I do like to indulge in a medical soap opera now and again and the BBC obliges me twice a week. (I blame my Mum who used to let me stay up late on a Friday to watch Emergency Ward 10, later moving on to Dr Kildare!)

Last week both Holby City and Casualty ran the same story line that went something like this (with different characters in each of course.)

Medically highly competent but socially inept junior doctor demonstrates an appalling lack of empathy or compassion. Patients are treated as problems in beds, made to feel judged and/or a nuisance. This is clearly detrimental to the patients’ wellbeing. The situation is rescued by a junior nurse who, although her technical, clinical ability is not always recognised (due in one case to her being very glamorous and in the other not glamorous enough) responds in a caring, holistic way to people and this approach is clearly instrumental in helping the patients recover.

Holby has the interesting addition of a Swedish visitor (senior doctor) who cites evidence that a holistic approach and empathy actually lead to better outcomes. Casualty has a couple of paramedics and a porter with fantastic people skills. These balance up the doctor/nurse stereotypes a bit.

The message is clear. The young doctors need to shape up with regard to their bedside manner. They might even have a lot to learn from the junior nurses. The whole thing is of course punctuated by application of the magic resuscitation jump leads (‘CLEAR!’) and shouts of ‘We need to get him to theatre NOW!’ just to keep the ratings from a rapid demise. The storyline clearly has legs and will run for a while.

Is this art mimicking life? Is the pendulum swinging from an emphasis on technology to recognition of the healing function of people skills? Do the people in charge of medical/nursing curricula watch soap operas? Or is it as much nonsense as the frequent successful resuscitations and rushes to theatre?