There is a whole slew of new fall shows featuring professional working women coming to the airwaves in the next few weeks, but we noticed a lot of them have medical degrees. In years past it seemed that female lawyers ruled the TV (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Law & Order, The Practice, Family Law, The Good Wife, Harry’s Law, Blue Bloods, Fairly Legal, Suits) but now the doctors are making a comeback. There are three TV shows coming to three different networks this fall that center on young, single, female doctors: Mob Doctor (FOX), Emily Owens M.D. (CW) and The Mindy Project (FOX.) Plus on the new Sherlock Holmes reboot, Elementary, Lucy Liu plays Dr. Joan Watson (but they will focus more on solving crimes than helping sick people.) They are all very different but it is interesting that they are coming now. Why the focus on doctors now?
Well, it may have something to do with the fact that women now make up 31% of physicians. Though 31% may not sound like a lot, it is a 400% increase since 1981. Or just think that it was only in 1849 that Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from a U.S. medical school. The increase is consistent with the increased participation of women in the professional workforce over the same time frame. In England, women have outnumbered men in medical schools for a decade and are set to become a majority of the medical workforce by 2017 in England.
Forty years ago, when the top doctor-focused show was Marcus Welby, M.D., only 12% of incoming medical students were female. By 2011, it was 47%. “When you look at physicians under 35 or 40, we’re approaching parity,” Henry Sondheimer of the Association of American Medical Colleges told USA Today. “People’s perceptions in the U.S. have changed. I think that’s terrific.”So all these TV shows being developed isn’t surprising.
What is interesting is that most of these characters are supposed to be great at their jobs, but not great at their personal lives. Emily is “well equipped in lots of ways to handle the demands of her job, but not fully ready to deal with the social aspects,” says Owens‘ Mamie Gummer. Perhaps it is to make the audience feel better about these people having such impressive jobs? “A doctor’s main motto is ‘do no harm,’ and criminality is certainly the opposite of that,” Mob Doctor‘s Jordana Spiro says. Plus, “it gives a real importance to her value in this underworld, because doctors can do things other people can’t.” Or maybe it is just funnier. And actually, I spoke to a young woman in her third year of medical last night who said that she has always heard from older doctors that Scrubs, featuring the most frazzled of frazzled doctors Elliot Reed, was actually an accurate depiction of doctors. Perhaps it is more fun to work in a hospital than we thought!