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Back-Alley Doctor

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"Lay down on table. I take lungs now, you get gills next week... Uhh, you might feel small pain."

"I might not have a 'Med School Degree', but when you get shot, you'll be happy I'm here."
Dr. Zed, Borderlands

A surgeon with medical credentials that are... less than ideal. This could be for any number of reasons, from the surgeon having his license revoked, only having done half the courses, to actually being denied one in the first place, or (if you're lucky) he got it in the wrong country. One or more patients in the past may have died on his operating table due to improper procedures, mistakes, or lack of proper sanitation. Chances are they still do. Even so, he still gets a lot of business, simply because he never asks any questions. He does, however, expect you to do the same, and he expects to be paid in cash.

The Back-Alley Doctor typically operates in a dimly lit, grungy room in a cheap apartment or No-Tell Motel with minimal surgical tools and equipment. Sterilization is optional, often involving cigarette lighters, hot plates, or that bottle of whiskey he's been sipping on all day, including during the surgery. The whiskey is likely to double as a painkiller and is safer than any pills he may have on hand.

He's often the only medical recourse available to criminals, who may make up his entire clientele, due to legitimate doctors having to report gunshot wounds and other injuries inflicted by violence to the police. A Back-Alley Doctor funded by organized crime might have as good or better equipment and practices than a legit doctor and an office in a criminal front.

On the other hand, in a Dystopia he may be a good doctor who fell afoul of the Obstructive Bureaucrat or who is out of favor with the regime. He may be the only person who'll operate on a wounded La Résistance fighter. His poverty and lack of proper equipment may be the only problem in getting good medical treatment — well, that and the danger of getting busted. In settings where abortion is illegal, women may turn to this doctor (unless they are wealthy).

If more skilled, the Back-Alley Doctor may provide plastic surgery as a means to hide an outlaw character's identity. Can cross with Open Heart Dentistry if one of the reasons he's not a doctor is that he was trained in a completely different medical field; veterinarians working on humans is a common occurrence. Horse vets operating on wounded gangsters is practically a trope in and of itself due to the established links between organized crime and horse racing.

Such a doctor is a staple figure in Cyberpunk or other Used Future settings. He's the one various shady characters or protagonists on the run visit when they have to install or repair various implants, often stolen or illegal, or remove all manners of junk living in a futuristic dystopia tends to leave in one's body, such as inhibitors, loyalty enforcement implants, tracking devices or even built in Explosive Leash. May also dabble in Organ Theft or unlocking Neuro Vaults.

If they had a medical license previously but lost it due to ethics violations, they had a Doctor's Disgraceful Demotion.

This is Truth in Television, as cases of uncertified or disbarred practitioners appear in news articles. May result in Comically Inept Healing.

A Back-Alley Doctor might also double as a Quirky Doctor.


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  • A twisted Public Service Announcement from a few years back showed a teen going to a back-alley piercer to get his tongue pierced; the piercer came complete with bad teeth, rusty tools, disgusting lair, etc. After the procedure, the piercer asked the teen, "Won't you join me in a cigarette?" Teen: "You think I'm crazy?" Um... yes.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dr. Meredith from Banana Fish actually has a medical degree; he just isn't licensed anymore. He mostly does illegal abortions, but in a pinch will provide basic medical services for Ash Lynx and his Gangbangers.
  • Dr. Daisuke Ido from Battle Angel Alita is an unusually sympathetic and competent one; he was a licensed doctor back on Tiphares and knows perfectly well what he's doing, but he currently lives in a near-lawless Mega City on a post-apocalyptic Earth That Was, so it's hard for him to be anything but a Back-Alley Doctor. Still, he's devoted to practicing medicine and is practically the closest thing to a proper doctor that the Scrapyard has.
  • Black Jack isn't licensed and he's mercenary as hell, but he's also scarily good at his job, in contrast to most examples of the trope who are generally various levels of incompetent. And while he can operate in a dingy back alley or an unsterile van, he prefers not to.
  • Cyberpunk: Edgerunners: This being set in the same universe as Cyberpunk 2077, it should be no surprise ripperdocs still function as this. Special mention should go to "Doc", David's ripper whose "office" is filthy and has dried blood in several spots, plus the chair he performs operations on (in addition to having a bite bar since he seems to either not use anesthetics at all or uses ones that don't really work) is the same one he masturbates on to his BDs and personal pleasure machine in his free time. At the very least, he does point out he's not a licensed physician multiple times to the Edgerunner crew, not that it stops David from continuing to come back to him for chroming up and meds. He even warns David that his overuse of chrome is going to catch up to him, high cyberware tolerance or not.
  • Referenced in Death Note, when Kira and the Task Force are trying to find Mello after he blew up a building to escape the Japanese police, reasoning that (since they Never Found the Body) he must be alive... but that there's no way he's uninjured. They're right; Mello survived the explosion but was badly burnt on the left side of his face and torso. They talk to numerous doctors and nurses all over the place and mention that some of them were not legitimate. None of them recognized anyone that looked like Mello as Linda had drawn him years ago (that drawing being the only image of Mello they have). It is not known who treated Mello's burns or how, although a popular fan theory (particularly among the Yaoi Fangirls) is that it was his companion, Matt, who likely would have had only rudimentary medical knowledge or training at best.
  • Shinra Kishitani from Durarara!!. He is a competent surgeon, though, and wouldn't have any problem getting a license (aside from his Improbable Age, that is), if he ever cared to. Of course, being raised by his father, Shingen, the show's resident Mad Doctor, left him with more than just a couple of loose screws, so he never bothered. He also seems to make a decent buck on his occupation too, as evident from the posh apartmentnote  where he lives with not-girlfriend Celty Sturluson, and them never lacking anything. Apparently, as Ikebukuro is a somewhat upscale district, even Back Alley Doctors charge a pretty penny there. Or perhaps due to being the local medic for all the Yakuza in Ikebukuro, able to handle bullet removals and other "necessary repairs," on the spot, on the quiet, no questions asked, confidentiality guaranteed,note  he gets paid well.
  • Franken Fran's Fran Madaraki may actually be licensed (it's not entirely clear), but probably not — no sane licensing board would let her possess one. What she does frequently (and we do mean frequently) goes beyond the pale. But she can do things that are medically impossible, so people keep seeking her out.
  • In Heat Guy J, there is an illegal doctor known as "Sensei", who wears a shirt with a skull-and-crossbones on it. He's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who's always willing to help Daisuke and adopted a little girl he found and trained her as a nurse. For a Back Alley Doctor with a rather gruff disposition (and an implied drinking problem), he is good at what he does, as competent as an actual licensed doctor.
  • Barazo Mankanshoku from Kill la Kill proudly touts himself as one, as well as the fact that he's killed more patients than he's saved. He even has a glowing neon sign on his house describing him as such. He takes such pride in this that when Mako moves them up the ranks, he goes by "Front-Alley Doctor". When he becomes the medical officer for the Nudist Beach movement, the Infirmary door has a piece of paper taped to it that reads "Back-Alley".
  • Nanachi of Made in Abyss, a humanoid bunny who gained their medical skills partly from an evil Mad Scientist and partly through years of experimenting on an immortal grotesque mutant (intending to find a way to kill her). Reg has little choice but to accept Nanachi's help after Riko nearly suffers a Rasputinian Death many kilometers below civilization, and Nanachi doesn't take the situation very seriously (Reg is sent on an errand for "supplies", most of which turns out to be Nanachi's dinner). Downplayed, though, as Nanachi has serious expertise hidden behind their strange techniques and personality, managing to save Riko and (mostly) fix her seriously injured arm (she was injected with deadly poison, and Reg tried to amputate it). It's implied that legitimate human doctors on the surface could not have pulled this off.
  • Mikio fills this role in the semifinal episode of Megalo Box when he helps Yuri remove his Gear. While Mikio does have the credentials to perform the operation, he does so on his own in a cabin in the woods without access to a team, proper disinfection, or access to the ideal equipment, plus his patient refuses anesthesia due to Macho Masochism.
  • Monster (1994):
    • Dr. Tenma comes across a teenage girl serving as one of these for a poor community of Asian immigrants who would otherwise be unable to afford medical care. Unusually for this trope, she's portrayed entirely sympathetically—she inherited her father's medical equipment, and most of her clients are undocumented immigrants who can't seek more mainstream medical aid for fear of being deported. Her skills are realistically limited, and she at one point collapses due to lack of sleep, but at the end of it, Tenma merely advises her to continue her studies.
    • Otto Heckle also had plans to manage Dr. Tenma as a back-alley doctor (albeit more competent than others listed here). Seeing as the aforementioned neurosurgeon is an idealistic All-Loving Hero, that idea didn't work out too well (back-alley doctors, after all, aren't supposed to refuse the money or convince their patients to turn themselves in).
  • Doctor Hiriluk from One Piece is a heroic example who is hampered by the fact that he knows nothing of actual medicine and developed "cures" that only made the victims worse.
  • Doctor Wilde from Princess Sarah is a realistic example from Victorian England — a medical practitioner brought low by his alcoholism, whose only selling point is his cheap consultation fee.
  • Ray the Animation: Ray herself is one of these, made easier by her X-Ray Vision. Ironically, she was raised on an organ farm. Her childhood mentor was Black Jack, who made a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo in the manga and appeared outright in the anime (since the animation studio owned the rights).

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who: In Spare Parts, Thomas Dodd is a shady character running an, at best, quasi-legal business specializing in cut-rate organ and limb transplants. He's not too fussy about how he acquires his stock.

  • The third painting in William Hogarth's Marriage A-la-Mode sees Viscount Squanderfield visiting Monsieur de la Pillule (roughly translated, Mr. Pill), a French quack, to seek treatment for the case of syphilis he has given a young girl. The doctor's office is decorated with a narwhal tusk and comb, suggesting that, like many back-alley doctors in the 1700s, he trained as a barber first and came to medicine later, and other trappings in his office imply that he has had brushes with the law. He also dabbles in inventing terrifying medical devices that look more likely to make patients worse than better, such as a contraption intended to re-set dislocated shoulders that looks like it belongs in a torture chamber. The Viscount presumably values discretion over qualifications when it comes to seeking treatment for venereal disease.

