From ER to Chicago Med: Why Are We Fascinated by Medical Shows?


NBC has found success recently with a series of dramatic shows set in Chicago (including Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.), all produced by TV’s king of drama, Dick Wolf. The most recent addition to this Windy City franchise? Chicago Med, which follows the storyline of a group of doctors in the city’s biggest trauma center. The show was a logical next step for the franchise, but it does beg the question: why are we so addicted to medical shows?

The genre has existed for decades, with shows like M.A.S.H. and St. Elsewhere garnering huge followings in the ’70s and ’80s. But ER, NBC’s smash medical hit that premiered in 1994, was arguably the show that made the genre universally loved. In fact, ER’s ratings, which skyrocketed during its 2009 finale according to The New York Times, were always at the top of the charts. It was the most-watched show on air for three out of its first five seasons.

An endless supply of medical shows followed in ER‘s footsteps, including Scrubs, House M.D., Grey’s Anatomy, Nurse Jackie and so many more. So what exactly is it that makes these shows so fascinating? Here are a few guesses:

Drama, Drama, Drama

As many producers and writers have discovered, hospitals make the perfect setting for dramatic storylines. In a place where life-and-death situations can happen literally every day, it’s easy to insert some theatrics. Of course, the sheer volume of these wildly dramatic medical scenarios isn’t exactly realistic, according to Stanford Medicine Magazine. (Shocking, I know.) But they sure do make for good TV.

It’s All About the Relationships

Anyone who’s seen even five minutes of Grey’s Anatomy knows that it isn’t just the medical moments that make these shows dramatic. It’s the relationships, too. Interns and residents start relationships with each other, nurses date doctors and someone inevitably falls for a patient. (Looking at you, Izzie Stevens.) Even non-romantic relationships are elevated in this genre: family and friendship bonds are tested every day. To be fair, who could work with McDreamy or McSteamy daily without falling for one of them?

We Learn Something New Every Week

Medical shows are full of “teaching” moments. Let’s be clear: it’s probably not a good idea to use them as a realistic guide to medicine. However, many shows, including Scrubs and Grey’s, tackle moral and ethical issues in almost every episode. That, plus the addition of a few medical oddities you may not have heard of before? That’s some fascinating TV.