"If physicians tend to be upper-middle-class, dentists are gloomily aware that they're middle, and are said to experience frightful status anxieties when introduced socially to 'physicians'—as dentists like to call them. (Physicians call themselves
doctors, and enjoy doing this in front of dentists, as well as college professors, chiropractors, and divines.)"
— Paul Fussell, Class
The practice of medicine has long been one of the highest status professions around - what could be more admirable than healing the sick?
In comedies, the high status attached to physicians is always shown to loom large over those who come close to, but do not attain the sacred mantle... such as other health professionals, doctors in non-medical fields, and sometimes even medical doctors whose specialty is perceived as less challenging or useful than others. Similarly, a nurse has a different set of skills than a doctor and they don't like to be confused for one.
Of course in some Real Life
cultures like Judaism (at least in America), a doctor is often considered to be a preferred profession by the family
, so this has some basis in reality.
See also Not That Kind of Doctor
. Compare Hard on Soft Science
open/close all folders
- In Bill Cosby's "Tonsils" routine from the Wonderfulness album, the young Cosby addresses an orderly: "Hey, you! Almost a doctor!"
- A patient goes to the doctor's, explaining that his pharmacist didn't know what to prescribe him. The doctor smugly responds that the day pharmacists know what to do, he'll eat his diploma, then asks what advice the *snrk* pharmacist gave. "He told me to see a doctor."
- Subverted by Marvel Comics' Night Nurse, who is actually a physician. Doctor Strange (a former surgeon) jokingly suggests she might have a "Florence Nightingale fetish," but she insists it's only because the codename is catchier than "Night General Practitioner."
- Sarah from Quite Ugly One Morning is an anesthetist, and has several rants in the book about arrogant surgeons, and people who are surprised to learn that one needs to be a doctor to practice anesthesia.
- Shadow of the Hegemon:
Petra: Oh, yes, I forgot, we trust your fellow conspirators to see all and miss nothing, because, after all, they aren't psychiatrists.
The Psychologist: I'm a psychologist.
Petra: Ouch. That must have hurt, to admit you're only half-educated.
- Seen in the Aubrey-Maturin series, usually from the perspective of the common sailors who are pleased to have an actual learned physician like Stephen Maturin on board. Most naval surgeons are decidedly not physicians. Some have little more than a steady hand with an amputation saw, and given the high rate of drunkenness among naval surgeons, possibly not even that.
- In Silence of the Lambs one of the (many) ways Hannibal Lecter undermines Dr Chilton, the obnoxious and abusive head of the institution in which Lecter's incarcerated, is by publicly pointing out that Chilton doesn't actually have an MD. However, Lecter's disdain for Chilton is not simply because of this (he holds most "real" doctors, as well as the rest of the world, in total contempt) but more due to Chilton's mistreatment of him and Chilton's mistaken belief that he's as clever as Lecter.
- Inverted in the Sidney Sheldon novel Nothing Lasts Forever, where Honey Taft reveals that she wanted to be a nurse, but that her father wouldn't settle for anything less than her being a doctor (which actually plays this trope straight from his point of view). This results in her being a very mediocre physician (that she slept with numerous professors in order to get good grades doesn't help), frequently lamenting not standing up to her father and going to nursing school as she wished.
- Ross from Friends holds a doctorate in paleontology. He uses the title "Doctor" as often as he can, and refers to himself as a doctor when the context implies "medical doctor":
- For instance, when Rachel's father is ill:
Rachel: It's so weird to see Dad [who is a doctor] like this. You never imagine doctors getting sick.
Ross: And yet, we do.
- Then there's the time Russ showed up. He crowed that Ross was jealous of him being a "real doctor." Ross remained unimpressed. "You're a doctor of gums! That's the smallest body part you can major in!" To be fair, Russ has most likely hit his glass ceiling already, whereas Ross can and did go much further.
- Best one is where they are at a hospital
Ross: And I'm Doctor Ross Geller.
Rachel: Ross, please, this is a hospital, okay? That actually means something here.