    Comic Books 
  • The Crime Doctor, from Batman, was an honest surgeon forced by his brother Rupert Thorne to work for him. He also happens to be Bruce Wayne's physician, which allows him to discover his identity as Batman.
  • Dr Mid-Nite from Justice Society of America technically qualifies; his license was revoked, and he runs a free clinic in a rundown area, often catering to fellow superheroes who can't get standard care without blowing their secret identities. Unlike most examples, he's actually a brilliant physician and the loss of his license wasn't the result of malpractice.
  • Kling Klang Klatch: This Cyberpunk murder mystery hinges on black-market organs harvested from the bodies of a back-alley doctor's deceased patients... who happen to be distressed young toy pandas in a city of living teddy bears...
  • The Marvel Universe has the Night Nurse, who is technically a licensed physician (not a nurse, despite the name). However, she operates under this trope to provide confidential care to the city's costumed vigilantes, and maintains her own secret identity in regards to her name and her qualifications.
  • The teenage Midge in Naughty Bits can't tell her parents she's gotten pregnant, so she has to go to a back-alley abortionist. The man turns out to be a former EMT who was fired for showing up in the job drunk; he gives Midge whiskey for painkiller (it doesn't work very well) and threatens her afterwards when she asks about going to a real doctor. The author then goes on to elaborate on how it could easily have been even worse.
  • The Punisher:
    • An early Punisher story had Frank get in contact with a plastic surgeon after his face was carved up. The plastic surgeon, naturally a hottie, had a problem with painkillers and taking too many. Nevertheless, to help Frank hide, she made him black.
    • The Welcome Back, Frank arc has Frank get one of these not only to treat his own wounds but also to help an innocent friend who got caught up in his work. The doc is a tragic case of The Alcoholic, and his introduction is one of the comic's few genuine tearjerker moments.
    • John, a The Punisher MAX Bit Part Bad Guy, operates on injured criminals, using pretty bare-bones medical equipment.
    • One story takes place through the eyes of a hired arsonist Punisher is chasing. His gang gets shot up and he drives the only other survivor to a shady, unlicensed doctor. The doctor tells him that his friend's wounds are too severe for anyone but a hospital to treat, and that he probably won't survive the trip to the hospital.
  • A story of such a doctor motivated or better yet victimized by love appears in the Anthology Comic Strange Tales by Marvel Comics. Despite having a license, he is pushed by his callous, greedy wife into accepting less than legal jobs in order to fund her expensive lifestyle and in fear of losing her, he agrees. Finally, he realizes that he has already lost her to this lifestyle when she appears gravely injured and a gangster-customer's girlfriend.
  • Spider-Man: Jonas Harrow is a former surgeon who lost his medical license and practice for performing unsanctioned and illegal experiments on some of his patients. He then stumbled across a mortally wounded thug who had been left for dead in an alleyway and took the opportunity to perform an experimental lifesaving operation, replacing most of his skull with a steel alloy and turning the thug into the supervillain Hammerhead. Harrow then embarked on a new career as a criminal doctor, specializing in giving his patients superhuman powers.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Bloom County, after liposuction is made illegal, Opus visits a back-alley liposuctionist. The liposuctionist is a large, terrifying man with tattoos who claims he is putting himself through medical school with his illegal earnings. His operating room is dimly lit, rat-infested, and filthy. Predictably, he botches Opus' nose liposuction, and Opus' nose is thin and shriveled afterwards.
  • Dr Enos Pork from Piranha Club. He does run his own clinic, but his degree is from an unaccredited university in South America, he has been seen offering roadside services more than once, and he constantly misdiagnoses every ailment as "malaria". He did successfully perform Sid's kidney stone operation, but that was mainly because the alcohol he gave Sid instead of anesthesia ended up dissolving the kidney stones.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: Back alley veterinarian, in this case. The animal doctor who declaws Mittens in "The Survivor" is presented as being both a clandestine and unethical sort, one willing to perform procedures most such folks won't do if the price is right.
    As he [Jack] discovered, you can always locate an under-the-table exception to doing the right thing if you look hard enough. One of his construction job colleagues had an uncle who would perform any kind of animal surgery for the right price.
  • A Game of Cat and Cat: Doctor Dude (real name unknown) and his accomplice Mr. Adams run an underground clinic where they treat everyone from undercover secret agents to local gangs to the Yakuza. There are a lot of hijinks with the job - a lot of the patients have grudges against each other, Doctor Dude only speaks English even though his clinic is in Japan, he frequently has to deal with injuries caused by the supernatural, and the ghosts of those who die at his operating table come back to haunt him. Which is apparently very common in the medical profession, but most doctors can't see ghosts. Doctor Dude doesn't really help his case either, considering his habit of stealing the organs of his dead patients.
  • In the pro wrestling alternate universe story, The Horsewomen of Las Vegas, Sasha Banks winds up this for Becky Lynch against her will. Sasha is a fully certified nurse practitioner, and Becky insists on going to her for any injuries she suffers, much to Sasha's annoyance. Later in the story, after she loses her job at the local hospital due to her using a chemical restraint on Becky's Co-Dragon #1, ODB, and unable to find work anywhere else because of it, Sasha reluctantly agrees to work at a clinic being funded by Becky's organization, with the expectation that she would treat Becky and her gang off the record.
  • The Punisher fanfic What Are You? features an unusually competent back-alley doctor (a former Army medic who graduated near the top of his medical school class). Some time ago, he had the misfortune to set up his practice in an area filled with professional criminals. The Hippocratic oath (and the threat of being killed) leaves him obliged to treat anyone who shows up at his door. The mobsters scare away his honest clientele and pay him just enough money to keep open. By the time of the story, he's lost everything good in his life and is contemplating suicide. The Punisher shows up with some bullet wounds and gives the doctor enough money to start over elsewhere.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 10 Rillington Place, John Christie isn't a doctor, not even the Back-Alley variety — he's actually a Serial Killer, and he pretends to be a Back-Alley Doctor to lure women into his clutches. He kills one woman who comes to him to cure her chronic cough, another who wanted an illegal abortion, and another who wanted relief from migraines.
  • American Mary. Mary is a surgical student down on her luck, and applies for a job at a strip club to make ends meet. During her audition interview someone at the club needs emergency surgery, and she's offered $5000 to do the job because there's no-one else available. After that people start coming to her for illegal body modification.
  • Antigang: After being shot during the bank robbery, Waked goes to a back alley to get the bullet removed and obtain painkillers. The retired commissioner locates the doctor and he is able to supply Niels with Waked's location.
  • In Batman (1989), Jack Napier, the man who will become the Joker, visits a gangland back-alley surgeon in an attempt to get his face restructured after he takes a bullet to the face followed by a plunge into toxic waste in a particularly nasty encounter with Batman. The surgeon lacks decent tools and his skills are left in question. Ultimately, Napier's face is transformed into a horrid Slasher Smile. Upon seeing his deformed and horribly discolored face, the newly born Joker bursts into hysterical laughter.
  • City Heat: Lieutenant Speer finds a criminal he shot in the ass being operated on by a drunken doctor of this type. Speer threatens to ignite the alcohol being used as an antiseptic if the crook doesn't talk.
  • Cloud Atlas: The shady character of Ovid, who removes Sonmi~451's collar to allow her to appear to be a pureblood.
  • In Cradle of Fear, Nick Holland's doctor is willing to perform a leg transplant without asking too many questions about where Nick obtained the leg from.
  • Doc Miles in Crank. In Crank: High Voltage, he mentions losing his license in association with his ex-wife's botched vaginal rejuvenation surgery.
  • Cruel Story of Youth: Kiyoshi brings Makoto to Akimoto's grungy clinic in order to get an illegal abortion. After Kiyoshi and Makoto get arrested for something else, Kiyoshi rats Akimoto out in order to escape punishment himself.
  • In Dirty Dancing, "a real M.D." is called in to do Penny's abortion, only it turns out that "he had a dirty knife and a folding table".
  • Played with in Dirty Pretty Things, a film about black-marketeering of human organs in the London underworld. The surgeon who removes the organs operates out of a room in a hotel where the night staff have been paid to look the other way, and (although we never see him work) seems to be a textbook case of this trope. When the surgically trained protagonist Okwe is coerced into doing a job for them, he's appalled at the conditions and insists on MacGyvering a more acceptable operating theatre out of the limited resources they have available.
  • Hotel Artemis features the titular abandoned hotel-turned-hospital for criminals, which is a pretty advanced version of this, on top of being declared a Truce Zone by the local underworld. The events of the film occur during a night when multiple people, from hoodlums to assassins to The Dreaded local major crime lord, all decide for various reasons that the truce can go to hell.
  • Heat: After Chris Shiherlis is shot in the shoulder by Det. Casals during the bank robbery shootout, Neil takes him to one of these types of doctors. In a deleted scene, the doctor demands twice the normal fee.
  • In the HBO pro-choice drama If These Walls Could Talk, the illicit abortionist in the first act looks and acts like he walked out of an audition for a Torture Technician. His equipment is pretty dirty, and he ignores a patient's concerned inquiry into whether they're sterile. Once he finishes the abortion, he turns and walks away without a word as the concerned woman is still lying on her back. In the next scene, his patient apparently dies from internal bleeding due to his apathy and incompetence.
  • Inglorious Basterds: After the shootout in the tavern, the bullet in von Hammersmark's leg is removed by a vet working for the French Resistance.
  • Just Go with It: One of Danny's patients comes to him to get corrected after seeing one of these for plastic surgery.
  • Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance: Shusuke runs a hidden back-alley clinic in the slums. Lady Snowblood, a fugitive from justice, staggers in after she's shot by the cops.
  • Love with the Proper Stranger has a non-doctor abortionist working in a backroom in conditions so horrifying that the protagonists flee in terror without submitting to the procedure, despite having already paid a considerable sum of money up front.
  • In Minority Report, John Anderton gets his eyes changed by a back-alley doctor in a disgusting apartment. For added horror, the doctor is a former plastic surgeon who was arrested by Anderton some years ago for setting his own patients on fire — just so he could demonstrate his skills. Luckily for John, the doctor is grateful for being sent to jail, as it gave him the time he needed to continue studying medicine in the prison library. Unluckily, the doctor forgot about the rotten sandwich and milk in the fridge next to the acceptable ones, to the dismay of his temporarily-blinded patient.
  • Mission: Impossible III. In the climax, Ethan Hunt pursues the villains down a back alley and into a house where an elderly Chinese man seemingly points in the direction they went. However, it turns out he's walked into an unlicensed hospital, and the man just assumed from Ethan's battered appearance that he had come in for treatment. Unlike other examples of this trope, the surgery is neat and well-equipped.
  • Outland: Dr. Lazarus points out that most of the In-Universe Frontier Doctor corps are this in all but name, trying their damnedest to out-run legal problems on more civilized parts of the system.
  • The Panic in Needle Park: The Back Alley Doctor never appears onscreen, but the film opens with Helen returning home from receiving an illegal 1971 back-alley abortion. Whoever did it did a bad job as Helen won't stop bleeding and has to go to the hospital.
  • Payback opens with Porter getting bullets dug out of his back by an alcoholic Back-Alley Doctor (scalpels sterilized in whiskey and all).
  • In Reservoir Dogs, the characters acknowledge that due to their status as wanted criminals, they can not drop off the gunshot Mr. Orange to a hospital, and discuss the possibility of sending him to one of these. A bit of Dramatic Irony subverts this: Mr. Orange is an undercover cop, so if they had been willing to ditch him, he would have been fine.
  • Lily from She Creature is infertile because of a botched back-alley abortion during her time as a prostitute. It comes as a great surprise when she realizes she's pregnant by the mermaid.
  • Sin City: A Dame To Kill For: After being kneecapped and having his fingers broken in punishment for beating Senator Roark at cards, Johnny trades his expensive shoes to such a doctor (played by Christopher Lloyd) so he'll fix him up enough for another round. The doctor shooting himself up with heroin before the operation doesn't make Johnny feel any better, but he does a decent enough job.
  • Sleep Dealer: Memo gets his Node implant surgery in the back of a seedy bar in Tijuana after learning that the price to have a doctor install them licitly far exceeds his means. Luz is a writer who once worked as a "Coyotek" (a portmanteau of "Coyote" (i.e. illegal people smuggler) and "Techie") who used to provide back-alley Node jobs; she carries out the procedure for Memo as a favor.
  • The Stepfather III has the killer going to a back alley plastic surgeon, who he has alter his appearance (Terry O'Quinn, who played the stepfather in the first two movies, was replaced by a new guy, necessitating an explanation for his different appearance). The scene is particularly Squicky, due to the director using footage of actual plastic surgery for it.
  • The Sweeney: An underworld doctor operates on a wounded bank robber. He's more sharply dressed than most examples of the trope and is also a police informant.
  • In Too Soon to Love, teenagers Cathy and Jim want to get rid of Cathy's pregnancy. Hughie gives Jim the address of a sketchy abortionist who works in the red light district, in a dirty, badly-maintained building that can be accessed via a literal back alley. While Cathy and Jim are going upstairs to see her, another couple walks down past them, the woman's face streaked with tears. The sight of her makes Cathy decide not to go through with it.
  • The Tribe has a back-alley abortionist working out of her home with instruments sterilized over her stove.
  • In Unwed Mother, Gertie directs Betty to a creepy, drunken abortionist played by Timothy Carey. Betty can't bring herself to go through with the procedure and flees his office. Later, she hears he was arrested after one of his patients died.
  • Vera Drake is about Vera, a sympathetic back-alley abortionist in London in the years when abortion was illegal.
  • Walpurgis Night: Dr. Smith, the back-alley abortionist who aborts Clary's pregnancy, and then is arrested, Clary just barely escaping arrest herself. Apparently he isn't even a real doctor as the newspaper headlines of the story use Scare Quotes and call him a "Doctor".
  • In The Wolverine, after Logan gets shot multiple times while his Healing Factor isn't working, Mariko takes him to get fixed up by the nephew of the manager of the hotel they're staying at. He's a veterinarian. Well, a veterinary student.
  • The Wrong Box features Peter Sellers as a disreputable doctor fallen on hard times (after that unfortunate incident with the Lord Mayor's wife), living in a drunken haze in a grubby little office full of cats. He sells a blank death certificate to Peter Cook as part of a scheme to collect an inheritance, insisting on washing his hands for even this humble task, and then absently drying them off on a cat.

