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Doctor's Orders

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"If you believe I have acted irregularly, then relieve me of duty. That is your prerogative as medical officer of this ship."
Spock, Star Trek: The Original Series, "The Tholian Web"

You're The Leader, the Reasonable Authority Figure, The Captain, The Emperor! You rule a world, a galaxy, a dimension, multiple universes! Everyone obeys you! Even if you do have a cold, or a broken arm! So who is this man who dares to order you about? And act huffy when you don't obey in haste?

Well, he's your doctor. By which we mean, he is that kind of doctor. Unless, of course, he's the healer, the midwife, the nurse, The Medic, or any other member of the healing profession. And he is quite certain that you must obey the Doctor's Orders.

No matter what exalted position their patients hold, and what power the patient has over the doctor in non-medical matters, in their field of expertise, doctors are adamant that they are in charge. This does not mean that the patient will actually obey — even the Reasonable Authority Figure may defy him for reasons of state — but the doctor will regard it as being a bad patient, not their exercising rightful authority.

Can also apply when the figure gives orders about a third party, the doctor's patient.

Rule of Drama dictates it will be most often seen when the patient does not want to obey, as when a character chooses to Pull the I.V., brush aside the ineffectual medic stuttering "You Can Barely Stand!" and get back to business. Alternately, a doctor may invoke this trope in a less serious context, to order their friend to take some time off or enjoy themselves, or a character may invoke it to refuse permission to see the patient or the like. Occasionally it's used to explain something — like an absence — quickly and get on with the plot.

Not to be confused with the Star Trek novel Doctor's Orders, although the title is a pun on this trope.


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  • Buggy tries to invoke this in One Piece by asking Crocus to keep Rogers from fighting Shiki because of his illness. To the cabin boy's dismay, Crocus states that Roger is healthy enough to fight.
  • Defied in one episode of Pokémon: The Series — normally, a trainer obeys Nurse Joy if a Pokemon is too injured to be released out of the Pokemon Center or is being pushed too hard in training. Paul, on the other hand, couldn't give a Rattata's tail if he was told his Chimchar needed to be benched for the next round of the current tournament. He uses it to battle anyway, and declares it's outlived its usefulness afterward.

    Comic Books 
  • Whenever a member of the Bat-clan gets sick and/or injured to the point of where they absolutely need bed rest, Alfred Pennyworth (the guy who raised Batman himself) will do anything he can to make sure that their fool-asses stay in bed so that they can heal properly.
  • In Doctor Strange: The Oath, another physician pulls this on Strange a few times. Justified since he's genuinely injured; though if he hadn't been somewhat taken with her he probably wouldn't have listened.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: In “The Coffee Shop,” veterinarian Penny scolds Bolt for eating and drinking things that pack on weight and will jeopardize his health. She puts the dog on a diet, and he returns to fighting trim.
  • In Discworld fic Why and were by A.A. Pessimal, Assassin Johanna Smith-Rhodes is patched up in the field by an Igor and ignores his advice not to put any strain on a broken forearm. She concludes her contract by firing a powerful crossbow, and the recoil and stress re-breaks the arm. The Guild's Matron Igorina is suitably sarcastic and acerbic.
    Is there any point in me re-setting this fracture? Which part, exactly, of you-have-broken-your-arm,-do-not-put-any-strain-on-it did you fail to understand? Are you going to leave my surgery and go rock-climbing or performing handstands? Bite on this, as this may hurt!
  • Fallout: Equestria: Velvet Remedy spends most of her time trying to convince her friends to rest and let her healing spells take effect. They spend most of their time ignoring her orders and finding new ways to get themselves hurt. At several points Velvet has to use a paralysis spell just to get people to stop moving before they kill themselves.
    Life Bloom: Celestia have mercy! Do you people ever listen to your medics?
    Velvet Remedy: No.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Fifth Path: Linhardt, who is normally not the most intimidating person in the world, orders Balthus to sit out the battle between Aelfric's mages and the Best Friend Squad and he does this so forcefully that Balthus actually listens.
  • Rocketship Voyager
  • After Chopper taking a level in both badass and madness in This Bites!, very few are willing to challenge his medical decision. Following Thriller Bark, he asks if anyone is willing to question him for anesthetizing Zoro to keep him from straining himself from the injuries he and Nami got from Kuma's test. And after knocking out Raphey and Boss for their own treatment, his crewmates decide it's the best time to explore Thriller Bark (with only Luffy being confused why everyone is so scared.
    • When Cross considers making a quick SBS broadcast, Chopper throws several scalpels around the tactician's hands, and orders him to refrain from doing anything that would bring the marines to the Strawhats while Chopper sleeps off the exhaustion from the numerous patients he had to treat, or he will tear off his limbs and have Sanji cook them for dinner. Cross takes this threat very seriously.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • This is the premise of Analyze This: a mob boss needs a psychiatrist, who has trouble helping him because he's afraid to assert himself.

