The Most Memorable Medical Films

On a daily basis, medical professionals experience toil, romance, life, death, heartache and redemption. It only makes sense to use the dramatic lives and experiences of doctors and nurses as the fodder for major motion pictures. Everyone has a favorite medical drama or comedy, some more realistic than others. In honor of hardworking health care employees everywhere, here are a few of the best and most memorable films about this tumultuous and rewarding industry.

“The Doctor”

It’s easy for a doctor to become so caught up in the clinical aspects of his profession that he forgets he’s treating human beings with thoughts, opinions, feelings and fears. 1991’s “The Doctor” tells the story of what happens when a brilliant and accomplished physician learns he’s suffering from cancer. Played by William Hurt, Dr. Jack MacKee is going through the motions of his very successful practice and home life; that is, until he’s given a startling diagnosis. Along his journey to recovery, he learns what it means to be a compassionate professional, and that treatment is more than just pills and procedures. Jack is treated and cured, but loses some friends along the way. Ultimately, he understands that to truly be a successful physician, he must care deeply about a patient’s quality of life and not just about treating an illness.

“And the Band Played On”

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, “And the Band Played On” is a made-for-television movie that originally aired in 1993. Based on factual events, the story takes place during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in America. Dr. Don Francis, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begins studying a strange and lethal new virus that is killing members of two distinctive demographics. Anyone interested in the health care field should see this film and take from it a very valuable lesson about humanity and the role that prejudice and bureaucracy play in health care decisions.

“Patch Adams”

Based on the life of Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, this 1998 comedy stars Robin Williams as an unorthodox physician. After a stint in a mental institution where he helps fellow patients, Patch Adams discovers his love of medicine. Although much older than his peers, Patch is determined to become a physician, and enrolls at the Virginia Medical University in the early 1970s. He’s definitely not a staunch medical student, in the traditional sense, which rubs many of his peers and professors the wrong way. Ultimately, it’s Patch’s dream to treat illness with both traditional medicine and humor. The film itself received mostly poor reviews, but it did shed a light on a unique man’s quest to look at the state of health care in a very different way. If this was the filmmaker’s intention all along, then the mission was most definitely accomplished.


Another film starring the great Robin Williams, 1990’s “Awakenings,” tells the true story of Dr. Oliver Sacks, although Williams’ character in the film is named Malcolm Sayer. In the late 1960s, Malcolm Sayer begins working with patients living in a complete state of catatonia, including Leonard Love, played by the award-winning actor, Robert De Niro. Love is given a dose of the drug L-Dopa, which Sayer believes will take him out of his catatonic state. Eventually, the drug works, but not without devastating side effects that prohibit Love from continuing treatment. Throughout the film, Leonard Love rediscovers life and love, and Dr. Sayer learns there is more to tests and experimental medicine than results.

Gross Anatomy

Whether you’re earning a traditional doctorate degree in medicine, studying for your master of science in nursing or are strangely fascinated by the profession, the medical comedy “Gross Anatomy” has something to offer. Nonconformist medical student Joe Slovak is easily making his way through life at the university; that is, until he enrolls in the notoriously difficult gross anatomy course. Ultimately, Joe learns that medicine is no laughing matter.

Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons

About the Author: Davis Miller is a guest blogger and recent graduate of CUA online. Davis is anxiously awaiting his first day of medical school and hopes it is nothing like the movies.

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