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12 Things Medical Shows Always Get Wrong

Your favorite medical TV show is not as accurate as you might think. Here are the most common gaffes medical professionals always see on TV.

Paramedic demonstrate Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on dummPAKULA PIOTR/Shutterstock

CPR isn’t a miracle worker

According to Stepheny Berry, MD, the most glaring inaccuracy she notices on medical TV shows is that so many patients who require CPR can be resuscitated. In reality, Dr. Berry says the percentage of patients who recover is low. “In addition, they always wake up and are just fine after the ‘code,'” she says. “There is nothing real about that.”

anesthesiologist gives the mask inhalation anesthesiafaustasyan/Shutterstock

Anesthesiologists aren’t “lesser than”

“On television and in the movies, anesthesiologists seem to take a back seat if they even bother to show up,” Leif Dahleen, MD says. Dr. Dahleen has seen anesthesiologists portrayed as lower-ranking medical professionals and has seen this specialist lie to patients, on TV. “In one episode of Grey’s Anatomy, when a patient with an explosive embedded in her body was in the O.R., the anesthesiologist took off, saying ‘I have kids,’ leaving the residents to save the day.”

Doctor measuring blood pressure of a patientLeventeGyori/Shutterstock

Numbers are often displayed inaccurately

Dr. Dahleen’s favorite recent gaffe was Peter Quinn’s blood pressure of 95/100 on the monitor in an episode of Homeland. “It’s physiologically impossible to have the second number higher than the first, although reversing the numbers would hardly make it any more realistic,” he says. Find out the secrets that emergency room staff won’t tell you.

Stethoscope on books on wooden backgroundAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Medical students can’t just decide what type of doctor “they want to be”

Including schooling, residency, and fellowship, it takes seven years to become a doctor. Robert Glatter, MD, an ER physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, sees young doctors in medical TV shows picking and choosing—but that’s not how it is in reality. “It’s a long process that involves multiple interviews, creating a ‘rank’ list, and going through a process known as ‘the match,'” he says. “It’s not as easy as declaring, ‘I want to be a business major,’ in college.”

bright close up of male doctor with stethoscopeSyda Productions/Shutterstock

Every doctor isn’t all-knowing in every aspect of medicine

This complaint is popular among doctors. The idea of a doctor that’s a “jack of all trades” is misleading, Dr. Glatter says. In reality, caregivers, specialists, nurse practitioners, social workers, and other medical professionals have unique duties. “Medicine involves a team, and requires exquisite coordination among all caregivers to function optimally,” Dr. Glatter says. “Doctors are highly specialized, and don’t perform all activities that are often depicted on TV dramas by the writers.”

pregnancy, rest, people and expectation concept - close up of pregnant woman lying in bed and touching her belly at homeSyda Productions/Shutterstock

A pregnant woman having contractions will not give birth a few hours after her water breaks

It takes nine months to grow a baby, so it’s logical that giving birth would take longer than an hour or two, as is typically seen in medical TV shows. Janelle Cooper, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, says moms usually spend more than 12 hours in labor—sometimes as long as 24 to 48 hours. “You always see the woman roll into labor and delivery, taken to a room, and then get ready to push a baby right out,” she says. “In reality, the timing for actual labor can range and it depends on how many babies you’ve had before, if you’ve ever had a C-section, and how long you wait before coming to the hospital.” These are the things that TV crime dramas always get wrong.

Newborn baby boy in bed. New born child sleeping under a blue knitted blanket. Children sleep. Bedding for kids. Infant napping in bed. Healthy little kid shortly after birth. Cable knit textile.FamVeld/Shutterstock

It definitely takes more than three strong pushes to give birth

Giving birth is not a simple three-push situation. Dr. Cooper says a first-time mom could spend up to two hours pushing before the baby comes out. For women who have given birth vaginally before, delivery will be faster and with fewer pushes because their body has done previously.

Scissors are ready sterilized for operationCherries/Shutterstock

Surgeons never touch things without gloves

This is a big no-no. Some medical TV shows have surgeons touching things without gloves after scrubbing up. Dr. Cooper says that would never happen. Surgeons talking during surgery without masks on would also never happen in real life. Check out the weirdest TV shows of all time.

The doctor self checking pulse in the office on a blue wooden tableYanawut Suntornkij/Shutterstock

It’s a violation of the doctor-patient relationship for therapists to accept gifts

Buying a coffee or even a card for your therapist is not appropriate—but it seems to pop up in medical TV shows often. Gail Saltz, MD, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, sees this all the time on TV. “The therapist accepted a gift of an espresso maker from a patient and kept it in his office on the show In Therapy that aired on HBO,” Dr. Saltz says.

Medical workers working in conference roomAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Interns don’t compete to determine a diagnosis

Medical school is competitive and getting in is no easy feat, according to U.S. News & World Report. But the competition to diagnosis a patient shown on medical TV shows isn’t real, Dr. Saltz says. “[A contest] would not happen to see which intern can come up with the patients’ diagnosis when the attending physician is unable to, a plot line of Grey’s Anatomy.” 

Professional psychologist conducting a consultationDmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

The symptoms for psychiatric issues are likely inaccurate

“Sometimes, symptoms of a psychiatric problem are misrepresented,” Dr. Saltz says. “One of the main characters in The Fosters develops panic attacks which are shown by her inability to see clearly with blurriness and visual distortions, which is not a symptom of panic attacks.”

Graceful black woman in headphones with headache sitting beside computer and holding glasses in hand. Indoor portrait of tired female secretary posing with eyes closed at workplace.Look Studio/Shutterstock

Residents don’t actually have that much free time to socialize

Although it makes for entertaining TV, residents don’t have the time nor the desire to have sex all over the hospital, Dr. Saltz says. “Having been a medical resident, I can tell you that none of that is true,” she says. “In Grey’s Anatomy, they barely have time for any patients because they are constantly doing the deed!” Next, check out the most addictive hospital shows on Netflix

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.

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