Sunday, February 19, 2012

Family Medicine: Marcus Welby, MD - Caring, Angry and Committed

I'm viewing the first season of Marcus Welby, MD on DVD to reflect on how the early TV doctors practiced (acted).  I was surprised to see how angry Dr Welby was on numerous occasions (in sunny California, even).  He was totally committed to his patients and to his community reputation of "Doctor", but the amount of anger surprised me.

For some background, in case you don't remember of weren't alive then, in the 1960's and 1970's, patients saw their personal physician, and usually paid for the doctor's services on the way out of the office.  Insurance was only used for hospitalization, not for office or outpatient services.  Diagnostic support such as CT scans or MRI's were just being invented in the late 1970's.  Dr. Welby and his young associate, Dr. Steve Kiley, had to do it all from cradle to grave, sometimes with the help of their local hospital- where they admitted their own patients, delivered their babies, removed their tonsils and maintained professional relationships with other physicians.

In such an era, the "presence" of the physician was a major aspect of treatment.  The doctor was committed to your well-being as long as you honored their profession and followed doctor's orders.  Just as now, many individuals disagreed with Dr. Welby (even Dr Kiley disagreed at one point or another during most of the shows in the season one DVD that I viewed).  "Therapeutic Presence" was important in the world of Welby and Kiley.  At times, they had little to offer medically, so the patient-physician relationship was very important as a therapeutic element.

Dr. Welby at times was very possessive of his patients, even demanding and angry when others interfered in their relationship.  Anger was a visitor every week from the TV doctor who had just experienced a long run as the fatherly lead in "Father Knows Best", which used the same house front as "Marcus Welby, MD".  Dr. Welby compensated with 24/7 willingness to be there for his patients- in their home, in the hospital or at the local "trailer park"- and with the motherly support as office assistant and sometime lunch preparer of Elena Verdugo who played Consuelo Lopez.

Everyone seemed to love Consuelo and most were forgiving of the youthful, geeky bluntness of Dr Kiley who lived in the house with Dr. Welby that doubled as their doctor's office.  Only Marcus Welby, MD had to get the full brunt of various angry patients or their relatives.  Still, he persisted, and confronted and hugged and argued.  He pleaded for an autistic boy to be treated by a research center and basically berated the Medical Director who politely apologized for society's failure to take care of all.  He lived in the home of that boy empathizing with his parents about the possible need to institutionalize the boy out of concern for the safety of the new baby in the home.  Never fear, Welby taught the boy to feed the horse and colt, suddenly seeing the boy connect with animals and humans at the midnight hour (end of show) as a reward for the good doctor's extra care.

I can't wait to get season two to watch the maturing of the characters and the script.  What do you remember about the "Marcus Welby, MD" show?


  1. I've also watched the first season. I was amazed at the pacing of the action. It was truly a different era. His irritability, as you mention, was also a surprise. I think the first 3 seasons are available on DVD. It was the most widely watched TV show on our 3 networks in 1971.


  2. I loved that show, but admittedly don't remember much more then Consuela standing near the front desk smiling, Dr Welby smiling or being warm and Steve driving up on his motorcycle. I definitely don't remember his anger. I used to think I wanted to do what Consuela did. But then when I went to work at the hospital (ED reg), I realized I didn't want to deal with projectile body fluids. I do love encouraging and helping patients tho. I thought it must be so nice to be work in a nice medical office.

    I was 15 in 1970 and so I didn't have to pay Dr visits. I didn't realize people paid out of pocket for the visit.

    When did that change?

    I could not afford the Dr office bills now. they are all over 100.00 if specialist and around that if pcp ..but under a bit... unless more is done.

    I do remember a doctor coming into my bedroom to see me when I was a little girl. I was in bed with some kind of uri. My Scottish grandmother had placed a mustard poultice on my chest that couldn't be there long and he approved of it. I remember he was wearing a suit and had a black bag.

    Wow ...feels like a whole other lifetime. :)

    I'd love to watch the series. Thanks for sharing it. :)

  3. Nice post, keep going


  4. It was indeed a nice show. A friend of mine bought a copy of it and it was really interesting. Doctors are really amazing, the way they help and inspire the patients.