Anyone who spends a decent amount of time talking to me will quickly realize that I am obsessed with television. More specifically, when I start watching a new TV show, I don’t just passively tune in once a week. Rather, I watch each episode multiple times, and research issues brought up in the show. For example, in high school I became obsessed with the show ER, and I would watch the reruns on TNT, and at the end of an episode, I would look up the diseases and public health lessons featured in that episode. I did the same thing with my all time favorite show The West Wing, and was actually able to use knowledge about real life issues that I learned from the show to sound smart while doing health policy work in DC and for one of my MCAT essays.
My own personal experience led me to start researching the field of entertainment education, and specifically, the use of Prime Time Television for health education purposes. I first stumbled across Hollywood, Health & Society, a project at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center that provides entertainment industry professionals with information for health storylines. Through this website, I discovered that the CDC has a small division that works with this project, and that the Kaiser Family Foundation did research on the impact of entertainment education. I also found this recent Washington Post article about the federal government and entertainment education.
There is also numerous research on the impact TV shows, specifically medical and law shows, have on career choice. In addition to analyzing the accuracy of medical procedures and illnesses on these shows, there has also been some research into the accuracy of the profession itself. Back in 2003, Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania developed a CD that explored the portrayal of MDs in the media. During my first year of medical school, I worked with him on updating his book Playing Doctor, which explores the way doctors are portrayed on TV. It was a great experience.
In addition, as someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for the last 11 years, television has quite a therapeutic effect for me. I often find myself being able to relate my struggles to those of the characters, and using quotes from shows in therapy to explain what I am thinking or feeling. I also have my daily “West Wing” or “House” references (this runs in my family, as my dad used to have a daily “Seinfeld” references blog), and will probably share those here as well!