  • There's an old, bitter joke in the medical community that goes like this: "What do you call someone who graduates last in their class at med school? Doctor." Technically Trivially Obvious if you think about it, of course. But you might meet one who makes you think their school needs to raise its standards. And as George Carlin points out, someone probably has an appointment with him/her tomorrow.

  • Richard Brautigan's The Abortion: An unnamed narrator tells the tale of taking his girlfriend Vida to a veterinarian's office in Tijuana, Mexico for an abortion in the time before Roe vs. Wade. Surprisingly, the vet is an aversion: Dr. Garcia actually has high ethical and professional standards. To sterilize his surgical tools, the doctor douses them in tequila (but does not partake of said tequila himself) and then heat-sterilizes them with an acetylene torch. When he says "no pain, all clean" you can believe it.
  • The Alice Network:
    • Violette, who used to be a nurse but doesn’t have the qualifications or experience she would need for surgery, is a rare ethical example of this trope. She is very honest about her capabilities and the chances of her patient’s survival. She helps her patient look through her options, but they decide to go through with the surgery anyway.
    • Finn mentions that he found a doctor for Eve via his black market connections who was willing to overlook the suspicious circumstances.
  • In the Angel novel Solitary Man, Dr. Kyle LaMott is a plastic surgeon who lost his license to practice medicine two years ago, but runs a clinic with a burly male nurse (whose female predecessor was scared away by a patient with tentacles) that provides surgery to otherworldly patients like vampires who need botox injections or want their fangs filed.
  • In The Ballad Of Lee Cotton, an alcoholic Bunny-Ears Lawyer of a surgeon is the only doctor for miles when Lee is involved in a traffic accident that, among other injuries, crushes his genitals. Unable to save his manhood, the doctor decides that rather than force him to live the rest of his life as a eunuch, he's going to give the unconscious Lee full sex-reassignment surgery right there and then. The fact that he's something of a Mad Scientist who's wanted an excuse to do that for years has nothing to do with it, of course. It's worth noting that this isn't the beginning of the story — this happens halfway through, and continues the novel's theme of identity and categorization.
  • In Alan E. Nourse's The Bladerunner,note  an entire network of back-alley doctors have arisen due to the draconian Health Control laws that require anyone receiving government-funded health care be sterilized after the age of five. Subverted a bit in that the doctors in question are almost always legitimate medical practitioners operating on the side, with clean and safe surgical supplies provided by the titular Bladerunners.
  • In The Bourne Identity, Bourne encounters one like this in Marseilles who was formerly a respected British surgeon but became one of these after his alcoholism led to him killing a patient.
  • The Cider House Rules has Homer Wells study under a doctor to learn how to perform illegal abortions. Although Wells is not licensed, he is not seedy and takes great pains to give professional care.
  • Nahri's job at the start of The Daevabad Trilogy is this mixed with Con Man. She does have legitimate medical knowledge, both from her mysterious abilities to perceive illness (unbeknownst to her, she is the scion of a powerful dynasty of djinn healers) and from the mundane medical education she got from a Jewish doctor who recognized her as a fellow outcast in 18th-century Cairo. For her friends and neighbors, Nahri provides competent doctoring. But she also engages in mystical quackery for wealthy clients who are gullible or desperate. She's first seen prescribing a treatment to a rich hypochondriac Ottoman who has nothing wrong with him (while she can see his skeptical brother has cancer developing in his lung, which she can't do anything about), and she gets mixed up with the plot when she accidentally picks a magical hotspot to perform a zar and summon a djinn to "exorcise" an unfortunate young woman with severe mental illness.
  • Discworld:
    • Dr. "Mossy" Lawn of Ankh-Morpork is a subversion; He has the normal office location, tools, and clientele of a normal Back Alley Doctor because he studied the medical practices of Klatch (a fantasy culture equivalent of golden age Arabia and Arch-Nemesis of Ankh-Mopork), but because their methods actually work his patients have a much higher survival rate than those of the city's more "respectable" doctors (since in Ankh-Morpork, standard medical practice is just keeping the patient alive long enough to pay. Living beyond that is seen as a nice bonus for the patient). When he manages to save the life of the wife and child of the richest man in Ankh-Morpork, His Grace, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Vimes gives him one hundred thousand A-M dollars (equivalent to perhaps $50 million USD), and he uses the money to build a hospital for the poor. Vimes picked him especially because he knew from being a cop (and from personal experience) that he was better than so-called "respectable" doctors.
    • Dr. James Folsom (a.k.a. 'Doughnut Jimmy'), also of Ankh-Morpork. He's actually a racehorse vet, but he performs medicine on humans as well. He is trusted more by various humans because letting a horse die gets much worse punishment (at the hands of organized criminals who are unhappy) than letting a human die. He has a weird habit of forgetting when his patients aren't horses, but only when talking about them. When in his care, he becomes single-minded and implacable until he's done.
    • And the Igors of Discworld (there are many) become trusted doctors, working out of anywhere. They tend to have rather obvious stitches and different views on the ethics of organ donation than others but are just so good at the job that this doesn't matter.
  • Dive (2003): In the flashback scenes, wounded privateers are left to the not-so tender care of York the barber/dentist/sea doctor, a menacing figure whose main treatments seem to be amputations and maggot therapy.
  • In The Dresden Files, coroner Waldo Butters plays this role for Harry, especially when the hospital isn't a safe option.note  Butters, for his part, often protests that he's not qualified, but Dresden talks him into it.
  • Frostflower and Thorn begins with unwantedly pregnant warrior Thorn preoccupied with how to pay a "borter" for her little problem before it gets big. The risks involved with poor hygiene and dubious skill, in addition to her lack of funds, convince her to agree to an alternative proposed by a sorceress.
  • In Hack Alley Doctor, Tony and Derrick are both unlicensed mod-docs. Tony because he no longer has his license, and Derrick because he's presumably never been licensed, or his license is invalid, on account of having assumed a new identity. The Hack Alley docs' main work revolves around installing and repairing mods, which include implants and prosthetic limbs.
  • Carl Hiaasen has used this trope a couple of times:
    • In Skin Tight, the Big Bad, Dr. Rudy Graveline, has set himself up as a plastic surgeon even though he doesn't have a license. He comes to the attention of the hero of the story, ex-cop Mick Stranahan, when it turns out Graveline accidentally killed a patient through a botched nose job and and then made the body disappear.
    • In Native Tongue, after The Dragon shoots up a trailer and ends up hitting Skink (he thought he was shooting Joe, the main character), Joe ends up taking Skink to a vet to sew him up, at Skink's insistence.
  • In Impractical Magic, there is fierce competition for healers in this Wizarding School to get practice time and become good enough to earn favor. As a result, when they are not spreading tripwires on high stairs or trying to startle cooks doing knife work, they will gather at Hotspur Ally (a.k.a. Blood Ally) where people can come for cheap and less than licit medical treatment.
  • The Host (2008): Doc, like every other person who's still human, lives in a cave and drinks too much. But he's the only doctor who isn't a body-snatching alien.
  • Brawne Lamia and Johnny in Hyperion (section "The Detective's Tale") visit one in one of the more Wretched Hives on Lamia's native Lusus, as part of their adventures in trying to figure out who killed Johnny.
  • Known Space has these as a major plot component. In the sci-fi future, humans can live practically forever as long as there's a steady supply of compatible organ transplants. The legitimate clinics never have enough donors to meet demand, so "Organleggers" set up back-alley surgical suites, where they can fix you up with the organs of some civilian that they snatch off the street. Fortunately, this problem abruptly ceases when Ancient Astronauts come and instigate a large conspiracy for the protection of Mankind which, among other things, improves medical technology to the point that organ transplants are obsolete. After Protector, back alley doctors are pretty much obsolete, along with most other societal ills.
  • MARZENA has Dr. Samir, an illegal alien magic plastic surgeon, who is also known as the Face Maker, and who for the right price will make you "disappear". And there's also Private Thomas who operates on people by using only his Augmented Reality Glasses, which uses holographic magic to show him everything a real surgeon would need to do.
  • Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles: Inverted by Robin of Granchester — actually Cambridge's only licensed barber-surgeon, but so filthy and incompetent (even by medieval standards) that people avoid him wherever possible.
  • Naked Lunch: Dr. Benway, and how. (He's also probably a Torture Technician.)
    "... Of course I'd made a few 'dummheits' here and there. Who hasn't? There was the time me and the anesthetist drank up all the ether and the patient came up on us, and I was accused of cutting the cocaine with Saniflush. ..."
    "... Did I ever tell you about the time I performed an appendectomy with a rusty sardine can? And once I was caught short without instruments once and removed a uterine tumor with my teeth. ..."
  • In Newes from the Dead, Anne buys an abortion potion from a wise woman. It doesn't work, but she has a gruesome miscarriage some weeks later. Anne herself is not very confident in the wise woman's skills.
  • Parker: In The Man With the Getaway Face, Parker attends a clinic run by a highly-skilled plastic surgeon who was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his former membership of the Communist Party. These days he specializes in providing new faces to members of the underworld.
  • In Pocket in the Sea, Jensen has shades of this trope. While he is licensed, careful and sanitary, he also takes a great deal of joy in performing unnecessary procedures and occasionally plays god by letting patients that have done bad things die on his watch. Though the narrator of the story is a friend of his and consistently casts him as The Good Doctor, the premise of the book is that the Navy is short on good personnel and they are staffing boats with sailors that would have otherwise been deemed unfit for duty. It's not clear if Jensen is indeed a good doctor or merely a more legitimate Back-Alley Doctor.
  • Deconstructed in Skulduggery Pleasant, when hit-man Sanguine gets slashed across the stomach and has to get healed by "some back alley moron" who screws something up which results in Sanguine surviving but losing his magic.
  • Serge Storms: In Cadillac Beach, Serge takes an acquaintance to a drunken, unlicensed doctor to receive treatment for a relatively minor gunshot wound and the incompetent doctor kills the patient. Despite this, Serge argues that the doctor is clearly excellent at his job due to being able to correctly diagnose his unlucky patient as dead.
  • In The Serpent's Shadow, Dr. Maya Witherspoon is a heroic example of the rich criminal version. Though she's actually licensed to practice and is probably the best doctor in London's charity clinics, she also provides medical care to actresses and rich men's mistresses in "absolute discretion," and among other things, provides "obscene" information on contraceptives to women of all classes.
  • In The Sisters Grimm, the local dentist is Frau Pfefferkuchenhaus. As in, the gingerbread house witch from "Hansel and Gretel". She admits to having no medical training whatsoever, and when her patient mumbles about seeing her license, she gives him more anaesthetic.
  • In The Stainless Steel Rat, Jim once uses such a doctor for plastic surgery. The guy was fired after his drinking problems led to a patient's death, so Jim had to add vomiting powder to all the alcohol antiseptic as a safety measure.
  • Dr. Nehle in Suspicion was a very good doctor, but his problems with Greek and Latin made it impossible for him to get a license. He met an Evil Doppelgänger who got that license for him. Things go downhill from there.
  • Warhammer 40,000 novels:
    • Gaunt's Ghosts:
      • Kolding gets forced into this role. Gaunt and Maggs have to find an out-of-the-way doctor, and he's there. They are less than pleased when they learn his work, for many years, has been only autopsies, but he's their only chance.
      • Arbus, a similar character appearing in Blood Pact, is a medicae working for the criminal underground since he lost his license due to medical malpractice.
    • Invoked in Dan Abnett's Ravenor Returns. They need a medicae and Zael finds them Belknap. Patience objects when she learns he lost his license for malpractice, but at Zael's insistence, Belknap reveals that it was fraud, to try to get supplies to treat such patients as children without registered parents. (The secret part he carries out very well, though.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: "Dr." Spaceman is a bad enough doctor that he is legally required to put quotation marks around his "doctor" title.
