Are doctors on television just hams?

I recently came across a blogpost entitled “Everyone is Taking to the Camera- Pass the HAM please.” In it, the writer (a published author) says:

I have never seen more Doctors, Lawyers, Judges and ex-politicians on television than I have in the last few years….

Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz certainly must have been good Doctors, but think how much more they have learned on air with a staff and producers that can access any fact in minutes. Working for a producer doing new shows every day is much more demanding than working for patients. These Docs are quite camera friendly and seem to adapt well to the nuances of live TV; including pauses for commercials. Their message is popular and it seems that they here to stay.


What conclusions have I drawn from this diverse group of professionals that strayed into the small screen from other high paying professions? I believe deep down we are all HAMS looking for a modicum of fame.

I felt compelled to leave a response and, as you can see, it turned out to be a mini-blogpost. So I share part of it with you here and welcome your own thoughts and opinions.

I think I would have agreed with you on the “ham”-factor a few years ago. I guess I still do to some extent. Any person living in the public eye (including the one online) is likely to be craving an audience, after all. But, as a general practitioner earnestly interested in how accurately the media relays health information, I am less concerned these days about how people (doctors) got onto television and more concerned about the messages they are relaying.

A doctor might find himself deemed camera-worthy by producers after a stint on a matchmaking reality show. Or after being interviewed by Oprah. But what these professionals do with their position is ultimately what counts because their influence is huge. I cannot say whether working for patients or working for producers is more demanding, as I am in full-time clinical practice and have not done the latter. But to me, a big challenge is the fact that ratings (and not responsibility) drive content on television and that medicine discussed on television shows may be anything but “real” for the sake of viewership.

Luckily, more and more doctors are using social media to try to correct misinformation or relay more relevant medical issues without the sensationalism characteristic of television. These physicians might even use video to spread the word. We need good quality information, especially heath information, on television and it ultimately does not matter to me whether this comes from a HAM.

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4 thoughts on “Are doctors on television just hams?

  1. In my opinion there is a contradiction in “physicians gone celebrity” because you can’t be a physician, that is spend long hours seeing and treating patients. learning about new research and developments in your field, consult with colleagues about cases and a celebrity that is spend long hours taking care of your image, of how you “look”, of what you say…Maybe some started as physicians but somewhere they chose to be something else…. I personally would not trust my health to a “celebrity”, I would rather look for a “physician”….

  2. Excellent overview, Linda, but physicians blogging or using Twitter are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the sheer numbers paying attention to the cringe-worthy Dr. Oz, or (horrors!) The Doctors, or TV drama like E.R., House, or Grey’s Anatomy. But there may be hope, even there.

    When the Kaiser Family Foundation undertook a research project to evaluate the educational impact of a specific episode of Grey’s Anatomy, the results were promising. Viewers were surveyed during the Foundation’s participation with the producers of Grey’s Anatomy for an episode that included a story line about mother-to-baby HIV transmission (May 1, 2008). The proportion of viewers who were aware that, with the proper treatment, there is more than a 90% chance of an HIV-positive woman having a healthy baby increased by 46 percentage points AFTER this episode aired (jumping from 15% to 61%). More on this at: “What Can We Learn About Medicine From Watching Grey’s Anatomy” –

  3. I couldn’t agree more, Linda. The irresponsibility of “physician gone celebrity” has the potential to do real damage not only to the public but also to the profession. It is also frustrating as a health professional to have to correct misinformation put out to produce ratings.

    Physicians using social media to connect in a more relevant and honest manner is a great way to engage patients. If nothing else, the interest in the “celebrity’ doctor shows the need patients have to connect with their health professionals.
    Great post!

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