A medical student and faculty directors from the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics analyzed depictions of bioethical issues and professionalism over a full season of two popular medical dramas-Grey's Anatomy and House, M.D.-and found that the shows were rife with ethical dilemmas and actions that often ran afoul of professional codes of conduct.

I think the utility in our study is that it provides a starting point for a discussion, says fourth-year medical student Matthew Czarny, a researcher at the Berman Institute. In no way are we saying that these shows are educational in and of themselves.

An earlier analysis by the co-authors, along with fellow Berman Institute faculty member Marie Nolan, Ph.D., found that more than 80 percent of medical and nursing students watch television medical dramas. That study also concluded that the programs may prompt students to think and talk about bioethical issues.

In analyzing the second seasons of Grey's Anatomy and House, Czarny counted 179 depictions of bioethical issues, under 11 different topics, ranging from informed consent to organ-transplant eligibility to human experimentation.


Berman Institute Director Ruth Faden, Ph.D., the Philip Franklin Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics, and the institute's deputy director for medicine, Jeremy Sugarman, M.D., the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Bioethics and Medicine, designed the study, helped develop the coding and ensured the quality of the findings.

The study also examined 400 incidents of professionalism, which included interactions among professional colleagues, as well as those with patients. The authors limited their count to incidents they defined as either exemplary or egregious.

Incidents related to respect were the most frequently observed across both series, and depictions were largely negative, the authors concluded. The next most commonly observed departure from professionalism was sexual misconduct, with 58 incidents notched by the second season of Grey's Anatomy and 11 in House.

Acknowledging that both series are intended for entertainment purposes, the Berman Institute group said none of the findings were unexpected. And because the study was a content analysis, the authors did not set out to determine the value of these medical dramas as educational tools.

Rather, their goal was to inform discussions about whether medical dramas should be shown in a classroom to spur conversations about ethics and professionalism among medical and nursing students.