Open Access Open Badges Research article

Australian medical students' perceptions of professionalism and ethics in medical television programs

Roslyn Weaver1* and Ian Wilson2

Author Affiliations

1 Family and Community Health Research Group, University of Western Sydney, Narellan Road Campbelltown NSW 2560, Australia

2 Medical Education Unit, School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Narellan Road Campbelltown NSW 2560, Australia

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:50  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-50

Published: 29 July 2011



Medical television programs offer students fictional representations of their chosen career. This study aimed to discover undergraduate medical students' viewing of medical television programs and students' perceptions of professionalism, ethics, realism and role models in the programs. The purpose was to consider implications for teaching strategies.


A medical television survey was administered to 386 undergraduate medical students across Years 1 to 4 at a university in New South Wales, Australia. The survey collected data on demographics, year of course, viewing of medical television programs, perception of programs' realism, depiction of ethics, professionalism and role models.


The shows watched by most students were House, Scrubs, and Grey's Anatomy, and students nominated watching 30 different medical programs in total. There was no statistical association between year of enrolment and perceptions of accuracy. The majority of students reported that friends or family members had asked them for their opinion on an ethical or medical issue presented on a program, and that they discussed ethical and medical matters with their friends. Students had high recall of ethical topics portrayed on the shows, and most believed that medical programs generally portrayed ideals of professionalism well.


Medical programs offer considerable currency and relevance with students and may be useful in teaching strategies that engage students in ethical lessons about practising medicine.