  • In the novelisation of Alien, Ash wants to preserve the body of the dead facehugger, over the objections of Ripley. Captain Dallas points out to her that as Science Officer he can overrule him in his area of specialty.
  • Zig-Zagged in Artemis Fowl: The Corrupt Corporate Executive's doctors are very much aware of his Mafia connections, so they give medical advice very politely. In fact, when he sends his secretary out for celebratory cigars, she invokes this trope by trying to remind him of what the doctors said before remembering who she's talking to.
  • In The Chocolate Touch, John's doctor, Dr. Cranium, tells his parents that John needs to stop eating chocolate for the sake of his health. John's parents are in complete agreement with him.
  • In Richard Ellis Preston Jr.'s Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin novel Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War, Romulus tells Max, while treating her injuries that she disobeyed him as her captain, but now that he's her surgeon, she has to obey him.
  • In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Menelaus can talk casually with the effective ruler of Earth. When he must be examined by a doctor, he finds it much harder to assert himself.
  • In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Cold Days, Butters gives them to Harry, who takes them more seriously than he usually takes orders, but not seriously enough for Butters's taste.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay, Vimes cites this to keep people out of the Patrician's sick room. The doctor in question is actually a vet specializing in race horses.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel His Last Command, Dorden strenously resists Gaunt's orders to revive Mkoll, though he gives up in the end.
  • In Harry Potter, Madam Pomfrey asserted herself quite strongly in The Prisoner of Azkaban when authority figures wanted to speak to students in her care. And in Half-Blood Prince told Harry, who wanted to beat the crap out of the student who put him in the hospital wing, that it would qualify as over exerting himself and to stay there.
    • Later, Dumbledore averts this trope when he instead goes to Snape because Snape is better at curse-related magical injuries.
  • Happens all the time in Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series. Healers' commands are more or less absolute.
  • In Julie Kagawa's The Iron Daughter, the nurse treats Ash's getting up after she treated his wounds as Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb. When Puck laughs, she turns on him and demands to stitch his wounds.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Return of the King, Faramir tells Éowyn that even if he had assumed his authority as Steward, he would be reluctant to override that of the Warden of the Houses of Healing in the matter of her health.
  • In John Hemry's The Lost Fleet novel Invincible, Geary orders a day of rest despite many urgent needs, because exhaustion is hampering their work efforts. He suspects that a doctor who speaks to him hasn't slept for days, including that one, and thinks of how doctors take their oaths more seriously than they do their positions as officers.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novels
    • A Local Habitation, when Toby threatens Quentin during her After-Action Patch-Up, Quentin cheerfully says that Gordan won't let her get up; Gordan agrees.
    • Ashes Of Honor, Jin tries to force Tybalt not to stand after the After-Action Healing Drama. When that fails, she asks him to at least try to take it easy the next few days, and he says he will bow to her wisdom. She is pleasantly surprised.
    • Chimes At Midnight: Jin succeeds in ordering Sylvester out of Toby's sickroom. When Toby wakes up, she is less successful about keeping her in bed.
  • In Henry Vogel's Scout's Law, when Jade complains that she told Chris that he's too injured to help, David puts him under her orders; when he objects that she's a civilian, David (despite her being no more than an ordinary person with a medical kit) commissions her as a medic to give her the authority.
  • There are so many times in Warrior Cats when the medicine cat says "As your medicine cat, I'm ordering you to rest" or something along those lines - even when the cat they're ordering around is their Clan leader and older than them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doc Cochrane of Deadwood, the surly Frontier Dr. Jerk and one of the few people in camp who can shout Al Swearengen down. Most of his power resides in the fact that the camp bosses are pimps who rely on Doc Conchrane to keep their prostitutes free of disease, and therefore keep the money rolling in.
  • Doc Martin is routinely frustrated by patients ignoring his advice and doing what they want. One woman nearly killed herself trying to function with a herniated vertebra.
  • Invoked in Firefly. When Jayne tries to make a power play when Mal and Zoe get themselves (possibly) caught by the Feds, nobody wants to go along with it, but they're not strong enough to stop him. Then he starts talking nonsense and falls flat on his face. Turns out that Doctor Tam, when giving him a painkiller for a gunshot wound, gave him considerably more than was necessary to stop him from doing anything. Ironically, he only gave Jayne the painkillers because Jayne ordered him to.
  • A plot point in the Horatio Hornblower miniseries, episode "Mutiny", involved the officers of HMS Renown having to convince the ship's doctor to declare Captain Sawyer medically unfit to command due to his slipping sanity. He was unwilling to do so because even as a ship's surgeon he might face a court martial for mutiny. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the doctor and Sawyer are longtime friends.
  • This came up a couple of times on M*A*S*H:
    • In one episode, Colonel Potter develops phlebitis in one leg, which makes the leg swell and also makes it extremely painful to walk. The only cure is bed rest. It takes a direct order from Hawkeye and BJ together to get Potter to slow down and get the required rest.
    • In a later episode, Col. Potter is diagnosed with high blood pressure when Hawkeye gives him his annual physical. This would spell the end of his army career. Hawkeye refuses to alter the BP reading, telling Potter "You wouldn't do it for me", but does agree to give him a couple of weeks to try and bring it down.
  • Comes up on Merlin. Gaius is one of the few people who can often give Uther direction without getting in trouble, although Uther still tends to yell a lot. Granted, his advice has gone outside the medical realm a few times, again mostly to Uther telling him to get lost.
  • Nirvana in Fire: In episode thirteen Mei Changsu has to investigate an assassination plot, but Dr. Yan won't let him leave the house. Fei Liu settles the argument by dragging the doctor onto the roof so Mei Changsu can leave.
  • Medical doctors in the Stargate-verse (especially Dr. Fraiser) are often given special dispensation to overrule high-ranking military officials on medical matters. As it turns out, Janet Fraiser outranks Hammond on matters medical, much to O'Neill's displeasure.
    Teal'c: Dr. Fraiser believes you are not strong enough to undertake such a mission.
    O'Neill: Yeah, whatever. [tries to get out of bed, immediately collapses on the floor]
    Teal'c: [not changing expression] Dr. Fraiser is usually correct in such matters.
  • Star Trek: This comes up sometimes where the ship's doctor has the authority to relieve the captain of command if the doctor can show that the captain is physically or mentally unfit for duty.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • In the episode "The Doomsday Machine", Commodore Decker takes advantage of Kirk being stuck on his crippled ship to take command of the Enterprise and go after the Planet Killer to avenge his lost crew. Dr. McCoy tries to relieve him, but can't because he has no evidence; Decker refuses to submit to a medical examination, and holds Bones and Spock to the letter of the regulations which do allow him to take command under the circumstances. Kirk and Spock risk a court martial to finally force Decker to stand down and proceed to sickbay for his evaluation, but it never gets that far as Decker gets away from his security escort and pilots a shuttlecraft into the maw of the machine.
      • In "The Tholian Web", Spock tells Bones to do it if he believes it proper.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • In "Allegiance" it's repeated that mere suspicion isn't enough. If you don't have some hard evidence, you could risk being charged with mutiny. Since Crusher can't find anything medically wrong with the doppelganger impersonating Picard, the crew's options are limited.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Defiant", Bashir points out to Kirk that not even Commander Sisko could override Bashir when it comes to medical matters.
    • For Star Trek: Voyager an additional wrinkle was thrown in: due to personnel losses in the first episode, the ship's doctor is a hologram. As such, the captain could just shut him down if she doesn't want to follow his orders — or even reprogram him, as happened to his counterpart on the Equinox. The problem, as touched upon in "Year of Hell, Part Two", is that while Janeway is usually sane enough to keep her rebellions against doctor's order to small things like dragging her feet about having check-ups, there's nothing saying that will still be the case when she is unhealthy enough that she should be relieved of command.



