Characters: St. Elsewhere
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Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders)Chief of Medicine of St. Eligius, widower and father of Elizabeth and Tommy.
- Benevolent Boss
- The Chains of Commanding: Seems to bear the weight of both his staff and patients, especially when his community outreach programs have disastrous consequenses
- Dark and Troubled Past: Survived an apartment fire that killed most of his family when he was six years old.
- Empty Nest
- A Father to His Men
- The Fettered
- Mentor: To Dr. Jack Morrison in particular.
- Reasonable Authority Figure
- Raised Catholic
- Southies: Westphall grew up in South Boston.
- Take This Job And Shove It: Following its takeover by an HMO, Westphal resigns from St. Eligius by dropping trou and telling new boss John Gideon "You can kiss my ass, pal".
- Tranquil Fury: After Peter White is found not guilty for rape, Westphall makes him aware that he not only is disappointed in him, but now has has no respect and utter contempt for him as a human being.
- Verbal Tic: Has a tendency to address people as "pal" or "lady".
Dr. Ben Samuels (David Birney)
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: While billed second only to Ed Flanders, his character becomes less prominent over the course of the first season. He is neither seen nor heard from again after the 20th episode of the season, and no explanation is given.
- Really Gets Around: A subplot of the pilot episode involves Samuels telling all his sexual conquests that he's contracted a venereal disease.
Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd)The hospital's avuncular Chief of Services, a liver specialist who has been diagnosed with liver cancer.
- Badass Grandpa: His grandchildren are seen from time to time.
- Cool Old Guy: More affable and mischievous than Westphall or Craig.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Mentor: To Luther Hawkins.
Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels)Ill-tempered Chief of Surgery at St. Eligius.
- Badass Mustache
- Break the Haughty
- Catch Phrase: "Oh, for crying out loud!"
- The Determinator
- Dr. Jerk: Especially earlier in the series. In the second episode, after saving a man's life with a bypass operation, he comments to the patient's young, chubby son that his son's a doctor, and that maybe the younger Craig will operate on him someday.
- Good Is Not Nice: Type 2/Type 4. He is very blunt to the point of rudeness. He is impatient, fussy, and arrogant. What drives him, though, is a deep conviction in the preciousness of life, and he will not tolerate any less of others than he does himself.
- Mentor: A reluctant one to Dr. Erhlich.
- The Napoleon
Dr. Hugh Beale (G. W. Bailey)
Dr. Victor Ehrlich [spoiler: born Bernard Oseransky] (Ed Begley Jr.)Tall, blonde, bespectacled surgical resident from California, and usually on the receiving end of Dr. Craig's wrath.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Throughout season 5 with Lucy Papandrao.
- Character Development: Matures both as a doctor and as a person to the point where he is Happily Married with Nurse Lucy Papandrao.
- Dr. Jerk: A much milder case than Dr. Craig, though.
- Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: He usually wears Hawaiian shirts with neckties as part of his hospital attire.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: A non-sexual example: he is at least a foot taller than his fellow surgical intern Jackie Wade.
- Innocently Insensitive: When Dr. Martin returns to work after her stay in the psych ward following her second rape, he manages to be even more insulting while apologizing for his past behavior.
- No Social Skills
- Phrase Catcher: Particularly through season 2, where every major character utters a variant of "You're a pig, Ehrlich."
- Surfer Dude: Before coming to Boston, Ehrlich was one of these in California. His friend Dogger still is.
Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox)A resident with trouble juggling his work and family responsibilities. He begins a long mental and emotional slide in season 1 that only gets worse as the show goes on.
- Drugs Are Bad
- Face-Heel Turn: Irredeemably so after he begins raping women at the hospital, including fellow resident Cathy Martin.
- Killed Off for Real
- Laser-Guided Karma: When Shirley Daniels guns him down in the morgue following his rape of several women, including Cathy Martin, her first shot is right in the crotch. "Goodbye, Peter."
- Sanity Slippage
Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel)A sarcastic emergency medicine resident.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: His mother's arrival interrupts one of his sexual trysts, and she tells his co-workers a particularly mortifying story about his childhood.
- Big Applesauce
- Jewish Mother: Frieda Fiscus
- Like Brother and Sister: With Dr. Wade.
- Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places
- Manly Tears: When he, Shirley Daniels and Jackie Wade can't revive Wendy Armstrong after her suicide attempt.
- Also happens right after he wakes up for the first time after being shot. When he sees his surgical scar on his chest, he weeps.
- The Stoner: From time to time, he mentions his drug experimentation while at Tulane.
Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse)Compassionate resident who often has trouble with trusting his own judgement and remaining objective about his patients.
- Butt Monkey
- Designated Victim: Starting in season 2, something bad would usually happen to Morrison.
- Season 2: His wife Nina dies after slipping and hitting her head in the bathroom. He is cut from the residency program. Is only reinstated because a slot opened up after Wendy Armstrong's suicide.
- Season 3: Faces the end of his career over a Worthless Foreign Degree
- Season 4: Injures himself while running to make rounds and slipping on vomit. Son Pete is kidnapped. Raped while doing a Westphall-mandated community outreach service in a local prison.
- Season 5: Suffers from PTSD as a result of his rape. His attacker escapes from prison and stalks his family. Son Pete inadvertently shoots his attacker dead.
- Season 6: Second wife Joanne moves back to Seattle after her first husband sues for custody following the death of Morrison's attacker.
- The Lost Lenore: Nina. Much of Morrison's arc in season 2 is him dealing with her sudden death.
- Trauma Conga Line: And how.
- Worthless Foreign Degree: In the pilot episode, Morrison tells a patient that he had to go to medical school in Mexico because his grades were not good enough for American universities. In season 3, it is revealed that the school was a shady "accelerated" program that counted experience instead of giving a full medical training, and Morrison has to fight to keep his job.
Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles)
- Drugs Are Bad
- Serial Spouse: Already on husband number four at the beginning of the series. Her affair with Richard Clarendon doesn't end in marriage, but develops into a long-term cohabitation.
- Your Cheating Heart: Her fourth husband leaves her in season 3 because of her affair with Richard Clarendon, the union negotiator. Apparently, this happens so often that four of her five children aren't particularly fazed by it.
Dr. Vijay Kochar (Kavi Raz)
- Butt Monkey: Frequently the target of Dr. Craig's racism.
- Demoted to Extra: Was a regular during season 1 and 2, only billed as a guest star thereafter.
Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes)An OB-GYN who is just past her residency.
Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington)
- Billing Displacement: Appears front and center on the DVD box despite him being just one part of an Ensemble Cast, arguably a more minor character than fellow residents Jack Morrison, Victor Erhlich or Wayne Fiscus.
- Lonely Rich Kid
- Took a Level in Jerkass: When he comes back from corporate training with St. Elgius' new parent company, he really rubs the other residents the wrong way.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Chandler's main motivation for getting into medicine was to please his father.
- Written-In Absence: Was off in Missouri for training when Denzel Washington was filming a movie.
Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry)A younger nurse who usually associates with the residents.
- Ax-Crazy: After being released on bail before her trial, Shirley exhibits no remorse for murdering Peter White in cold blood. On her first shift back in the ER, she pulls a gun out on a patient and refers to him as "Peter".
- Hypercompetent Sidekick
- The Bus Came Back
Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori)
Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery)Pathology resident with a spacey demeanor, heightened sexuality, and a tendency to dress in black.
- Broken Bird: Especially after being raped. Twice.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: It is revealed in "Rough Cut" that she had the highest score out of the first-year residents' board certification exams. A brief scene with her after she switches to psychology indicates she's particularly skilled with younger patients.
- Characterization Marches On: After being raped, Martin is not quite as spacey; she switchers her residency to psychology and stops dressing in black.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: At one point, after Ehrlich comments "Is there an echo in here", she says "I don't know. Is there? Hello?"
- Creepy Mortician: A mild case.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gives a few to Peter White after he rapes her.
Dr. Jacqueline Wade (Sagan Lewis)Mature and capable surgical resident from Lewiston, ME; a friendly rival to Dr. Erhlich.
- Ascended Extra: Has one line in the pilot during a grand rounds scene, then becomes a Recurring Character later in the season. She gets her Promotion to Opening Titles in season 6.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Fellow residents Victor Ehrlich and Jack Morrison tower at least a foot over her.
- Like Brother and Sister: With Dr. Fiscus.
- Married to the Job: Wade's eleven-year marriage ends in season five, as the long hours of her residency leave husband Robert to seek affection from a younger woman.
- Only Child Syndrome
- Plucky Girl
- Shorter Means Smarter
Nurse Lucy Papandrao (Jennifer Savidge)
- Ascended Extra: Goes from an uncredited Bit Character in the pilot to a more prominent Recurring Character in season 3, then a Promotion to Opening Titles in season 6.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: A drunken liason with Victor Ehrlich in season 5 results in a serious relationship, and the characters are Happily Married by the end of the series.
