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Frontier Doctor

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"I have great respect for those of the medical profession who have taken up their position in the remote districts of Scotland and devote themselves to the healing art under most disadvantageous circumstances... I have in mind an insular doctor who has a great deal to do of midnight boating in glacial weather, and whose bills are often paid not in coin but in fleece off a sheep's back."
Daniel Turner Holmes, Literary Tours in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

A physician who works in a frontier community.

While the inhabitants of The Wild West were tougher than case-hardened nails, they still could get hurt and sick. So there was a need for doctors, and the Frontier Doctor came west to fill that need. The frontier doctor needed to be tough and resourceful, since supplies were scarce, and the latest equipment was seldom at hand. He'd often be called upon to travel long distances at any hour of the day or night, and might even treat sick animals if no veterinarian was handy (the opposite - veterinarian instead of a doctor - is usually Played for Laughs).

With all that said, anyone who'd leave the soft, prosperous life of a doctor in the East had to have a pretty good reason. In fiction, the Frontier Doctor is often flawed. Perhaps he is an alcoholic, or killed a man, or is a Wide-Eyed Idealist who volunteered to come west without thinking it through. Which isn't to say that the characters in a Western aren't grateful that he's there to patch up their bullet holes and cure their pox.


The stress may turn him into a Dr. Jerk, given time.

As the territory becomes more civilized, this character becomes "the town doctor", with better access to equipment and supplies, but not much more rest as he or she's still basically the only physician for miles.


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    Anime and Manga 

  • Dr. Leonard McCoy in the aptly titled Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor. Set between the original Star Trek series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the series follows a bearded Dr. McCoy as he works with the Starfleet frontier doctors program.
  • Levi Mosley is the only doctor in town in Copperhead. Considering how many alien species are in the population he must be quite knowledgeable - even more so for successfully treating patients while staggeringly drunk.

  • Dr. Lazarus in Outland.
  • Don Knotts plays a dental version of one of these in The Shakiest Gun In The West.
  • A The Three Stooges short has the boys becoming these, at the urgings of the professor of their medical school.
  • Doc Velie in Bad Day at Black Rock.
  • The Forgotten Frontier, a 1931 documentary about the nurses of the Frontier Health Service tending to the desperately poor mountain people of Appalachia. They're nurses, not doctors, but they fill this trope in every other way, riding horseback for fifty miles at a shot over difficult muddy mountain roads to deliver babies and take care of the sick. One actual doctor is shown in the last segment, going on a 25-mile ride that includes fording a river in order to tend to the gunshot victim.
  • The Quick and the Dead: Redemption has one whose main function is to examine the fallen competitors and declare "This man is dead!". Spotted Horse turns out to be Not Quite Dead. Later, he plays a vital role when he keeps the scavengers away from the Lady's body as she is Faking the Dead.
  • In Dead Again in Tombstone, Dr. Goldsworthy is the town doctor in Silver River. He first appears when he pulls Guerrero out of the river and saves his life. However, he turns out to be far more than a simple frontier doctor.
  • Abigail in High Plains Invaders is actually a nurse, but she runs the town infirmary and fulfills the role of doctor.
  • Grim Prairie Tales: Dr. Leaderman is both the doctor and The Sheriff of the tiny town where the fourth story takes place. He is not very good at either role.
  • In The Man from Colorado, Judge Owen Devereaux's uncle Doc Merriam is town's doctor, and the only authority figure trusted by everyone in town.
  • In Curse of the Undead, Doc Carter is a typical frontier doctor dealing with a strange wasting disease killing young women in the town. His chances of finding a cure are hampered because the disease does not have a natural cause. Even so, his interference gets him killed by the vampire responsible, both to halt his investigation and to stir up trouble between Doc's daughter and the neighboring Cattle Baron.
  • Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning: Doc Murphy, the forts physician, is the only doctor in thousands of miles, and patches up Bridgette's hurt foot and tests people for signs of werewolf infection by seeing how they react to leeches.

  • On the Discworld witches perform this role in out of the way communities such as Lancre, which is part of Pratchett's tendency to reference real world history and myth into his books. Many places in the British Isles used to rely on people who often styled themselves as witches, wizards or mystics for medicines as well as more practical matters like midwifery.
  • In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long is living on a frontier planet and has mildly unpleasant dealings with the alcoholic (and only) doctor on the planet.
  • In the novel Christy, Neil MacNeill is the doctor of a remote, impoverished Appalachian community in the early 1900s.
  • Eccentric assistant Callum from later series of All Creatures Great and Small left to become a Frontier Vet, motivated not by any lack of skill but by his vast sense of adventure. For a while he practiced in Nova Scotia, then when it became too soft and civilised for him there he took himself off to Papua New Guinea instead.
  • 'Doc' Leroy in the novels of J.T. Edson. 'Doc' was studying medicine when his father's murder caused him to drop out and take work as a cowhand. He spent a lot of time using his medical expertise as a doctor in a Closest Thing We Got manner. He eventually completed his qualifications in Doc Leroy, M.D..
  • Star Wars: Kenobi: Minor character Doc Mell, the physician of the Pika Oasis, is a Mon Calamari. Like a traditional Frontier Doctor, he and his son have left an easy life for a much harder one, in this case because they're members of an aquatic species on a desert planet. They wear special cowls that keep their skin moist.