    Western Animation 
  • Borderline one in The Lion Guard when Simba gets stung by a scorpion. Kion spots the resurrected spirit of Scar while the guard is getting volcanic ash to draw the venom out of Simba. Naturally, Kion is eager to tell his father, but Rafiki insists Simba needs rest before Kion talks to him. Even though he’s the prince, Kion still listens and waits. He does discuss Scar with Rafiki though.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Second Contact", Dr. T'Ana (the Chief Medical Officer of the Cerritos) issues a command that everyone in Sickbay must remain conscious.
    T'Ana: Nobody's authorized to pass out!
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "The Deserter", Captain Rex gets shot in the chest while on patrol. When he wakes up, he insists that Kix, the medic, just patch him up so they can get back to business. In response:
    Kix: Sir, as the team medic, when it comes to the health of the men — including you — I outrank everyone. So I respectfully order you, sir, to get some– [interrupted by someone entering the room]
  • Thomas & Friends: Exploited by the Fat Controller in "The Sad Story of Henry" to get out of doing physical labor himself:
    Fat Controller: My doctor has forbidden me to push/pull.

    Real Life 
  • Surprisingly, inverted in many places for much of history. As James Burke explains on The Day the Universe Changed, in 18th-century France (and other places), doctors were expensive, and so if you were rich enough to afford one you would tell him your symptoms, and then he would match symptoms to a list of treatments, and you would choose which of those you wanted yourself. When Benjamin Franklin showed up in 1778 with tales of Philadelphia's modern public health system (arguably the best in the world at the time), in which healthcare was available to all for a reasonable fee and the good citizens (the shock!) did what the doctor told them rather than the other way 'round, the intellectuals of the Paris salons were intrigued.
  • The History Channel documentary It's Good To Be The President devoted a good ten or so minutes to the topic of how the leader of the free world is kept in optimal health. During an interview with the Presidential Physician, the narrator/interviewer asks what standard operating procedure is when the President openly defies Doctor's Orders. The doctor gives a smile somewhere between coy and wry before he quips, "In such circumstances it is the medical professional's duty to appeal to a higher power over the patient," Beat "so in that case we advise the First Lady."
  • In the US and many other militaries, the unit doctor can override even the Commanding Officer's orders if they can provide medical justification. This even includes relieving the captain of a ship or sub of their command if medical necessity demands it.