- During his parents' anniversary, it becomes apparent where Ross gets this.
Ross: I'm Ross Gellar.
Father: [interrupting] Doctor Ross Gellar!
Ross: [embarrassed] Dad! Please! [soberly] I'm Doctor Ross Gellar...
- Ben from My Family is a dentist, and is shown to have such a strong inferiority complex around doctors that his children lie about the profession of a friend's parent to avoid his reaction.
- Scrubs examples:
- Carla can become very defensive when anyone uses the phrase "just a nurse".
- Turk and J.D. are Star Crossed Heterosexual Life-Partners, having crossed the divide between physicians and surgeons, neither of whom consider the other group to be real doctors.
- In one episode where Dr. Cox has to call the hospital dermatologist, he rants to the patient:
Dr. Cox: Do you see what you've made me do? By once again choosing to spend all of your free time out on the surface of the sun until melanoma has developed, you have forced me to pull the attending dermatologist away from his bacne seminar and validate his most ridiculous of career choices.
- In the episode "My Quarantine":
Dr. Cox: Otherwise, let's bear in mind that we are short-handed. There are only four doctors here.
Turk: I counted more than that.
Dr. Cox: I'm talking legitimate doctors, turtle head. Here, Pee-Pants is a pathologist, so he doesn't count. Johnson is a dermatologist, which is Greek for "fake doctor," and please don't even get me started on you four surgeons.
Todd: There's only two of us.
Dr. Cox: You are so very useless, I counted you both twice.
- Cox also dislikes the surgeons and calls them "scalpel jockies" more often then not. Whenever he does (or calls them anything else derogatory) he will follow up by pointing out that the important stuff is being done by the "real doctors" and pointing to himself.
- An early episode has Elliot treating a psychiatrist. She unthinkingly asks him what prompted him to go that direction and not become a "real doctor".
Elliot: Wow! I can't imagine picking psychiatry as a specialty after interning as a real doctor.
- Dr. Cox even refers to his own psychiatrist as someone who couldn't cut it in real medicine.
- Alan from Two and a Half Men is often belittled for being a chiropractor and not a "real" doctor.
- Averted in the Bottle Episode "Secrets And Lies", where Abby claims that the reason she dropped out of medical school and returned to nursing was so she could spend more time with each patient. She even lampshades the trope and claims that not all nurses have MD Envy.
- And then she completes her medical education and becomes a doctor anyway a couple of seasons later.
- Also averted with Carol Hathaway in Season 3. Hathaway spent several episodes considering getting a medical degree—as well as one episode continually locking horns with another doctor, suddenly resentful of having to take orders from someone younger and less experienced that she, even though she'd never displayed such behavior before—but ultimately decided she preferred being a nurse.
- Dr. Maggie Doyle apparently had this. Shortly after joining the show, she mentions to Carol that she actually started out in nursing school before switching to medicine, as she wanted to be the one giving the orders instead of taking them.
- Jerkass Romano insisted on operating on his dog himself. When asked why he didn't take her to a veterinarian, he snaps, "You think I'd trust my dog with some idiot who couldn't get into real medical school?!" Another scene has him saying, "If I wanted a nurse's opinion, I'd. . .actually, I don't know what I'd do, because that's never happened. Throughout his time on the show, it's obvious he holds little regard for anyone who not only isn't in the medical profession, but isn't a surgeon like himself.
- Elaine dates an intern who's repeatedly failed his medical licensing exam. She insists on calling him "doctor" anyway so she can say she's dating a doctor. Later on, Elaine even helps him study for the exam to make him an actual doctor only for him to pass and dump her immediately afterward, under the rationale that as a doctor, he deserves better.
- In another episode, she dates a podiatrist; the story's humor comes from her desperation to think of him as a real doctor.
- Another episode features Jerry dating a dermatologist, with him claiming the whole profession is "just put some aloe on it" and referring to her as "pimple-popper MD". It backfires on him big time when he learns that dermatologists also treat skin cancer. For the record, she was insufferable about her career and spent a whole dinner date talking about how great it felt to save lives for a living.
