Doctors are a tricky bunch to portray in movies. Sometimes, the dialogue consists of imaginary diseases and imaginary cures, and curiously Hollywood likes churning out horror films with doctors doing indescribable things with human bodies. Here we have a list of the silver screen’s portrayal of non-psychotic doctors, each probably familiar to us in some way in real life:

1. The depressed and overworked doctor (The Hospital, 1971)

“I’ve been having periods of acute depression recently. Apparently it’s becoming noticeable and a number of people have made a remark about it,” confesses the chief of medicine at a large teaching hospital, Dr Herbert Bock to his hospital’s psychiatrist. He is the overworked middle-aged doctor with a quick temper and an endless list of things to do.

Shouting at incompetent nurses and interns, forgetting to pay holiday staff their salaries for half a year, it does not help that his marriage has failed and his children have disowned him. Dr Bock even contemplates suicide when doctors start dying and there is a killer on the loose in the hospital.

2. The doctor who receives a second chance (City of Joy, 1992)

Dr Max Lowe abandons ship after a young female patient under his care dies so he travels to Calcutta in India seeking self-awareness. He is a typical American in a foreign land: magnanimous and reckless, charming and self-righteous. Although he does not want anything to do with medicine again, he is reluctantly pulled back in by an Irish lady who runs a clinic in the slums.

As a surgeon, he would be indispensable there. Slowly allowing the inhabitants of the slum to teach him a thing or two about optimism in the face of extreme circumstances, Dr Lowe ends up accepting that not everything goes according to plan, but never to give up trying.

3. The materialistic but well-meaning doctor (The Last King of Scotland, 2006)

Fresh-faced rascal Dr Nicholas Garrigan travels to Uganda to escape the drudgery of practising medicine back home in Scotland. Working initially at a mission, he crosses paths with General Idi Amin, who decides to give him a job as his personal physician and to modernise the country’s healthcare system. Dr Garrigan is lulled by the dictator’s forward-thinking measures and at first, decides he’s quite comfortable in his exalted position, until he realises he’s out of his depth in what’s actually a murderous man’s plot to destroy the country through genocide and other such horrors.

To his credit, Dr Garrigan is bold enough to attempt assassinating the dictator through medical means, showing us that he is not such a money-minded, easily duped doctor after all.

4. The doctor with a golden heart (Patch Adams, 1998)

The list would not be complete without this Robin Williams movie based loosely on the antics of real life doctor and social activist, Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams, who brought humour and kindness to the hospital environment. The movie chronicles Dr Adams’ empathetic approach to patients, and how it is so radical compared to the cool professionalism displayed by the other doctors. Meeting many challenges along the way, Dr Adams decides to press on, determined that his way of tending to the spirit and the health of his patients is surely making a difference in their lives.

5. The doctor with a conscience (The Elephant Man, 1980)

Dr Frederick Treves rescues John Merrick, the so-called “Elephant Man”, from a freak show where the latter was treated with little to no dignity. Dr Treves becomes one of the few to treat the hapless Merrick with respect and kindness. After housing him on hospital grounds, he re-introduces Merrick to society. Unfortunately, it is yet another freak show sans mask and cage. The good doctor realises the significance of his actions and regrets it deeply, questioning his own morality and judgement by asking, “Am I a good man, or am I a bad man?” and doing all he can to remedy the situation. MIMS


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