  • On American Dreams, one of Helen's classmates gets an abortion from a guy who works out of a hotel room. Nothing happens to her beyond missing some classes and feeling sick for a few days.
  • Babylon 5 features a couple operating in Downbelow from time to time. Even Dr. Franklin, the station's chief medical officer, secretly runs a small clinic down there that doubles as the underground railroad for unlicensed telepaths. In "The Quality of Mercy", Franklin investigates one such doctor, only to learn two things: 1. this back-alley doctor's daughter is smoking hot, and 2. she is using a bit of black market Imported Alien Phlebotinum that heals her patients by giving them her own life energy. When an escaped mass-murderer holds her daughter hostage and forces her to use the machine to heal his own wounds, she proceeds to Reverse the Polarity and transfers a severe chronic disease she has been suffering with into his body, killing him painfully. After being responsible for that, she feels that she can never work as a healer again.
  • Batwoman (2019): Kate's stepsister Mary (ostensibly a ditzy socialite) secretly runs an unlicensed clinic for the poor and homeless. Batwoman occasionally uses its services to provide medical aid to people she needs information from but who she can't turn into a legitimate hospital.
  • The Book of Boba Fett: In "The Gathering Storm", this is what the Mod Parlor surgeon amounts to. Although perfectly capable of installing life-saving cybernetics, he normally caters to the Modder cyborgs subculture, and is treated more like a tattoo/piercing artist. Although at first refusing his services without an appointment, Boba Fett pays him handsomely to change his mind. Boba admits this was the best he could do under the circumstances, pressed for time, acknowledging that this was a shady surgeon, but he got the job done and did save Fennec's life.
  • The Boys (2019): In season 2, Mother's Milk is shown providing these services (although his training is only as a combat medic) to a street gang in exchange for hiding The Boys while they're federal fugitives.
  • Chicago Hope has two of the young doctors discovering a teenager is running a medical practice out of his own home in a slum for poor people for whom going to a regular licensed hospital is out of the question. They are naturally concerned, but seeing that the kid is doing a reasonably good job with a surprising amount of skill and his patients have nowhere else to turn to, they decide to give him some pointers on medicine and some proper equipment to help him.
  • The Cleaning Lady
    • Deconstructed in "Full On Gangsta", where Thony and Arman take Luca to an off-book Mexican clinic for Luca's liver transplant. The clinic is entirely modern and more comfortable than a normal US clinic, because most of its clientele would not pay its high prices for substandard care. There is, however, a significant downside: the clinic bumps Luca's surgery off their schedule because a higher-playing client shows up demanding treatment.
    • Back home in the Philippines, Thony was a cardiothoracic surgeon, but can't get a medical license in the US because of her undocumented status. She operates on Arman when he gets shrapnel in her leg, and in the above-mentioned incident all she needs is an assistant and a clean operating room to perform Luca's liver transplant herself.
  • Cold Case: In the episode "Volunteers", a friend of the female victim is infertile as a result of a back alley abortionist (abortion was illegal in the '60s), so she and the male victim decide to volunteer in an underground service that helps women get safe abortions by a caring, legal doctor in a clean atmosphere.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021): In "Cowboy Gospel", Spike Spiegel is questioning people about a fugitive who's been wounded in a prior shoot-out. He asks if there's a clinic nearby and is pointed to a pharmacy. Cut to a trembling pharmacist with a gun to her head, using a laser-cauterizer to patch up the fugitive's wound.
  • CSI:
    • An episode featured a sex change doctor who treats male-to-female transsexuals who don't want to wait for the year-long therapy process conversion usually takes. She performs her surgeries in a storage unit.note 
    • Another episode had a gangster who successfully faked his death return to Las Vegas for a Roaring Rampage of Revenge after being told that he was beyond medical help. Unfortunately for him, the Back-Alley Doctor telling him this meant that the gangster's condition was complicated enough to require a real doctor's help, which the gangster could not get without being caught. The authorities were "kind" enough to have him treated in custody.
      Catherine: The thing about mob doctors, is that they become mob doctors because they suck as regular doctors.
  • The Expanse:
    • The medic aboard the Canterbury is revealed to have flunked out of medical school, a fact he readily admits when confronted with it. It's implied that the captain, and the company that owned the ship, were aware of his lack of qualifications.
    • Sgt. Draper encounters one of these in a homeless camp on Earth. He's actually shown to be fairly knowledgable and to care deeply for his "patients". He also apparently got into medical school but has been on the waiting list for a slot on a course to open up for thirty-five years.
  • Firefly: Simon Tam is crew doctor on what is essentially a smuggling ship, so he works under the radar, same as everyone else on board. He is a licensed first-class surgeon from a civilized world and simply happens to be there because of difficulties with The Government (namely, saving his sister from being experimented on).
  • Forever Knight: In "The Human Factor", Janette gets shot (in The Reveal that she's turned mortal) so Vampire Detective Nick Knight takes her to Dr Natalie Lambert (The Coroner and Nick's Love Interest) to get patched up. Natalie is not happy as Janette is wanted for murder and they could both go to prison for helping her (not that Natalie hasn't saved Nick's life on occasion this way).
  • In Game of Thrones, the ex-maester Qyburn was probably this (since they ditched his book backstory as the Bloody Mummers' field medic). He is an example of the "lost his licence for breach of ethics" sort, as he is actually the most competent doctor in the series with a far superior knowledge of the body than other maesters... because of his tendency to cut people open and see how it all works. His talents even extend to some form of necromancy.
  • In Highlander, after Joe (and many of the other Watchers) gets shot at the end of "Judgment Day", Duncan takes him to Methos. Methos does have a medical degree, but he got it over 500 years ago in 1453. (This is a bit of an inside joke. Methos' actor, Peter Wingfield, studied to be a doctor before becoming an actor. These days he's an anesthesiologist.)
  • Jeremiah: Every known surgeon in the world died when the Big Death killed most adults, so the few doctors shown in the show tend to have been kids during the pandemic who don’t have either the training or supplies that doctors fifteen years earlier would have had.
    • "The Bag" features a traveling doctor who only has enough medical supplies to fit in the eponymous bag and claims to have learned basic medicine while watching his doctor father work. He later admits that he lied about actually paying much attention to those lessons but he is still skilled enough to save at least one Imperiled in Pregnancy patient.
    • In "Things Left Unsaid Part 2", one of the former nerds Theo has learning all of the old basic scientific principles has enough general medical knowledge to operate on a wounded Elizabeth after she is shot by Valhalla Sector soldiers, while using the girlfriend/prostitute he was with when Kurdy and Elizabeth showed up as his assistant. He fails to save Elizabeth, who has an hours-old serious wound that a fully equipped team of modern doctors would be necessary to treat.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kaoru Kino in Kamen Rider Agito. He's a genius surgeon who happened to get into an accident that cost him his arm and his brother his life some time before his first appearance. The doctors grafted his brother's arm onto him, but his license was revoked since amputees aren't allowed to practice surgery. Given that he's still the best surgeon in Japan, hospitals still call him in to perform difficult surgeries. To make it clear to everyone that he's not licensed, he performs surgery while wearing black scrubs. No, really.
    • Taiga Hanaya/Kamen Rider Snipe from Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. He's also an expy to Black Jack, being an unlicensed doctor with white streaks in his hair. He used to be a radiologist working at Seito University Hospital, but the events of Zero Day caused him to lose his license, reputation, and (as he thought) future. He has an office in Abandoned Hospital and wears black scrubs at times for no apparent reason other than Visual Pun of his name being involved.note 
  • The various Law & Order series have them come up from time to time. One example in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was a practitioner of general medicine who performed surgical castrations and penis removals on (completely willing) subjects. When the cops came to talk to him he was entirely open about doing so, saying he did it right there on his desk... "I clean up first. I am a doctor."
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, it’s revealed that the boys regularly visit a teenage one of these to patch up the various injuries they don’t want to have to explain to Lois. He's actually pretty good at it, and is able to fix Hal's dislocated kneed.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • M*A*S*H:
    • Major Frank Burns may be a qualified medical doctor and surgeon, but only just. As the series progresses, his mediocrity shows more and more, as does his tendency to cut corners, misdiagnose, perform sloppy work and crumble under pressure. It is revealed that he graduated pretty low in his year at medical school (see "Jokes" above) and things come to a head when his botched work imperils the lives of several patients. Hawkeye and Trapper John even agree that they'd be better off with a back-alley doctor.
    • In one episode the 4077th takes on a doctor who appears to be a top-class surgeon. But Hawkeye investigates further and discovers they have an imposter, a wannabe doctor who has Walter Mitty fantasies and who has never been to medical school. Hawkeye threatens to expose him unless he quits, but tells him that he's a natural and should consider formally going to medical school to legitimize the situation.
  • The 1990s series McCallum had a drug supply clerk treating illegal refugees, believing that doctors just went down a list of symptoms and prescribed the appropriate drug. As a result, people start turning up on McCallum's autopsy table. At one point the police arrest a doctor, but McCallum argues against him being a suspect as he's too competent.
  • Mo (2022): Due to his illegal work activity during his pending asylum case, Mo refuses medical attention when he is shot at a grocery and goes to Chien, a tattoo artist, who patches him up and sends him home with some drugs. Chien's tendency to do this bites him in the ass when he does something similar for a diabetic thug, whose leg then needs to be amputated.
  • Nip/Tuck:
    • Dr. Merrill Bobolit loses his medical license after botching a cosmetic surgery on a dog and winds up performing cheap liposuctions in the back of a Korean nail salon.
    • In the first season episode "Sophia Lopez", Dr. Grayson appears to be operating out of a tiny, dirty office. While drunk. Sean discovers this after assisting a transgender patient whose operation was botched.
  • In one episode of NYPD Blue, the murder victim was a Back-Alley Doctor. He was killed by a disgruntled patient over a badly botched sexual reassignment surgery.
  • Once Upon a Time has Archie Hopper, a back-alley psychologist rather than the traditional surgeon. He has legitimate psychological knowledge and is fully capable of administering therapy, he simply never studied for a degree. The Dark Curse provided him with the knowledge as part of his false identity.
  • At least two appear in 1000 Ways to Die. Being the kind of show that it is... well...
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Unnatural Selection", Arkelian administers black-market genetic engineering treatments to Joanne Sharp's unborn child in an abandoned church.
  • Oz: Dr. Frederick Garvey, the incompetent doctor in charge of the medical ward, is eventually revealed to have run a back-alley abortion clinic which was shut down after he accidentally killed a patient. After this is discovered by the media, it becomes a massive scandal, and he's fired because of it.
  • Person of Interest: After Reese is shot by a CIA sniper, Finch takes him to hospital and empties a large bag of money in front of an orderly, who he identifies as a foreign-qualified doctor who doesn't have the money to be qualified in the United States. He does now.
  • ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.?: Antonio brings his friend Miguel to the house to examine his sick grandson. After he pulls his doctor's kit from a shopping bag, Carmen explains to her American friend Sharon that Miguel was a doctor in Cuba who does not have a license to practice because he does not speak English. He tells Carmen to hush because "the walls have ears".
    • Averted in another episode. Pepe is instructed to take Antonio to a doctor other than Miguel because they can't use Medicare to pay him.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reveals that back alley doctors still exist in Star Trek society. At least some of them are engaged in Bio-Augmentation (which is banned in the Federation), often with very bad results.
  • The Norwegian series Valkyrien (and the British remake Temple) is about a doctor who creates an illegal clinic so he can conduct experimental surgery to save his dying wife and has to fund it by providing services to criminals and other people who want medical help outside legal channels.

