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Patient of the Week

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Turk: I got a hernia patient to take care of.
JD: What's his name?
Turk: Well, his name is “hernia patient,” but we’ve gotten close, so I like to call him “hernia.”
Scrubs, “My Old Lady

In a Medical Drama the patient has a disease that is the focus of the episode, with a little personal drama thrown in. This is the Monster of the Week construction, Medical Edition.


    Anime And Manga 
  • Black Jack usually treats one patient per chapter. Justified, as he's a black market surgeon.
  • While not exactly a medical drama, Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist combines this with Woobie of the Week. Each episode focuses on a patient who is struggling with various emotional/spiritual problems that manifest as "mysterious diseases", and Dr. Ramune helps them get over these issues to cure them of their disease.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Dr. Kildare series, which consisted of sixteen films in The '30s and The '40s, established this trope as well as several other tropes of the Medical Drama. Most of the films involve Dr. Kildare, or his successors after the Dr. Kildare character was written out, trying to diagnose the mysterious problem of a strange new patient.

    Live Action TV 
  • Call the Midwife mostly follows this format (with some aversions of patients appearing in multiple episodes). This is justified for a programme about midwifery; the amount of time spent as a patient is fixed for pregnancy and childbirth. The case of the week is often a unique complication in pregnancy or the family background of the patient.
  • Casualty: Characters will show up with horrendous injuries and be diagnosed/cured within the space of one afternoon. Then they never appear again, no matter how interesting, and about half of the next episode is devoted to the introduction of a new Patient of the Week. Like ER, it is set in an A&E department.
  • In Doctors, the doctors ended up solving their patients' life troubles so often that the writers started having people seek them out for psychological aid.
  • The Dr. Kildare TV series, which aired from 1961-66 almost exclusively uses this trope. Each episode is structured with a main plot revolving around one patient (usually a celebrity guest star) and their personal drama, and a subplot centering on different patient and...different personal drama. The subplot often parallels the main plot, and in the end, a central Aesop unites the two.
  • Emergency! had two or three of these an episode, starting either with Johnny and Roy rescuing the patient or occasionally the patient coming into the hospital on their own and rotating between chunks of the storylines and scenes of station time.
  • ER. Justified, as it's set in an emergency room, where it's expected that patients are either cured, killed, or moved to another department. Doesn't explain why they usually only have one patient a week, though.
    • Actually, ER is not known for employing this trope. In fact, it often portrays a chaos in which the doctors have to treat multiple trauma patients at the same time, running back-and-forth between trauma rooms. Also not following the trope in that quite a lot of the running time of ER episodes is used to portray personal drama of the staff members. Whenever ER did run an episode entirely devoted to one patient, such as Season 11's Time of Death, it was a departure from the norm and presented as such.
    • Subverts the trope even further by having patients appear across multiple episodes, often with mini story arcs that intersect with that of a staff member. Other patients return in later episodes to sue, or threaten to sue, their doctors for malpractice; Greene in Season 2, Corday in Season 7, and Kovac in Season 13 (though in this case, the actual incident that prompted the malpractice suit is shown in flashback).
  • Fellow Medical Drama Grey's Anatomy follows this trope almost religiously, only deviating from it on special occasions. Typically, the cast will split into halves (or thirds, or fourths, depending on how many subplots are the episode has), each group tackling a single patient who'll provide some perspective or wisdom that can be easily applied to whatever problem a character has, then disappear and never be heard from again. Patients who last longer than one episode tend to have multiple issues, and may end up getting rotated through various specialists as their condition worsens.
  • Casualty spinoff Holby City also uses the Patient of the Week format - while it's not as frequent as in the parent show, the fact that Holby City is set in a cardiac surgery department makes it rather more inexplicable.
  • House
    • The show is based on the premise that House and his team only take patients who have been examined by multiple other doctors and are still missing a diagnosis. The show also deviates from the formula comparatively often, especially in later seasons.
    • Deconstructed in several episodes; once when new administrator Edward Vogler wanted to fire House because only treating one patient a week isn't cost-effective, and again when House confessed to a patient that he chooses to take only one case at a time, often leading to unfortunate results for the twenty-odd files he passes up.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid is weird example when viewed as medical drama because the patients arrive with Gamer disease that is spred by resident monsters, Bugsters. Treatment involves playing a video game that centers around defeating the Monster of the Week that spawns from infected patients. Also, all the heroic riders are doctors with various fields of residency. It makes much more sense, when viewed as a Kamen Rider series with a theme of medical drama. It is never brought up why only one patient at time, but on the single occasion more people were infected, things got complicated.
  • M*A*S*H: It shows up at least a few times a season. Justified since the point of a field hospital isn't to monitor patients long-term but to get them either fit for duty or stable enough to transport away from the war zone, and also subverted with episodes that feature large numbers of patients and illustrate the necessity of triage.
  • Monday Mornings: Some of the cases feel like this trope, but there are usually several patients for each episode. Most people are actually treated as whole people, and most cases aren't mysterious at all. Some patients come back in later episodes with additional issues, which brings nice continuity rarely seen in patient characters.
    • The pilot episode has a Sassy Black Woman who is suspected to be a hypochondriac, but she's seriously ill, and it was found out after several tests because of one obsessed doctor.
    • Lampshaded in one episode when they couldn't diagnose a patient right away which is unusual. They are clearly missing something, and Dr. Robidaux asks whether they should call Dr. House.
  • Nip/Tuck by and large followed this format. Almost every week the two main characers, who run a plastic surgery firm, would handle a unique case, sometimes pro bono. Their opening line in every episode was "Tell us what you don't like about yourself".
  • Scrubs, though it's not as bad as the others. That's because Scrubs isn't a medical mystery show. It is a work comedy that centers purely on the doctors. The patients only show up when it's plot important. It's very apparent that they wanted to stand out from the others.

    Real Life 
Alan Alda, while speaking to the medical students in 1979, advised them against such a practice. Part of his speech went: "Will you be the kind of doctor who cares more about the case than the person? (“Nurse, call the gastric ulcer and have him come in at three.”… “How’s the fractured femur in Room 208?”)"