- In Coupling Jane claimed her new boyfriend was a surgeon. He was actually a butcher.
- Out Of Practice was a short lived sitcom about a family where everyone was a doctor except for the youngest son, Ben, who was a relationship counselor (although he may have had a psychiatric doctorate, I can't recall). He always had a slight complex about this, although his other relatives always stressed that he was doing important work. Of course, his brother Oliver was a plastic surgeon, which, while an important profession, isn't generally thought of as being a "proper" doctor either—ironically, they spend almost as much time in residency/training as neurosurgeons, probably the most revered specialty of all.
- The series Providence refers to this—lead character Sydney is a plastic surgeon and frequently has to deal with other doctors outright scoffing at her when she reveals this. Even one of her classmates seems reluctant to take her on as partner in her practice because of this (granted, this is a family practice, which Sydney, despite her skills and training, really does lack experience in0.
- In one episode, Temperance thanked a chiropractor for his help but couldn't help noting that he wasn't a "real medical doctor". As she left he pointed out that she isn't a medical doctor either (she's an anthropologist).
- Another episode featured an M.D. making a snide remark about academics being people who couldn't do the "real" doctorate after Brennan said her doctorate was a PhD. Brennan herself, however, is quite proud of her doctorates and never shows envy towards medical doctors.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice", Rory is the village doctor, as he's always dreamed of being more than "just" a nurse.
- There are a lot of friction between doctors and the Ambulance crew in Sirens, there were really quite shocked when a doctor thanked them and said they did a good job. In another episode two of the lads attempt to hit on a medical student that says they're nothing but glorified taxi drivers.
- The guys and gals from The Big Bang Theory are usually respected for being scientists and having PD degrees, and Penny only thinks that science is incredibly boring, but at times she becomes fascinated with it. When Leonard dated Dr Stephanie, she just asked whether she's a "doctor-doctor", or "their kind of doctor", to which Leonard replied that she's a doctor doctor. Interestingly, medical doctor is a career that even arrogant Sheldon Cooper respects and he was satisfied that Leonard dated somebody useful who could treat his hypochondriac complaints.
- This is a frequent occurence on Grey's Anatomy. Surgery is considered the best specialty. Cristina even says it's the "marines" of specialties in the first episode. The doctors look down on nurses, and everyone looks down on interns (especially the second batch). The surgeons themselves sometimes divide into their specialties even further, with Cardio and Neural at the top and Orthopedic and General at the bottom.
- This is one of the central conflicts on Remedy. The members of a family all work in the same hospital. The father is the Chief of Medicine and the oldest daughter is also a doctor. The other daughter is a nurse and is dating a doctor. The son could have gone to medical school but is Brilliant but Lazy and instead slacked off and developed a substance abuse problem. At the start of the series the father gets the son a job as a porter in hospital in the hopes that he will turn his life around and maybe go back to school and become a doctor. While the father has no real issue with one of his daughters being a nurse, the older sister tends to be a jerk to the nurses. The nurses do not like it when the doctors lord it over the them and give as good as they get. The younger daughter has fights with her boyfriend who as a doctor tends to take the other doctors' side in any doctor-nurse conflict. The porters dislike both the doctors and nurses because they tend to see the porters as unskilled labour rather then the people who keep the hospital going and clean up all the messy stuff generated by the patients.
- In King of the Hill, after Bill falls into a diabetic coma, he's treated by a Dr. Jerk who tells him he's doomed to lose the use of both his legs from diabetes and that no amount of exercise or dieting will help since he's too fat and lazy to follow through with them. When a nurse suggests the name of a trainer who could help, he snarks, "You know what I learned in Medical School? Oh, right, you weren't there."
- Truth in Television, sadly. MD vs. DO is probably the most common, but other popular variants include surgeons vs. physicians, surgeons vs. anesthesiologists, and surgeons vs. surgeons (cardiothoracic vs. transplant, plastic vs. ophthalmic, etc)... It's probably less "MD Envy" and more "FACS Envy".