  • The (real) wandering doctor Eisenbart is depicted as this in an old German song, "My Name is Doctor Eisenbart". Given his time, he wasn't too bad actually — otherwise he wouldn't have been able to return to a city he visited, as was the case with many wandering quacks (who had to avoid former victims/patients). But in said song, he praises himself as being able to make the blind walk and the lame see, and occasionally borders on Mad Doctor, when he "cures" a patient with ten pounds of opium or shoots out a bad tooth with a pistol.
  • This was probably the origin of the English version song "Doctor Ironheart". After applying a "treatment" which kills the patient in every preceding verse, the final verse goes (minus the equivalent of la-la-la between each line):
    Good friends you thus will clearly see
    How quick and cheap each remedy
    For if you come whate'er your pain
    You'll never need return again

    [The joke, of course, is that you won't be able to return because you'll be dead.]
  • Dr. Dick appears to have a doctorate, but otherwise embodies this trope. He turns his male patients into freaks and his female patients into hot babes, except for the woman who was already hot.
  • The Dresden Dolls' "Mandy Goes to Med School" is sung from the perspective of one of these, mostly with respect to illegal abortion, but touching on every part of the trope from treating criminals to sexual abuse of patients. It's more than a little disturbing, somewhat disgusting, and sometimes alarmingly funny.
  • Mentioned in the Eagles' "Life in the Fast Lane": "Call the doctor, I think I'm gonna crash / Doctor said he's coming, but you gotta pay in cash."
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody of Like a Virgin - Like a Surgeon - has one of these. Agreed, he graduated from the med school, but he was last of (his) class / barely passed.
    It's a fact — I'm a quack
    The disgrace of the A.M.A.
    'Cause my patients die,
    Yah my patients die, Before they can pay.
  • Victoria Wood's "Northerners" has a Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick moment when, after listing various comedy Oop North stereotypes such as whippets and tripe, she concludes "Dead at forty-five/From a back-street abortionist/(It's terrible.)"

  • In America's Most Haunted, Herbert Holston, the manager of the Landmark Hotel, is described as an "amateur physician."

  • Dr. Héctor Tilla from the NYC-based Spanish-language radio show El Vacilón de la Mañana.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "The Auction". Dr. Verhamme claims to be a doctor but can't provide a diploma or any other proof. He spends most of his time performing illegal abortions. When he was called in to treat Klaus Hunderprest's wife, he diagnosed her as having incurable end-stage cancer and could do nothing for her.
  • R. Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk had "ripperdocs" — doctors with mini-clinics who provide emergency medical services, cyberware installation and prescription drugs.
  • Encounter Critical supplement Asteroid 1618. In the Domed City there's a flower shop with a ramshackle hospital in the back for criminals who can't receive care in the Medical Complex.
  • Myriad Song has the "Bad Medicine" Gift, which enables a character to remove most combat-inflicted status effects with a check and some bonus dice. But if the patient fails a check they can become addicted to the substances used. Naturally, the Pusher career starts with it.
  • Shadowrun
    • This RPG has street docs which appear to mostly be a subversion. Not only are they good enough to heal you but you can find ones that are good enough to modify you including adding on to your brain to boost intellect. However, the number one thing needed from these guys is loyalty so they don't decide to kill you/steal your organs and cyberware/turn you in for the sizable bounty/all of the above in any given order. Some of the Shadowrun sourcebooks make things a little more realistic and complex; there are good street docs and very, very bad ones. They are also the only kind of doctor that is available to people without a SIN or can't afford Docwagon.
    • An amusing yet disturbing anecdote in 4e's Corporate Enclaves supplement concerns a group of street docs so sloppy that they didn't even bother to clean their bone drill while installing a datajack. Which means, they did brain surgery with unsterilized instruments. Their hapless customer staggered into another street doc's office a day later with a "106-degree fever". As commented upon by another NPC (who's a very good street doc, being an actual trained and licensed surgeon in her day job):
      Butch: Compared to these ham-fisted goons I am a fucking goddess.
    • Many Shadowrunner groups tend to cut out the middleman and run as one themselves for this reason; not only is a Player Character street doc guaranteed not to (intentionally) kill their companions, but it can be a very useful civilian guise between runs and the skill and logic investment overlaps well with certain archetypes like the Rigger or the Decker. Don't expect the Street Samurai to moonlight as this though, for obvious reasons.
  • Rifts features "body chop-shops" and mentions the possibility of characters being given Arm Cannons rather than proper cyborg hands. This is mostly a bad thing. There's actually a character type modeled after this trope, the Body Fixer. Most Body Fixers are motivated by a desire to help and heal people, but they can't hold medical licenses because consorting with their second-class citizen patients makes them outlaws.
    • It worsens when you consider a body-chop-shop's no-questions-asked approach to acquiring cybernetic and bionic parts; quite apart from the hygiene and quality of the work and supplies (which the patient has no say in any way) it has led to gangs who mug you and steal cyber-parts right out of you and leave you there, not caring whether you die or not, to sell the parts to the chop shop ("doctor, why do I get the feeling we've installed this eye three times today?" "Quiet, you! Ten bucks says you're not even a real nurse!")
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has Ruprecht Klotten, a barber-surgeon who turned to embalming because he "preferred his patients dead and quiet". He'll still provide medical services on request and is a talented, cheap, and discreet doctor, albeit an unpleasant one.

