Media & Communication Department

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Tricia Conti

A Medical Examination of Television's Grey's Anatomy:

Dramatic License or Dramatic Lies

American essayist John Burroughs (1837-1921) once said, "To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, to imagine your facts is another." Medical television is not excused from this philosophy. Previous research has shown that people turn to medical programming for health information, and therefore, television viewing has a major effect on public perceptions of medicine. Scholars criticize medically farfetched series such as Grey's Anatomy for creating unrealistic expectations in patients. Producers recognize that straight medicine is not sensational enough for entertainment broadcasting, but with a little dramatic license, medical programming can go a long way. Through my study of the history of medical television shows and an in-depth analysis of three episodes of Grey's Anatomy, I conclude that the latter series takes many steps forward in portraying medicine more accurately than its predecessors, but is not free from inaccuracies. As more people turn to dramatic television for health information, writers are faced with a greater responsibility to maintain a delicate balance between medical fact and fiction. The perceptions they create can only be harmless if the audience realizes that drama comes first. Can you distinguish the license from the lies?