- There's much less of a rivalry nowadays as the training and practice of MDs and DOs have become almost identical. For all practical purposes, the two degrees are interchangeable (at least in the US and most of Canada). In fact, some DOs are concerned they're losing their separate identity.
- Doctors of psychology (between four and ten years of studying nothing but the human brain and human behavior) really, really hate psychiatrists (MDs who study psychology for one or two years.) The former believes the latter are completely incompetent in their field and good only for prescribing drugs; the latter believes the former are for poor patients only, and sometimes that psychology as a non-medicinal discipline should be abolished, despite nearly every major breakthrough and development in the field coming from psychologists. Psychologists don't hate psychiatrists per se, but it's more that they hate the fact that they go to school just as long but get very little respect in comparison and make 3 times less in income. Psychologists are even currently being run out of their own field by social workers (cheaper) and Psych Nurse Practitioners (can prescribe meds). Physician Assistants can work in psychiatry with zero amount of psychology background and make twice what a psychologist makes. Really psychologists have a right to hate the entire medical field in general.
- Most alternative medicine doctors tend to exhibit this trope, with their level of envy inversely proportional to the amount of science contained in their discipline.
- Surgeons in the UK use the titles 'Mr', 'Mrs' or 'Miss' instead of the 'Dr' they use after initially qualifying as a medic. This is due to an old tradition, whereby if you go back a few hundred years, surgery was a trade to which one was apprenticed, rather than something one became after academic study.
- Veterinary nurses are not aspiring or failed veterinarians. It's an entirely different profession from veterinary medicine, since it's the nurses who run the labs, restrain the patients, handle all the bodily fluids, give the injections, insert tubes, control anaesthesia, set up IVs and report symptoms, lab test values and radiology results to the doctor.
- Want to see something hilarious? Go ask a veterinarian/doctornote to draw blood/place an IV catheter/*insert technical nursing skill here* and watch them stammer about how they haven't done that since they were in school. Then watch the exasperated nurse whip the Vacutainer/syringe/whatever out of said doctor/vet's hand and place the thing in two seconds flat.
- Nurses versus doctors, particularly those in critical-care specialties (Intensive Care, Emergency, etc) and those with advanced-practice certifications (nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist). If you ever want to get your ass kicked, go ask an RN "If you're so smart, how come you aren't a doctor?" Nurses do 95% of the patient care tasks and handle all the medications in any given care setting, and have to be competent enough to keep track of everything that's going on with any given patient and be able to intervene rapidly when a patient's condition deteriorates.
- Anyone who's ever been a patient in a hospital can attest that, while the doctor might check in on them for anywhere from five to thirty minutes a day, the bulk of their care, all day, every day, is delivered by three or four nurses on various shifts.
- Nursing is commonly misunderstood as being a lesser form of a doctor, while in fact it's an entirely separate profession. True, nurses aren't qualified to do most of what a doctor does but a doctor is not qualified to do everything a nurse does either. It varies from country to country but one example that applies to many countries is that nurses have access to medicine rooms/medicin cabinets while doctors do not and nurses are the ones to prepare/mix medications (a good example being mixing iv antibiotics), since doctors prescribe the medications but the nurses are the ones to administer it (particularly in a care ward, it might work differently in the ER or OR). These days most doctors and nurses are well aware that they are two separate professions and work together as a team, relying on each other and trusting each other's competence.
- There's a Double Standard going on. Since nursing is even today still seen as a woman's job, people tend to assume that female nurses are nurses because they want to be and male nurses are nurses because they weren't smart enough to be doctors.
- Patients are sometimes insensitive to medical students. Since the stereotype is that women go into nursing and men go into medicine, some female medical students will still be asked when they will be done with nursing school, or why they are interested in nursing, while their male counterparts are standing right there (and everyone is in white coats). It wouldn't be so bad if the patients hadn't already asked the male students what fields of medicine they were going to pursue.