Too Much Color on TV

The career of a medical doctor has been a constant source of credibility, and even more so, a source of entertainment in popular culture. The complex, emotionally demanding, and novel situations medical doctors find themselves in each day at work is extremely well-suited for television programs. In current popular culture there is a push for ethnic diversity to create a greater appeal to the public and reach a greater number of demographics. This push can be clearly seen in the way that medical doctors are portrayed in popular culture. The ethnic diversity that popular culture tries to present isn’t an accurate representation of the physician workforce. This disparity showcases how medical doctors of color are used to provide a false sense of diversity in the physician workforce through television in popular culture in the United States.

The 2001 hit comedy TV series Scrubs is a perfect example of a medical series using characters of color to provide ethnic diversity. One of the most important supporting characters in Scrubs is Christopher Turk. He is the best friend of the main character J.D. and is an African-American surgeon. Even more interesting, when introducing Turk in the first episode of the whole series, Scrubs begins with a discussion about J.D. being able to use the “N” word when singing along to artists such as Tupac of DMX (“My First Day”). Another great example of how medical doctors of color are used to promote diversity within the physician workforce happens when the hospital where Turk and J.D. work uses Turk as a model for an advertisement campaign to promote diversity within the hospital. The clip below is Turks realization of how the hospital has been exploiting him for their ads (Dbfinch). Scrubs, along with many other medical dramas, uses an ethnically diverse cast that can appeal to a larger demographic. This diversity isn’t as common in the physician workforce. This has effects on the public by flooding them with expectations that they will likely receive care from an ethnically well rounded health care team.

A real life example of the previously referenced Scrubs scene occurred in the University of Mississippi Medical Center advertisements shown below (“UMMC Marketing”).

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 10.14.41 AM

There is a wide variety of both gender and ethnicity in the doctors chosen to be placed in these ads. Although these are all real doctors shown in the ad, it is no coincidence that ad creators chose to showcase this selection of doctors. The creators of these advertisements can reach a broader demographic by including doctors of various ethnicities. Additionally, the ad includes doctors that come from various practices. This again helps expand the demographic to reach people of various ethnicities but also with various health concerns. Advertisements provide a sense of diversity that is rare to find in the physician workforce. This lack of diversity has led to a recent uproar in the medical student community.

This past winter Harvard med students donned their white coats and marched throughout the Harvard campus to bring awareness of the lack of diversity within the Harvard Medical School. This movement occurred at the same time as the Black Lives Matter movement. These med students aimed to not only bring awareness to the lack of diversity but also put pressure on university President Drew Gilpin Faust to value diversity and social justice when looking for the new medical school dean. Of Harvard Medical School’s 9,453 full-time faculty, 5.9 percent are black, Hispanic, or American Indian. These same groups make up 32 percent of the US population (Bailey).

2/4/2016 - Cambridge, MA - Harvard University -  Medical student Nelson C. Malone, cq, left, and Danial Ceasar, cq, right, and roughly 30 other Harvard Medical School students delivered a petition to Harvard President Drew Faust's office urging her to consider diversity and social justice when searching for a replacement for the current medical school dean. Roughly 30 Harvard medical students gathered on in Harvard Yard on Thursday afternoon, February 4, 2016 to deliver the petition. Topic: xxSTATLongwood. Story by Alissa Ambrose/Globe Staff.  Photo by Dina Rudick/Globe Staff.

Photo Credit: Dina Rudick/ The Boston Globe

In the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Diversity in the Physician Workforce: Facts and Figures 2014 report, they tracked the ethnicity, race, and sex of graduating physicians from 1980-2012. Below you can see a substantial difference between the white male/female and the many other ethnicities represented in the figure.


The ethnic diversity in the physician workforce that popular culture attempts to create is less common than it seems. After consuming this popular culture content, citizens are upset by the lack of diversity in the real medical workforce and want to incite change. For popular culture to portray a reality where there is such ethnic diversity leads many to believe that there is a balanced workforce and could also lead to many medical professional hopefuls being let down once they encounter the reality of the situation. People of color looking into pursuing careers in the medical field will be let down to see a workforce that is dominated by white men and women. Not only this but the type of health care one would expect to receive would not be as ethnically diverse as TV shows and advertisements portray the workforce to be.

