Sunday, September 26, 2010

Family Medicine: Learning from Marcus Welby and Dog the Bounty Hunter

Television abounds with Crime Scene Investigator shows, like every channel once or twice a night has a CSI type show (NCIS- Naval Criminal Investigative Services- had a "marathon" two nights ago so we could reaffirm that there are a lot of killers in the Navy).  Naturally, as a family physician, I have to watch lots of TV to keep informed of what "entertainment" exposures my patients might have.  The non-CSI shows seem to be peppered with Law and Order reruns and even some "new episodes", featuring murder and perversion.  Lawyer shows seem to abound also, with more murder and perversion.  Medical shows such as Grey's Anatomy and House are more sparse and feature a lot of interpersonal dilemmas among the characters, including the dilemma of Dr House illegal procurement and use of, and dependency on, opiates (Vicodin).

I flash back to the 1960's and 1970's when I was getting part of my inspiration to become a family physician from the television characters Marcus Welby, MD (played by Robert Young) with his younger assistant Dr Steve Kiley (played by James Brolin) who rode a motorcycle, Ben Casey (played by Vince Edwards) and Dr. Kildare (played by Richard Chamberlain).  There was no physician drug abuse and no emphasis on murder or perversion.  Dr Welby had unlimited time for patients and a caring, understanding office nurse, Consuelo Lopez (played by Elena Verdugo) who added balance to each episode.  The show did introduce information about common diseases and also dealt with touchy issues such as impotence, depression, drug addiction, mononucleosis and many others.  Dr Casey always wore what we called "a Ben Casey" shirt.  Both he and Dr Kildare  spent a lot of time in hospitals and had various flirtations with a variety of starlets, but no drugs or sex.  The Dr Kildare theme song, "Three Stars Will Shine Tonight" was a '60's hit, inspiring romance in teens across America.  Times change.

Beyond many commendable religious shows on TV, who can inspire us now on television?  Who gives us words to live by?  I've started to float across TV land searching for truth and meaning or mindless entertainment. I find a few shows worthy of positive comments including two back to back classics on the History Channel, "Pawn Stars" and "American Pickers".  The first is about a Las Vegas Pawn Shop operated by a grandfather, father and son.  They reveal their thinking of how they value items that people want to sell and show a delightful mentoring attitude in their three generational interactions.  The items featured on the show are often historic, with frequent outside expert consultations used to evaluate the items.  The second, "American Pickers" entertains on the same night and channel with two antique store partner/ owners traveling to the individual collections and barns of America.  They pick over the old items and make offers to the owner for useful antiques to sell in their store.  They also reveal their thoughts about value and negotiations with the owners.  Both pawn and picker store owner teams close every sale with a handshake and simultaneous eye contact, role-modeling a time-honored behavior of buyers and sellers.

A surprise for me is my enjoyment of "Dog the Bounty Hunter" on the A&E channel.  Dog, aka, Wayne Chapman, runs a family business to run down and bring in, to the legal authorities, persons who failed to show up for their court dates.  The Chapman family members are bounty hunters.  Dog has long blond hair and thick shades with built in hearing aids.  He wears a cross suspended on a chain around his neck.  He usually wears black leather trousers and vest over a mostly bare chest.  He smokes.  He loves Beth, his current wife and his children.  Dog as a young man ran afoul of the law and did some jail time, which he frequently reveals to criminals they apprehend.  His team tracks down the lawbreaker using family systems information and communication via lots of cell phone calls and face to face communication achieved by travel in their Cadillac Escalade vans.  Their understanding about family structure and function seems to provide a shortcut to find the lawbreaker and bring them to justice.

There is often an intense moment at the time of apprehension until the bounty hunter team is guaranteed safety with their prey secured in handcuffs.  Dog and his wife Beth then seem to convert into social workers and missionaries.  They offer the person a cigarette and talk about family while giving the person an opportunity to hug, kiss and bid farewell (for the time being) to their loved ones who are at the apprehension site.  Dog and Beth often apologize to the person they just captured for the amount of force they applied or the tenacity they used during the chase.  They call the person's mother, wife, or husband and let them talk with the lawbreaker.  They then might offer a prayer for their prisoner and then pray with their family of bounty hunters at the end of the hunt just as they did at the beginning with the whole team holding hands.  They connect as humans to humans in a family context acting on and establishing relationships as they go.  They apologize and ask forgiveness as indicated and forgive others quickly.

So how do any of these comments relate to Family Medicine?  These TV characters manifest many important attributes that we might emulate from time to  time.  From the caring and concern of Dr. Marcus Welby combined with therapies that were often unorthodox  according to his younger, tradition- based assistant, Dr. Kiley to the American Pickers and Pawn Stars who negotiate openly and look you in the eye while they shake your hand to seal the deal, we may be reminded of human to human commitment.  We may be reminded of a firm handshake we made with a compelling dream that called us to serve others throughout our medical career.

We might personalize some strategies employed by Dog the Bounty Hunter and his family to pray individually or together at the start of our activities and when they are complete.  We might reflect on the power of the family via its structure, function, richness and the attributes of its members.  We might help our patients to be more aware of their family relationships and commitments.  We might forgive faster and help our patients to reflect on opportunities for forgiveness of self and others.  We might apologize to our patients when necessary.  We might think more about the personal comfort and safety of our patients (but not with tobacco-Dog does have some shortcomings).

Personally as I reflect on the family doctor of my youth, George Martin, MD in Miamisburg, Ohio and the TV doctors who I watched faithfully as a high school student, I feel compelled to find my letter of application to medical school to review my stated dream.  I want to recharge and realign the dream to be consistent with the "upgraded" family physician that I see in the mirror. I want to make sure I have forgiven the doctor in the mirror for his imperfections, prayed for his future and that of his patients and apologized for allowing the misalignment with the dream to go unrecognized for too long.  Thank you Dr. Martin, Dr Welby, Dr. Kiley, Dr Kildare and Dr Casey for inspiration.  Thank you American Pickers, Pawn Stars and Dog the Bounty Hunter for demonstrating attributes in your careers and your relationships that family doctors might emulate.

Quit smoking, Dog!


  1. Thanks Pat for reminding us of the "humaness" that should be at the heart of all helping relationships.


  2. Thanks for the giggle! So, Doc, you livin' vicariously through The Dog? Hmmm....might, at least, keep patients with warrants away? Lookin' at retirement options are we now? about your next post could help those of us without cable find some good reading material? Sincerely...what books changed your life?

  3. Thanks Larry and Alice.
    I'll comment on books on the blogtalk radio show (8-9 PM Tues ET) and in the future in the blog. Dr S