  • Alluded to in A Raisin in the Sun. When Ruth Younger slips that "she said everything's going to be fine" following a supposed visit to the doctor regarding her pregnancy, her mother-in-law Lena instantly realizes that she has instead consulted the local abortionist (the family is poor and cannot afford another baby), although she ultimately does not go through with the procedure.
  • Arsenic and Old Lace: If one reads between the lines it doesn't take a genius to realize that Dr. Einstein, the alcoholic plastic surgeon, is most likely a doctor in all but license, which could possibly be linked to his alcoholism. This also sheds some light on the story of him getting involved with underworld type Jonathan Brewster.
  • Men in White: Offstage, Barbara went to one for an abortion. She is wheeled into the hospital in septic shock, as the doctors talk about how tragic it is that women have to go to back-alley doctors. An emergency hysterectomy seems to save her, but she winds up dying of an embolism.
  • Used in the musical Spring Awakening, when Wendla's mother arranges for a back-alley abortion rather than face the shame of her fourteen-year-old daughter bearing a child. It does not go well.
  • Mrs. Hawking: Nurse Violet Strallan, who struggles to keep employment because of her problems with alcohol, is the one to take care of Mrs. Hawking after her fight with the Ripper at the end of Fallen Women.

    Video Games 
  • The Amateur Surgeon series by [adult swim], a Back Alley version of the Trauma Center series. The protagonist is named Alan Probe, and the first game has him learning to be a Back-Alley Doctor from a worn-out, cough syrup-addicted former surgeon who fell into misery after a certain incident in his hospital. The sequels reveal that Alan went on to establish the form of surgery he used as "Improvised Surgery", which led to hospitals around the world to adopt it and in turn the foundation of back-alley clinics (a Facebook spin-off game focuses on running one of said clinics, and the bonus act of the third main game in the series takes place in one too). It made him a world-famous celebrity and millionaire. In the games, you're tasked with solving unusual cases, mostly from people who are Too Dumb to Live, with improvised tools such as pizza cutters for scalpels, a lighter to cauterize wounds, and a chainsaw in place of a bone saw.
  • Beneath a Steel Sky has Dr. Burke, a cosmetic surgeon who runs this trope into the ground. He operates on patients who are not anesthetized for no discernable reason, he huffs the gas himself and turned his dead wife into a holographic receptionist. It doesn't help that you have to undergo surgery from him for a couple of alterations (namely, your Schreibmann port to jack into LINC-Space, and to get someone else's fingerprints grafted to your hands to bypass a biometric lock).
  • BioShock:
    • Dr. Grossman, one of the Splicer types, may have had professional training and credentials once. But then he started doing ADAM, and these days... well, he doesn't believe that germs are microscopic, he sorts his pills by color, and he often totes around boxes of explosives without much reason.
    • Dr. Steinman is a plastic surgeon turned Mad Artist who aspires to be like Picasso. Not just with regards to prestige, mind you — he's genuinely interested in applying cubist techniques to people's faces.
  • The Borderlands series, starting with Borderlands, features Dr. Zed Blanco, who supplies the page quote. He was a surgeon until he lost his license, and these days he keeps the Auto Doc machines stocked and running. He also seems to still practice medicine to some degree — he's introduced cutting up a cadaver and his various offices have hospital beds and equipment. In Borderlands 2, he is legally obligated to tell you that he is not a real doctor. His lack of a medical doctorate becomes a Running Gag. He's even compared to other "not-actual-doctors" such as Dr. Pepper, Dr. Dre, and Dr. Octopus. He does genuinely care about treating people, though mostly in his own insane way, and he can do a good job of it.
  • Chicken Police: Doctor Bubo started his career as a police doctor, but was fired after collecting too many severed limbs, and too much morphine went missing. He went into private practice but lost his license, becoming this trope. He treats both criminals and police, because the police in Clawville don't always want their superiors to know that they were in trouble.
  • In City of Villains, you change your costumes and appearance at a back-alley plastic surgeon's office called the Face Maker. Not only do the doctors here operate in a filthy hospital, with un-sterile tools, but if you go around a Cap Au Diable for a while, you'll find enemies murdering civilians to get skin grafts for the Face Maker to use. Geez...
  • Cyberpunk 2077:
    • Ripperdocs (basically doctors for cyborgs) function for this purpose in Night City, all of varying degrees of competency, bedside manner, and moral fiber. If you're lucky, you'll get one who's professional, uses proper disinfecting and prep procedures before cutting you open to install, check, or replace cyberware, and can be trusted to not steal something out of your body or get you killed on the operating table so they can commit Organ Theft on the side. This being Night City, such ones are few and far between, but for the average criminal (or even average citizen), you can't be picky when the rates for a real "hospital professional" run numbers impossible for anyone who isn't a corpo.
    • Viktor Vektor, V's ripperdoc, operates from a back-alley basement in the back of an esoterica shop. He zig-zags the trope due to being an actually trained medical professional with an excellent bedside manner. He could easily work in a more legitimate clinic, but that would involve signing up with any of the corporations running Night City, and Viktor isn't about that.
  • An apartment the player can break into in Deus Ex: Human Revolution shows an illegal augmentation clinic. The tenant is never shown, but the player can raid the place for goodies.
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has Vaclav Koller, who handles Adam's augmentations and can remove the Power Limiters installed in him. As an Interpol agent, Adam would presumably have access to better services, but the LIMB clinic in town is abandoned.
  • Toyed with in Dragon Age II with Anders. He's a very good healer, but his clinic is in the literal sewers and he has to hide out to avoid being dragged off by the Templars because he heals with magic. Doesn't stop a wide variety of people in Kirkwall from using his services, from the lowest and most destitute refugees to the Seneschal.
  • Fallout:
    • The Doctor in the Vault City courtyard in Fallout 2 probably fits a lot of this trope as well. Then again, he never does the procedure himself but leaves the job to his slightly malfunctioning Auto Doc.
    • Fallout 3: Wasteland doctors. Even the "official" doctors are slightly suspect, one being twelve, another a former raider, and one working for slavers.
      • That twelve-year-old girl is the best-trained pseudo-doctor in the game, except for the PC's father. Makes you realize just how bad the Capital Wasteland has it.
      • And the Mister Handy assigned as Vault 101's doctor after James leaves and Jonas is killed, which attempts to treat a sprained toe but accidentally amputates the patient's other leg, causing her death.
      • Point Lookout has Tobar the Ferryman, who administers lobotomies to the Tribal initiates while they are tripping on Punga spores.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas, Ada Straus, the doctor in Novac, says things like "Did I leave [my scalpel] outside overnight, again? I'll uh, give you a free tetanus shot," and "What are the chances I'll botch the same procedure twice in one day?" when she operates on you.
      Straus's bodyguard: Between you and me, I don't think she studied at an accredited institution.
      • Even better, when you go to her to cure your addiction, she lets slip that she's a drug dealer trying to get people addicted before realizing what you want. Also, she hasn't paid her bodyguards, and her reasoning for curing your radiation is, well... hilarious.
        Ada Straus: Are you sure? You won't be able to read in the dark as well.
      • Finally, a quick peek at her medicine skill level via console or examining the game data will reveal that she is quite possibly the least qualified doctor to exist in all of Fallout's long history, and yet she still somehow manages to heal you just as well as any other doctor in the game. When we say she's unqualified, we mean that her Medicine skill is actually lower than it should be by default (it's 12; going by her Intelligence and the game's skill formula, it should be 17). She is also the only doctor to provide a weapon for sale without you selling it to them first (a Laser Pistol).
    • The player can be one for Caesar if they decide to do the quest "Et Tumor Brute?", performing brain surgery to remove a tumor. To succeed, you need to either have an extremely high Medicine stat so that you actually know how to do the surgery... or have an extremely high Luck stat and succeed by pure luck despite not knowing what the hell you're doing (you can even admit as much after the fact).
  • In The Godfather, when you get killed, you usually respawn in these folks' clinics. While the sound bites clearly show that they are meant to be these, mentioning how they're not qualified and asking not to be reported, the fact that some operate street-side clinics dents the portrayal somewhat.
  • Grand Theft Auto:
    • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has a paranoid, drunk off of potent alcohol fumes Phil Cassidy request to be taken to one of these after losing his arm, stating that he doesn't trust the hospital.
    • Grand Theft Auto IV:
      • Roman suffers a non-lethal shot and goes to one of these. He tells Niko the doctor was even more filthy than the basement where he got shot.
      • A later mission tasks you with driving two murdered corpses to one of these so they can be "fixed up" to be made to look like they have died of natural causes as well as have their organs removed to be sold in the black market.
  • While he's easily the best medical professional in the world of Guilty Gear thanks to his Reality Warper powers, it's noted quite a few times that Dr. Faust doesn't actually have a medical license. He used to have one back when he was known as Dr. Baldhead, but then he snapped and went on a homicidal rampage. He now hides his identity with a Brown Bag Mask and continues his work as a healer to make up for all of that.
  • Agent 47 gets treated by one of these in Hitman: Contracts after a job goes bad, with whiskey for a disinfectant. It doesn't look pleasant, but 47 is good for one more mission an hour or so later. Of course, he's Agent 47...
  • The Jagged Alliance series of mercenary roleplaying games include a variety of this type of character, who can be hired to patch up bullet-riddled mercs. They usually do the job at least decently, unless you make the mistake of hiring "Dr." Raffito "Raffi" Leewon. It's kind of hard to be 'fooled' by his credentials, given that his profile lists his Medical Skill (4 out of a possible 100) and even his Dexterity (which affects all skills is a pathetic 14 out of 100). If you hire him, two real doctors will refuse to join your team and will lampshade just how bad he is as a doctor.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, you can get a sex-change operation in The Sleazy Back Alley. If you do it thirty times through your many lives, you get a Cosmetic Award.
  • Plot-important NPC Dhagon Ghent in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. As one of his friends said when he was suspected of murder:
    "I know Dhagon personally. He's one of the worst doctors I've ever heard of. But I can't see him deliberately killing someone."
  • League of Legends: Dr. Mundo is a delusional former mental patient who merely believes he's a doctor. His "practice" involves finding random people on the street and brutally eviscerating them with a bonesaw.
  • Mafia and Mafia II has the unnamed doctor and Andreas "El Greco" Karafantis offer their services to organized crime groups in their respective games. Unlike most of the examples in this page, they do seem to be quite competentnote , if not for the fact that they went underground to fill the void with gangsters and other criminals, whose criminal occupation made it inconvenient for them to pay a visit to the emergency room. El Greco's backstory was further fleshed out in the second game's Family Gallery, where it is explained that he was disgraced from his job at the American Embassy when he was found to have a scandalous affair with the Ambassador's wife. After saving the lives of a number of gangsters during the Vinci-Moretti War, he has since dedicated his services full-time to the underworld. El Greco did however admonish Vito and Joe for their violent lifestyle in the chapter "Stairway to Heaven", sternly cautioning them about the (obvious) horrors of being in a criminal gang.
  • Mass Effect:
  • Not Tonight: The person who "treats" you in Chapter 2 after you drop a piano on your toe admits to not being a real doctor and says that he removed "several unused organs" while operating on you. He says that real doctors are reserved for British people only. This permanently damages your health so that you no longer have the unlimited stamina you used to have before your accident and surgery. Furthermore, since you are considered a Euro, you have no health insurance coverage under the NHS and have to pay your hospital bills.
  • Persona 5 straddles the line with Tae Takemi, your group's main supplier of medicine. Her small private clinic is on a rather sleazy side of town, and her patients are treated with her own brewed medication, putting her frequently under suspicion by the police. Plus, her choice of attire under her lab coat is an unprofessional short black dress and high heels rather than scrubs. Additionally, your Confidant with Tae involves her testing experimental medication on you. However, Tae is actually a medical genius with near-impeccable medical ethics who used to work for a prestigious university hospital. For instance, she actually tries to turn you away the first time you meet, assuming you were some junkie looking for your next fix; when that turns out not to be the case, the medicine she tests on you is already at the stage where it's safe to be tested on humans. In fact, the only reason she doesn't have her old job is that she was falsely blamed for a disastrous medical trial that she had actually advised against doing. You can help restore her reputation by completing her Confidant, but she'll decide that she can better help people by staying at her clinic anyways.
  • Any character with low medical skill in Rimworld is this by default: the only thing keeping them from performing surgery on someone is the restriction on the activity, which you can change at any time. While high skill medical allows someone to pull off absolutely life-saving medicine, such as stopping someone from bleeding out after their arm is torn off, low medical skill characters can botch something as simple as putting a bandage on a mild cut. Not only that, but they can mess it up so bad they kill the patient (though it's unlikely unless they're doing an actual surgical procedure, which can result in such insanity as "removing the head to treat a broken toe"). Low medical skill checks usually result in scarring, which negatively affects the character permanently.
  • SaGa Frontier features a borderline example: a sleazy Mystic doctor named Dr. Nusakan in the back alleys of Koorong that you can recruit into your party. The ghost in his lobby and his general creepiness lend to the idea that his practice is less about medicine and more about making a front for his own vampiric tendencies. On the other hand, he is rather knowledgeable — though his knowledge seems to be more on spiritual than medical matters. Either way, he is still a quite literal back-alley doctor considering where you find him. In the original game, the only time he's of any use is in Riki's story — he knows how to save the Yorkland millionaire's daughter from her Demonic Possession. The remaster restored his big role in Asellus's story.
  • The Secret World features a remarkably competent example of this trope in the form of Dr. Anton Aldini, a disreputable plastic surgeon operating out of a derelict abattoir in Brooklyn. For added fun, he's voiced by Peter Stormare, the same man who gave us Dr. Eddie of Minority Report. Along with the barbershop in London, Aldini is the players' means of altering their appearance, and despite being a raving lunatic working with substandard tools at best, he does his job with zero failures. However, it's implied that there is some kind of magic at work, particularly since the surgery is just a convenient method of funding Aldini's experiments in reanimating the dead.
  • The Shadowrun video games for SNES and Genesis both feature Street Docs of questionable skill. The one in the SNES game is literally found in a Back Alley and succeeds in setting off a Time Bomb that was implanted in the main character... during a routine checkup. But hey, at least he refunds you the credits you spent to see him... but only if you complain. Or you can kill for no karma lost, making him the only non-hostile NPC you can kill with impunity.
  • Shenmue II has many back-alley doctors and dentists in the Kowloon Walled City, which was Truth In Video Games because a quirk of political status meant that there was basically no government there.
  • A few of the medic companions in Star Wars: The Old Republic seem to have some dubious credentials and medical practices. One of them has performed questionable experiments on himself and can transform into a rakghoul, and another one tries to scam people into thinking he's actually a Jedi Healer. Even the Jedi Knight's medic is a bit of a glory hound whose ability to cure rare diseases is only overshadowed by his tendency to consort with Hutts and various other criminals (and then get into trouble with alarming regularity). In another case, a back alley doctor working for some pirates swears by his medical license that some 200-year-old antidote will work — the real medical license, that is.
  • Team Fortress 2:
  • Rakesh Chadana from Vampyr (2018) is a fairly benign example. Due to a clerical error, his regiment thought he was a surgeon. He flat out tells them he's not a doctor, but no-one cares and they start sending him wounded anyway. His results were apparently within the average, and he decided to keep using the doctor title when he moved to England after the war. To his credit, in London, he just operates the morgue and has no interest in trying to practice medicine for real.
  • Yu Nanba, from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, was a practicing nurse until he got stripped of his license when he took the heat for a coworker running a side hustle selling meds on the black market. He now lives on the streets as a hobo, and meets The Hero, Ichiban Kasuga, while treating him after he had been dumped in his town after being shot.

