Medical dramas have been a staple of prime time television for decades. Hundreds of doctors have graced the small screen, but a few have stood out from the rest. Some are brooding anti-heroes, some compassionate caregivers. All of them are compelling characters that helped the medical-drama become one of the strongest television genres to date.
One of the first iconic TV doctors (the show Marcus Welby, M.D. debuted in 1969), Dr. Welby was known for going above and beyond physical treatment to connect personally with his patients. The show — led by actor Robert Young’s Dr. Welby—dealt with a range of groundbreaking issues, including rape, autism, and addiction, all alongside his younger counterpart, Steven Kiley.
Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy
According to Allied Health Institute, there is a wide range of specializations to choose from, so you could end up like Star Trek’s internal medicine specialist Dr. Leonard McCoy. He was known for relying heavily on the power of the human body to heal itself instead of solely on medicine and technology. Never shy to speak his mind, he was also known for getting into confrontations with his colleagues aboard the Starship Enterprise. He was serious about his medical duties and would respond to an odd job request with his trademark, “I’m a doctor, not a _____.”
From 1972 to 1983, M*A*S*H surgeon Dr. Hawkeye Pierce manned the show’s 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Unit in South Korea. The doctor (played by Alan Alda) knew how to treat the critically wounded in wartime Korea, but was equally well known for his quick wit, pranks, and womanizing ways. One memorable show episode saw him drug a colonel and remove his appendix (thus ensuring he would be sent home) after the colonel purposely sent his men into harm’s way.
Dr. Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris) began his surgical career in 1989 at the young age of fourteen, having been inspired by his contracting (and surviving) childhood leukemia. Though being a child prodigy had its downsides, his intelligence and the care he gave to patients soon earned the respect of his more seasoned colleagues.
On Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, our fictional Dr. Quinn (Jane Seymour) gave up 19th century Boston for 19th century Colorado. She was independent and strong-willed, which helped her out as a female physician in the Wild West. She was known for using a combination of herbal remedies and modern medicine to heal the townsfolk and visitors and eventually was able to fit it and earn the respect of her fellow Colorado Springs neighbors.
Mandy Patinkin played brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon Jeffrey Geiger in 1990’s medical drama Chicago Hope. He was neurotic, brutally honest, and never wavered in his pursuit of the best treatment for his patients. His outstanding performance of this haunted, passionate doctor earned Patinkin a Primetime Emmy Award in 1995.
George Clooney’s portrayal of Dr. Doug Ross on NBC’s long-running ER earned him two Primetime Emmy nominations and four Screen Actors Guild awards. The pediatric doctor’s past as the victim of abuse at the hands of his father made him especially sensitive when it came to his patients’ rights. This stance caused him to resign from County General after advising the parent of a terminally ill patient on how to administer a lethal dose of medication.
Alex Kingston portrayed Dr. Elizabeth Corday on NBC’s ER for seven years. A surgeon hailing from England, Dr. Corday initially had a bit of culture shock (especially confusing was American hospital lingo), but her compassion and competence earned her a spot as a viewer favorite.
Arguably the fictional doctor viewers most loved to hate, Dr. Greg House headed up the Princeton Plainsboro diagnostics department on the aptly named House, M.D. Unconventional (to put it mildly) and abrasive but undeniably brilliant, House displayed an uncanny ability to herd his team toward the correct diagnosis – even if getting there broke all the rules.
As ABC describes him, the Grey’s Anatomy neurosurgeon best known as McDreamy (played by Patrick Dempsey) has both good looks and the surgical skill to save your life. He is known for becoming deeply affected by his patients and heading up a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s disease alongside his wife (fellow surgeon Meredith Grey) who lost her mother to the disease.