There are some professions that Hollywood can't help but include in film after film. For instance: One can definitely say there are so many films about doctors and nurses that it's hard to keep count. But, if you're in that profession — or, perhaps, a med student — there's probably one specific film about medicine that you can excitedly say is one of your all-time favorites. Not because it's necessarily based on anything real — though many films about medicine are based on true stories — but because there's something in the film that rings true to your understanding of the job. Something you associate with the field.
For those medical students who are just starting school and are still looking for that perfect film about medicine, I've got you covered. Sure, this list of 13 films every med student should see doesn't even scratch the surface of every movie med students should see, but it certainly runs the gamut of medical dramas, comedies, and thrillers that are sure to inspire students. Or, at least, occupy a couple of hours when they're not busy studying.
Some of these films will set the bar for the kind of doctor or nurse you want to be, while others will be the shining example of the exact opposite. No one wants to be a Nurse Ratched-type (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, natch), that's for sure. But all of them will give you some sense of what you might be in for. (At least, if you were a doctor in Hollywood.)
1. Patch Adams (1998)
This semi-autobiographical dramedy, starring Robin Williams, taught us all that laughter is sometimes really the best medicine. One viewing and you'll likely be inspired to connect more with your patients. You may even find yourself investing in a red clown nose.
2. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Nurse Ratched. That name alone should give you nightmares, but Louise Fletcher's portrayal of the terrible nurse in the Oscar-winning film should also give you the best example of what a nurse should not be.
3. Young Doctors In Love (1982)
This Garry Marshall-directed spoof has fun ragging on all those doctor-filled soap operas. You'll probably get a good laugh thinking about which character reminds you of someone in your class.
4. Awakenings (1990)
This list wouldn't be complete without a good tearjerker — and this Robin Williams/Robert de Niro film is definitely it. Based on Oliver Sacks' 1973 memoir, the film focuses on Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Williams) who discovers that the medicine L-Dopa — commonly used by those suffering from Parkinson's disease — can also help patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica, a disease that takes over the brain and leaves patients in a catatonic state. The movie will not only make you want to read more from Sacks, it will make you appreciate life so much more.
5. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
This drama starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie is based on the 1993 memoir of Susanna Kaysen, which looks at her 18-month stay in a mental institution in the 1960s. The movie gives a very real and terrifying look at how mental illness was once treated. After watching it, you may be compelled to focus on how we talk about mental illness today, and what we can do to relieve the stigma.
6. Something The Lord Made (2004)
The HBO film starring Alan Rickman and Mos Def focuses on the black cardiac doctor who broke racial barriers in medicine during the Depression Era. While the movie celebrates the work of Vivien Thomas, a pioneer that you may not read about in your textbooks, it also looks at his complicated relationship and partnership he had with Alfred Blalock. It should teach any young med students that working together to put the patient first is always the most important part of your job.
7. Sybil (1976)
For many, this Sally Field film was the first glimpse they got of dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personalities. But, for med students it could be a classic case study of what can happen when a doctor wrongly diagnoses a patient. While the movie does a good job of showing what it could be like to suffer from the disorder, it also talks about how she was victimized by her childhood doctors who chose to overlook her symptoms.
8. M*A*S*H (1970)
Probably the most famous of all medical films, the Robert Altman classic focuses on a medical team stationed in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. While the horrors of war are shown in detail, the film also touches on the humorous and lighthearted moments that also take place in the camp. It's something anyone at a hospital will be able to relate to.
9. Side Effects (2013)
A psychological thriller that looks at the side effects of one girl being prescribed a (fictional) new antidepressant drug. It's not a true story, but the very real toll it takes on her and those around her are shocking.
10. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007)
After a devastating stroke, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, finds himself trapped in his own body. Based on a true story, it gives doctors a sense of what locked-in syndrome is like, which isn't always locked in as one may think.
11. Doc Hollywood (1991)
A classic '80s tale of a big city hotshot doctor, played by Michael J. Fox, who gets sentenced to work in a small town after crashing his care. Yes, you guessed it, he thinks he's better than everyone else there before learning the hard way that he really isn't. Sure, it's silly, but no one likes a doctor who's gotten too big for their scrubs. Remember that once you've graduated.
When you need a study break, put on any of these films which portray different kinds of doctors, patients and ways to care for them. Perhaps, any one of these will come in handy for your next exam. (Though, unlike high school English, when it comes to your medical exams, you should probably read the book, instead of seeing the movie.)
Image: Columbia Pictures