    Visual Novels 
  • Pal Meraktis in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. It's right in his Punny Name, just swap the first letters around and read it again. His medical skills are fine, but he moonlights as a doctor for the mob.
  • In Ever17, on Coco's route, it is revealed that Tsugumi resorted to one of these in the past while on the run. The game doesn't give much detail about him, but the CD drama "After You've Gone" confirms him to be a total scumbag.

    Web Animation 
  • Ability No. X: Sho was a doctor, but he sells drugs to criminals. When his wife found out, she tried to tell him to stop, but he refused saying that he is doing it for the family. She called the police, but the criminals ended up killing him to cover their tracks.
  • Team Four Star's parody series Final Fantasy VII: Machinabridged includes Jessie, who mumbles and slurs all her dialogue. As they're breaking into the first reactor, Biggs says this:
    Biggs: Jessie, was the alley dentist really worth what you saved?
  • Happy Tree Friends: In "Nuttin' but the Tooth", Toothy performs back-alley dentistry on Nutty, causing his lower jaw to get ripped off completely. The Pop Corn Video for "Spin Fun Knowin Ya" reveals that Toothy is wanted in seven states for impersonating a dentist.

  • Ansem Retort makes Zexion into this.
    Zexion: ...Whatever. Just place him in the operating room.
    [beat panel]
    Zexion: THE KITCHEN! Just throw his bloody corpse-to-be on the kitchen counter.
  • Pretty much all the entire staff of Awful Hospital have no idea what they're doing or how the human body works. However, they are able to bring anyone back from death — they just make one crucial mistake per attempt, such as leaving the brain in an external bag connected to the head. Still works perfectly, though.
  • Awkward Zombie: Dr. Mario, according to this strip.
  • In Boy Aurus, to acquiesce with Aurus' request for no hospital, Mint and Niccolo take him to a veterinarian.
  • Miki from FreakAngels isn't so much a back-alley doctor as a doctor with no degree, license, new equipment or electricity, and no civilization around to give her any of them. Her Psychic Powers letting her act as a human MRI helps a great deal. She also learned a lot of medicine by reading the minds of the doctors investigating her psychic powers before the world ended.
  • Free Fall: Well, for robots at least:
    Winston: Discreet repair facility?
    Benny: You know how it is. You've been doing something without instructions and it would be inconvenient to explain to your owner why you're missing a leg.
  • Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name gives us this in the person of the charming and only slightly seedy Doc Worth. In Hanna's own words, "Ok, well. He's not really technically a doctor. He's actually a dropout. Aannnd he's not certified or anything. But he's not too bad! heh."
  • In Homestuck, Wheelchair Woobie Tavros gets a new set of robot legs to use... but Kanaya has to remove his old ones first. With a chainsaw.
  • The titular protagonist of Ingrid the Plague Doctor isn't actually a licensed doctor, having been kicked out of medical school for her overreliance on leeches.
  • Kila Ilo from the webcomic of the same name is a talent surgeon doing very illegal work.
  • Kill Me Now: The comic focuses on the lives of professional hitmen in modern-day Korea, who, of course, have a dedicated doctor on their payroll, code-named "Praying Mantis". Mantis is an older woman who tends to hitmen and other criminals who are wounded on the job, without asking questions or keeping records. As such, her clinic (dubbed "the 7th floor") is treated as an absolute sanctuary by the criminal underworld, and she herself enjoys unconditional protection by all hitmen, who do not hesitate to use overwhelming and lethal force against anyone who so much as threatens Mantis. Geomi learns it the hard way, getting shot in the head by a random patient for raising her hand at Mantis, — although everyone realizes pretty quick that this was just Suicide by Cop, and Geomi knew exactly what she was doing.
  • The prohibition-dodging, moonshine-smuggling characters in Lackadaisy call up a horse doctor named Dr. Quackenbush (who looks a little like Groucho Marx) when some small-time rivals raid their establishment and one of them gets shot.
  • Hakase from NEXT!!! Sound of the Future is a Ridiculously Human Robot who performs illegal body mods on other androids. This includes voicebank modifications that would even get a licensed doctor in trouble.
    Shine: Wait, but then wouldn't you lose your operating license?
    Hakase: Oh! No need to worry about that, I never had one!
  • Navaan the Vampire from Oglaf poses as a doctor for bloodletting purposes, but doesn't exactly know what a doctor does. When a man comes in with an infected arm, her solution is to pack the wound with dirt and plant an acorn in it so he grows an awesome tree arm. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't work.
  • Celia on The Order of the Stick visits a back-alley wizard, Hieronymus Grubwriggler, to resurrect Roy.
  • Dr. Crowley from Twistwood Tales attends his patients in the middle of the forest and uses some questionable methods to do so. In the comic "Dr. Crowley" he all but admits to not even knowing what medical school is.
  • Unnatural Selection: After developing mental problems due to brainwashing, Likol visits a back-alley therapist because sanctioned ones keep records, and his pursuers have eyes everywhere. According to said therapist, not keeping records is the only reason he's not sanctioned.
  • VG Cats: The late, great Dr. Hobo gave the impression of being one of these, although it was kind of hard to tell at times. A later comic after his Unexplained Recovery implies that he was a certified doctor until he did crack.
  • Myriam Etheless from Vigil is an unlicensed surgeon who was kicked out of med school due to failing the psych exam. She nonetheless saves the lives of one of the main characters and proves all-around competent if morally questionable.