    Live Action TV 
  • Parodied in a series of The Armstrong and Miller Show sketches. "I work in Botswana, saving lives. Do YOU?"
  • Doc Cochran of Deadwood. Man's got an extremely curmudgeonly disposition, and a glare that'd spook the eyebrows off a Mentat, but he's a compassionate soul tryin' to hold onto some fuckin' humanity in that godforsaken camp. If people'd listen to him more often, he might actually be able to do his job. He's also got a boatload of psychological trauma from his time in the Civil War, so the man's altogether a whole barrel o' laughs.
  • Dr. Bill Baxter of the obviously-named Frontier Doctor series.
  • Dr. Michaela Quinn of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
  • Simon Tam of Firefly is a Frontier Doctor IN SPACE!, down to having once worked in a Hospital Paradiso on a Core World and being driven to the Frontier by a conflict with the law.
  • In the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Bashir comments about his new post saying this, and offending Major Kira in the process. (This is her home, and it doesn't seem like a distant frontier to THIS restless native.) On the other hand, he does go about occasionally making house-calls to neighboring planets, (including Bajor a time or two).
    • Bashir later meets a classmate who took a prestige assignment with a starship, and she complains how boring her own assignment was as opposed to his own (the writers also uses this as a jab against The Next Generation and Voyager's problem of the week episodes compared to the arcs in Deep Space Nine). Keep in mind that Bashir said that he was thrilled to be assigned to DS9 for the excitement of working on the frontier, and that even if he hypothetically had a choice of any posting it's still the one he would have picked.
  • Dr. McCoy in The Original Series is perhaps Trek's outstanding example of a Frontier Doctor—resourceful in the face of alien ailments, preferring simple homespun methods when possible, but cantankerous, eccentric, and not entirely happy with his lot (he fled to space on the heels of a divorce). Star Trek was pretty much the original Space Western, after all, and actor DeForest Kelley had an extensive background in westerns.
  • Most of the Diagnosans in Farscape tend to occupy this kind of role.
  • Archie Campbell played one on Hee Haw.
  • Hiram Baker from Little House on the Prairie.
  • More of a post-apocalyptic Scavenger World than the frontier, but Defiance has Doc Yewll, who responds to having a patient threaten her with her own force-scalpel by threatening to throw them out in the street.
  • Frontier doctors feature in two successive episodes of Frontier Circus. In "Dr. Sam", a female doctor from back east temporarily joins the circus as circus doctor, hoping that the circus will grant her more freedom than the straitlaced world back east. In "The Hunter and the Hunted", Tony has to fetch a doctor after Casey is badly injured in an accident, only to find that the doctor is being hunted by a gang of outlaws.
  • In Hec Ramsey, Doc Coogan is the town doctor for New Prospect. Because, as he puts it, "folks are so damn healthy", he doubles as The Barber. He is a good doctor, but a terrible barber. Hec eventually ropes him as The Coroner.
  • Dr. Galen Adams, usually identified simply as "Doc," on Gunsmoke. The character was dramatically changed for the television series, however; see the Radio folder below.
  • Dead Man's Gun: In "The Oath", a female doctor, who now owns the gun, must overcome the prejudice towards someone in her position to cure an epidemic.

  • The Beatles: "Rocky Raccoon":
    Now the doctor came in stinking of gin
    And proceeded to lie on the table
  • Since I Left You by The Avalanches has a song called 'Frontier Psychiatrist,' based on a Wayne & Shuster skit.


    Real Life 
  • "Doc" Holliday, of Real Life and many, many fictional accounts, was a frontier dentist, but is far better known for his gambling and gunfighting. (His consumptive cough apparently tended to scare off clients.)
  • James Herriot sort of counts, working in a fairly remote and rural part of Yorkshire with sometimes limited resources.
  • The Government of Canada gives incentives to medical students who choose to work in rural communities when they get their degrees.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Most any "healer" PC - such as a cleric in D&D - in the vast majority of RPGs will fit the bill, although they often have access to magic in addition to gumption and bandages. In fact, in 3rd edition a cleric's lack of skill points and tendency to use Intelligence as a Dump Stat might mean that they have no actual training in the use of nonmagical healing practices.

    Video Games 
  • Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist
  • Dr. Lyle White in Assassin's Creed III starts a new life in the frontier Homestead, in order to help a couple deliver a baby (and also because the Redcoats were dragging his name through the mud back in Boston).
  • Feodor Kuchin of Infinite Space has dedicated his life to bringing medical aid to frontier planets, low-profile work that doesn't generate donations for his employer, the Medic Organization. And then events conspire to make him join up as ship's doctor to an underage adventurer.


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