- The Snark Knight
Luther Hawkins (Eric Laneuville)
- Orderlies Are Creeps: Averted. Luther is the one person any doctor, nurse or patient would be glad to have around.
- Uncle Tomfoolery: Chandler calls Luther out on this in "Equinox".
Joan Halloran (Nancy Stafford)
- Defrosting Ice Queen
- Heel-Face Turn: Introduced as someone who would butt head with the doctors over the hospital's expenses.
- Put on a Bus: When Ms. Stafford left to play Michelle Thomas on Matlock.
Dr. Robert Caldwell (Mark Harmon)
- Bus Crash: Mark Harmon left the show halfway through season 4 when his character contracted AIDS. In the series finale, the characters receive word that Dr. Caldwell has died.
- Byronic Hero: Particularly during season 4, when his impulsive and reckless side comes to the surface.
- Dating Catwoman: In season 2, he's involved romantically with Joan Halloran, who begins as an antagonistic character that clashes with the doctors over the hospital's expenses.
- Porn Stache: In the first half of season 2, Mark Harmon had a very thick mustache. He gets rid of it in the episode "A Pig Too Far", but not before walking around with it half-shaved off.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: In season 4 before he contracts AIDS.
Dr. Eliot Axelrod (Stephen Furst)Nervous medical student introduced in season 2. He becomes a resident in the next season.
- Big Eater: One small arc in season 4 has Eliot and his girlfriend go on a diet. She does better than he does.
- Killed Off for Real
- Morality Pet: He becomes this for Mrs. Hufnagle.
Dr. Michael Ridley (Paul Sand)
- The Shrink
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Averted somewhat; while Ridley is a replacement for Dr. Beale, their demeanors are pretty different.
Dr. Simon Weiss (Philip Sterling)
- The Shrink: The longest lasting psychiatrist character, although less prominent than Beale or Ridley.
Warren Coolidge (Byron Stewart)
- Gentle Giant: At 6' 8", he towers over patients and doctors. Used to moving effect in "Weigh In, Weigh Out", where he fulfills a dying man's request to be rocked like a baby.
Dr. Roxanne Turner (Alfre Woodard)
Dr. Carol Novino (Cindy Pickett)
Dr. Seth Griffin (Bruce Greenwood)
- Heel-Faith Turn: After possibly contracting AIDS, Griffin becomes a born-again Christian when he meets the new hospital chaplain.
- Smug Snake: Griffin at least started out this way, particularly when he tried to pit fellow first year residents Carol Novino and Susan Birch against each other. Birch ends up taking the fall for a patient death for which Griffin was responsible and is kicked out of the residency program.
Dr. Paulette Kiem (France Nuyen)
Dr. John Gideon (Ronny Cox)
Patients and their families
Stephen Mc Allister (Jack Bannon)
Ralph "The Birdman" Selover (Richard Marcus)
John Doe #12 (Tom Hulce)
Eve Leighton (Marian Mercer)
Florence Hufnagel (Florence Halop)
- Jerk Ass: Mrs. Hufnagel gets passed around from doctor to doctor because of this. Even kindly Dr. Westphall pawns her off on Dr. Craig.
- Screw Politeness Im A Senior
- Shout-Out: At one point, she mentioned she and her husband used to have a diner together, Flo & Eddie's.
John Doe #6 (Oliver Clark)Amnesiac patient in season 4 and 5.
Murray Robbin (Murray Rubin)
Augusta Endicott (Dorothy Mc Guire)
- Expy: for Rose Kennedy.
Brett Johnson (Kyle Secor)
Family and other outsiders
Aunt Charisse (Louise Lasser)Dr. Ehrlich's aunt, who raised him after his parents died.
Ellen Craig (Bonnie Bartlett)
- Parental Substitute: Tends to be this to Dr. Ehrlich.
Stephen Craig (Scott Paulin)
- Drugs Are Bad: Stephen's drug addiction causes friction with his father. His drug use is also a factor in the car accident that kills him.
- Generation Xerox: Following in his dad's footsteps by becoming a doctor.
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Westphall (Dana Short)
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: An aversion.
- The Caretaker: She is this for her autistic brother Tommy, to the point where she feels guilty for going to Vassar and ends up transferring to a local school.
- Dead Guy Junior: Named for Dr. Westphall's mother, who died in a fire when he was young.
Tommy Westphall (Chad Allen)
- Dead Guy Junior: Named for Dr. Westphall's late father Thomas.
- Verbal Tic: Due to his autism, he always refers to himself in the third person and in very simple, broken phrases. ("Tommy want cereal", "Tommy go now")
- Walking Spoiler: Due to his role in the finale of the series.