In this class I have been astonished by how opened my eyes have become and the awareness this brings when considering popular culture. One of the most eye opening moments for me happened when watching The Ways of Seeing by John Berger. From this I learned about the types of realities that advertisements try to create such as making you believe you need a certain product. It was even more shocking how advertisements could be placed in media that totally disregard the content of a certain medium such as putting a luxurious liquor ad near an article about starvation. John Berger shows this disconnection between content in the following clip:

Another significant learning moment for me came from all of the research about the medical doctor workforce.  As shown above in Figure 10. from the Association of American Medical Colleges, there is a definite dominance by white males and females in the physician workforce. I aspire to one day have a career in the medical field and from my experiences working and volunteering at OHSU I noticed quickly that there was a lack of diversity in the profession I aspire to work in. The figure from the AAMC shows that white men and women are at least twice as represented as any of the other ethnicity/gender combinations. The research required for this blog post has solidified my thoughts on how there is a lack of diversity and the fact that this disparity is an problem that is slowly progressing towards change.


Bailey, Melissa. “Harvard Medical School Students Decry Lack of Diversity.” Stat News. Web. 8 May 2015

Dbfinch. “Scrubs ‘Turk/J.D. Sanford and Son.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 15 May. 2016.

“Diversity in the Physician Workforce: Facts & Figures 2014.” AAMC Interactive Report. AAMC, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016.

Manwithaplan999. “WAYS OF SEEING (final episode – advertising) 4/4.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 31 May. 2016.

“My First Day.” Scrubs: The Complete First Season. Writ. Gabrielle Allan, Janae Bakken,

Garrett Donavan, Debra Fordham, and Neil Goldman. Dir. Adam Bernstein, Marc Buckland,

Matthew Diamond, Elodie Keene, and Peter Lauer. Touchstone, 2001. DVD.

“UMMC Marketing” Pinterest. Pinterest,  April 2015. Web. 31 May 2016



5 thoughts on “Too Much Color on TV

  1. Hey Mel,
    I really enjoyed reading your post about the medical field. As someone majoring in Business, I don’t usually find myself talking about physicians or doctors. Something your post made me think about some research I did when I first started my project. I came across an article about University “Diversity” Programs and how they’re not really diverse at all. I think it’s really interesting and kind of frustrating how these Universities and Programs would rather spend money to promote these diverse programs without actually going that extra mile to ensure its really diverse. I’m glad we are able to realize how diverse this world really isn’t and I wish you the best of luck to change that.


  2. Hi Mel,
    I loved reading your post about the medical field in this diverse society. In my culture, our parents always wish us to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or those careers that can make a lot of money. However, to become a doctor requires you to spend a lot of money and time, so many people turn out to give up their dream. I therefore guess that most people choose a career that needs less time to become professional and make money fast in order to support their families. Hence, less people with diverse cultural background appear in the medical field. I glad that you bring this out, so it helps us to face the issue and figure out a way to change that.
    Thanks for sharing,

  3. Hi Mel,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post because I can really relate to this issue. I totally agree that the medical field needs to grow in term of diversity. From my experience, every time my parents need to go to the doctor I would have to accompany them there due to the lack of translator that work in the medical field. I find it very frustrating sometimes because of language and background barrier they wouldn’t get the same patient- doctor interaction as other would. I’m glad I came across your post because I got to learned about the lack of diversity at Harvard. I always knew that diversity was a big issue in the medical field but I haven’t seen recent new about this until now. Thank you for sharing your finding!


  4. Hey Mel, your post really gave me something to think about. It was sort of reverse thinking, usually for movies or TV shows casting uses diversity to avoid issues in the public who are bothered with only one type of casting but you touched upon the opposite, casting color in a workforce that is having issues of lack of diversity in that professional area. So thank you for making me more aware of this issue because it is a very serious one. This disparity can only be fixed if people are aware about the issue which I’m sure your post contributed to this cause.

    All the best.

  5. Hey Mel,
    I thought that you chose a really interesting topic! Usually in the media, trouble with diversity comes from the opposite end, where the casts of TV shows and movies are “white-washed”. I find it interesting that the portrayal of doctors and nurses does the opposite, and creates the feeling that the medical community is more diverse than it actually is. The fact that only 5.9% of Harvard Medical School’s faculty are Black, Hispanic or American Indian is really shocking. I’m glad that you chose this topic for your blog post because it is a real issue that needs to have more attention brought to it.
    Thanks for sharing! Have a great summer!

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