious aspects of the ER process are omitted, medical dramas like “ER” depict many of the situations he deals with each day at work.
“Although there are inaccuracies regarding the timeline, I think the show “ER” is most consistent to what we see day-to-day,” Torbati said. “The producers do a good job of accurately portraying the main themes of our jobs and capturing the relationships and bonds we form with our patients, especially human drama cases and their impact.”
This accuracy is partially due to the inclusion of field experts during the writing process and the intensive training of the actors, according to the New York Times. “ER,” for example, was created by doctor Michael Crichton and included an emergency room physician and pediatrician on its writing team.
TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, who has created several TV dramas including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal based off of occupational fields, also works to maintain accuracy within her shows. According to Cosmopolitan Magazine, Rhimes is devoted to understanding medical terminology and finding realistic cases as she writes. Rather than making up stories, she said she looks in medical journals or takes stories from viewers themselves.
Not only is substantial research required for the writing portion of a show, but in Grey’s Anatomy, actors are also put through extensive training, according to the DO. Cast members are instructed on how a medical procedure would actually be performed before filming it in a scene.
The actors’ exposure to medical techniques and terminology brings a level of realism that makes the show all the more influential, Alexandra Oster ’21 said.
“I can definitely see that the actors have at least some degree of medical knowledge,” Oster said. “It is apparent through their confidence with the terminology and comfort with the tools. It adds another level of skill to acting and doesn’t make their job look easy, but it makes it significantly more interesting to watch.”
In contrast to Oster and Torbati, Max Valdez ’20 said while he understands that drama needs to be added for entertainment purposes, he ultimately finds medical dramas to be highly unrealistic due to the addition of these dramatic plot lines.
“I get that what goes on day-to-day at your average hospital wouldn’t gain nearly as many viewers or as much revenue at Grey-Sloan Memorial, but most of what goes on is just too crazy,” Valdez said. “They have operated on extremely bizarre cases, from a man with tree hands to a patient who swallowed baby-doll heads, all while having secret affairs with one another and meeting estranged family members. Also, the abrupt death of a main character is something I constantly anticipate, which is not true to life.”
Civil Lawyer Hayley Kondon said she agrees with the notion that TV dramas are usually inaccurate.
“I generally don’t think that [lawyers] are accurately portrayed in any of the shows I watched in my 20 years of my career,” Kondon said. “It doesn’t always drive me crazy, but there are some shows that I just can’t watch, like the Good Wife. I found that to be very intolerable, mainly because each case was neatly wrapped up in every episode. It is just not true to life and it bugs me a lot.”
Kondon also said that when shows such as “Scandal” and “Law and Order” leave out the mundane aspects of the process, they undermine the level of diligence lawyers need.
“They don’t show all the work that goes into it,” Kondon said. “It can take years of preparation to even get a court date in civil cases. They have lawyers testify for their clients, when in really life we really just ask questions. They also rarely include critical components to the process, such as motions and depositions.”
However, despite their typical inaccuracies, Kondon said that watching a TV show about lawyers did influence her career path.
“I watched a show called ‘LA Law’ in the 80’s, and it did make me want to go to law school,” Kondon said. “ [On L.A. Law,] being a lawyer looked glamorous, fun, intellectual and interesting. But the job is not actually like ‘LA Law.’”
While the glamour of these highly regarded jobs tends to appeal the most to students, Mariella Breidsprecher ’21 said she admires the grunt work and endurance in the telenovela “Jane the Virgin.”
“I like the show because Jane fails over and over again as a writer until she succeeds,” Briedspreacher said. “Seeing how rewarding and therapeutic the writing process can be really sparked my interest in journalism, and although the show does stretch certain aspects, I feel like they did a good job of accurately portraying the struggles of a writer.”
Kylie Azizzaeh ’21 said she no longer views TV as just entertainment; her nightly shows have become a way to gain insight on the nature of certain careers.
“I like TV shows that inspire me and show the intensity in certain careers I would otherwise overlook,” Azizzaeh said. “TV has definitely provided some clarity when it comes to my career choice, and it has made me recognize the appeal of some and find others I would never consider. It’s influencing my future.”