    Web Videos 
  • Every so often there is a story about one of these in What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?. One week had an unlicensed dentist get busted for it. The next had his wife busted for the same thing. They've also covered a couple of the real-life examples down below.
  • In Unsleeping City, Pete the Plug is an impoverished drug dealer who had a mastectomy done by Dr Lugash, a kindhearted Polish man whose typical patients are gangsters with severe lead poisoning.
  • Mario from There Will Be Brawl never actually went to med-school. Sort of a Running Gag and Brick Joke for his long list of previous professions.
  • Gvidon Vishnevskiy from Within Lapenko is not only an artist, but also a doctor. He helped Zhilin recover from bullet wounds using his art and some unorthodox methods.

    Western Animation 
  • All Hail King Julien has Doctor S, Rob McTodd's personal plastic surgeon. He claims that he doesn't need a medical license to practice medicine out of a cave, and for some reason, ends up being hired as the kingdom's official doctor. He frequently makes misdiagnoses, and his practices resemble a Mad Scientist more than a doctor.
    Doctor S: [regarding a line of patients] Look at them, Nurse Phantom! So many test subjects and I don't even have to dig any of them up!
    Hector: I don't know why I'm here, I'm in perfect health.
    Doctor S: Not for long!
  • One episode of American Dad! has Francine become one of these, working for the Cripple Mafia with her fellow doctor, a teddy bear. In the end, she gets out of her role with the mafia by tricking them all into getting themselves killed by police.
  • In Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Shake gets a nose job in Guatemala. Later a guy (fresh from prison for back-alley surgery) in a van comes by to help reconstruct Shake's messed up face. This may or may not be the same guy Carl visited to acquire a black-market secondhand brain for Meatwad.
    Meatwad: We callin' in the pros now. Is your buddy out of prison yet?
    Carl: Which one? 'Cause there's three.
    Meatwad: Oh, you know which one: The guy who was in the hotel... with the people... and the welding.
    Carl: Oh, Terry. Yeah, he's out, but part of his parole is he's not supposed to, ya know, do what he was doing... to flesh.
  • Matthew Thorne from the appropriately named Batman: The Animated Series episode "Paging the Crime Doctor". He lost his license for not informing the police when he pulled a bullet out of his brother, notorious crime boss Rupert Thorne. He was relegated to a license-less back-alley existence afterwards, mostly working for his brother. Rupert won't go to a hospital himself even to get a tumor removed (even when his brother begs him to). Rupert also tried to kill Matthew's old college friend Leslie Thompkins when she (unwillingly) assisted Matthew in an operation to save his own life, because She Knows Too Much (although this convinces Matthew to turn on his brother).
  • Not played even a little bit for comedy in the Ben 10: Ultimate Alien episode "Catch a Falling Star". A past villain wants a new face. He goes to a veterinarian who owes him a favor. The amount of blood found by the heroes later was apparently impressive. However, it's hard to be sure if they mean leftovers from the surgery or if it's from what Nesmith did to the only guy who knew what he now looked like. This episode is generally considered the height of the franchise's use of Cerebus Syndrome.
  • Family Guy jokes about this a lot:
    • Sometimes it leads to one of the show's many Cutaway Gags, like "I wouldn't have used that discount surgeon", or "That time we found out Meg's gynecologist didn't go to medical school."
    • One reference didn't lead to a segue but is no less out there:
      Peter: You said the same thing about that back-alley abortionist. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you changed your mind, but the point is, I found the guy.
    • Dr. Hartman has a license (although whether it's real is a different question), but he doesn't know what the human anatomy is called, treats the books in his office like cheat sheets, and once prescribed Viagra as an anti-depressant.
      Dr. Hartman: Do you have any idea how expensive medical school is? I imagine it's pretty expensive!
  • In an epsiode of Fugget About It, it's revealed that the Falcone's old home has been converted into an office for one of these. McCool initally thinks it's some sort of vetinary, before Jimmy and Cheech set him straight.
  • Futurama:
    • Dr. Zoidberg is the resident inept doctor. While he did get into medical school, may well have gotten a degree,note  and may even be quite a competent doctor with respect to his own species, he's not human, but rather an alien lobster thing. And since most of his patients are humans, and he has very little knowledge of human biology, he's clearly out of his depth. The human anatomy chart in his office is always upside-down. And yet he's the only guy Planet Express has who can examine the crew.
      • Zoidberg's first examination of Fry:
        Zoidberg: Now open your mouth. [Fry opens his mouth] No, not that one.
        Fry: It's the only one I've got.
        Zoidberg: Really?
        Fry: Is there a human doctor around?
        Zoidberg: Young lady, I am an expert on humans!
      • During a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot:
        Bender: Where are we, the ass?
        Farnsworth: We're in the heart, better known as the love muscle.
        Zoidberg: Where the food is digested!
      • In fact, let's just list the Best of Zoidberg, Incompetent Doctor:
        Zoidberg: So many years, and so many strange fluids coming out of patients' bodies.
        Morgan: And Doctor Zoidberg! Do you even have a medical degree?
        Zoidberg: I... lost it... into a volcano.
        Zoidberg: What's your problem?
        Fry: [impaled by a lead pipe] Well, uh, my lead pipe hurts a little.
        Zoidberg: That's normal, next.
        Zoidberg: [looking at Leela's x-ray] Well, here's your problem right here. You've got a skull embedded in your head.
        Zoidberg: I'm not quite sure how to say this... Fry is dead!
        [everyone gasps — Fry starts groaning]
        Zoidberg: No, wait, not dead. The other thing.
        Zoidberg: Relaxy, Fry. I'll simply spin you in a high-speed centrifuge, separating out the denser fluid of His Highness.
        Fry: But won't that crush my bones?
        Zoidberg: Oh, right, right, with the bones! I always forget about the bones.
    • The current page image depicts one such doctor who offers to exchange Fry's lungs for a set of gills in "My Three Suns", reasoning that Fry won't need his lungs anymore once he has his new gills. Leela is forced to prevent the operation by way of boots applied to faces. The same guy is later seen giving Hermes cyborg upgrades in "The Six Million Dollar Mon", operating on his desk and using his scalpels as darts.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Billy's dad Harold is depicted as an example in the episode "The Secret Snake Club vs P.E.". Billy's classmates go to him to be excused from gym class by offering him fried food such as fried cheese sticks. Harold wouldn't give Billy any excuse because he wouldn't be a good father otherwise.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Although he has a degree of sorts (from the worryingly titled Hollywood Upstairs Medical College), Dr. Nick Riviera is otherwise the epitome of this trope. He's shown to be rather popular with the criminal types on the show, and those short on cash. (In fact, even a licensed doctor recommended him!)
      Snake: Yo, I must've, like, fell on a bullet, and it, like, drove itself into my gut.
      Dr. Nick: You don't have to lie here... save that for court.
    • In a one-off gag, Moe is seen to be performing back-alley surgeries out of his bar, even distributing business cards that read "That's right — I'm a surgeon!"
  • South Park: The staff at Hell's Pass Hospital. Although it is never made clear whether they possess licenses or not, they are nevertheless shown to be completely terrible at their jobs given the number of people who have died and became incapacitated while under their supervision.

    Real Life 
  • One guy won a Darwin Award when he got a back-alley liposuction from a friend, in his garage, using a vacuum cleaner. While his demise was a Foregone Conclusion (it is the Darwin Awards, after all), the actual cause of death was an overdose of the drugs the "doctor" gave him.
  • While hiding out in Buenos Aires, Josef Mengele continued to "practice medicine", specializing in illegal abortions and getting at least one patient killed.
  • The former Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, being in something of a jurisdictional grey area, was notorious for back-alley doctors, especially dentists. While they may or may not have had qualifications, they were almost always unlicensed, and the conditions were unhygienic as well.
  • Dr. Kermit Gosnell was a famous abortion doctor who did have a legitimate license to practice, but whose employees very much did not and whose services and operating conditions were very much like a typical back-alley doctor's. He wound up sentenced to life in prison without parole for medical malpractice.
  • John Ronald "Butcher" Brown was notorious for performing gender transition surgeries in the transgender community in the 1970s, at a time when the criteria to qualify legitimately were exceptionally strict with ~1% of patients qualifying, despite not being qualified as a surgeon; he operated on patients in motel rooms and in his garage, allowed patients to pay for surgery by working as surgical assistants, failed to hospitalise a patient for a life-threatening infection, killed at least one patient outright, and lost his medical licence entirely for "gross negligence, incompetence and practicing unprofessional medicine in a manner which involved moral turpitude".note  In the Eighties, he started to perform surgeries in Tijuana while soliciting patients from San Diego, was featured on a current-affairs show as "The Worst Doctor in America", and was finally locked up for practicing medicine without a licence. Then, after driving a taxi for a year, he started doing illegal surgeries again, for several more years, until being put away for good after he performed a wildly illegal surgery on a man with Body Integrity Dysphoria and botched it resulting in the man's death by gangrenenote .
  • Back-alley doctors are especially rife in cosmetic surgery, especially given how it's practically unregulated in certain countries. This is how you end up with cases of black market butt implants consisting of things like cement, mineral oil, and tire sealant.
  • The Plague Doctors of the Renaissance tended to be like this. Most of them were failed doctors; they either had their licenses revoked or couldn't pass medical school to begin with.note  But people were still fine with them openly treating plague victims because the danger was as much to themselves as to their patients; only the desperate would ever work as a plague doctor given the risk of catching the disease themselves. They were even hired by some towns as public servants. It was kind of half back-alley doctor and half mercenary soldier.
  • During World War I and World War II, combat medics were often recruited from enlistees whose only prior experience was handling knives as butchers or living on a farm. Some medics didn't even have that much experience. Fortunately, their purpose was more to keep casualties alive long enough to be taken to receive advanced care rather than operating on the wounded themselves.
  • The prevalence of back-alley doctors depends significantly on the cost and accessibility of health care, which varies from country to country. In America, where everybody is basically expected to pay for their own health care, going unlicensed is sometimes a more attractive option financially. In other countries, even where health care is provided by the government, there might be certain segments that are not; these are conducive to back-alley doctors (such as dentistry in Britain, an area where NHS cover is limited, haphazardly available, and even when available can cost hundreds of pounds.note  "Back-alley dentists", often surprisingly skilled, have emerged to fill the gap.) Still, others seek people who might be well-trained in a particular method that is itself experimental, or unlicensed in a particular jurisdiction.


Video Example(s):


Dr. Hirluk the Quack

Dr. Hirluk: a man that wishes to heal anyone sick he comes across despite being hilariously inept at the job.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / ComicallyIneptHealing

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