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How medical dramas heal our lives

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 19, 2021 5:00 am

This painful pandemic has shone the light on one of our modern-day heroes, namely the courageous and beyond-dedicated healthcare workers. These are the doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff working tirelessly and saving lives — of our family, friends, and fellow Filipinos.

I started watching hospital K-dramas to get into this fascinating world, in a shallow, escapist way, of course. During these sad and desperate times, these K-dramas can somehow comfort us and make us feel better.

So far, I haven’t watched one that dealt with the dreaded COVID. Perhaps the topic is just too raw or heart wrenching, given all the tragic deaths. Or maybe the writers are just waiting for a cure or an end to the pandemic, so there will be closure for the drama.

These dramas have a limited number of episodes, unlike the seemingly endless saga we are dealing with in real life.

I discovered that Korean dramas have found the right prescription for a medical-themed series, giving us a dose of romance, humor, suspense, music, and the human emotions behind medical cases.

Among the top medical TV shows of all time are E.R. (hello, George Clooney!), which was created by bestselling author Michael Crichton and was a high-rating show from 1994 to 2009; and Grey’s Anatomy, which has been on the air from 2005 to the present, and is still considered groundbreaking.

Does anyone remember M.A.S.H.? This TV series was a favorite growing up. Based on the Robert Altman movie, the show’s focus was on the unique and quirky military medical staff led by Alan Alda during the Korean War. The show was funny and sad with that bittersweet flavor.

I discovered that Korean dramas have found the right prescription for a medical-themed series, giving us a dose of romance, humor, suspense, music, and the human emotions behind medical cases.

Here are some hospital K-dramas that will inject some happiness, some sadness, and the best distraction, into your life in lockdown.

Hospital Playlist

Netflix, Seasons 1 and 2
Cast: Cho Jung-seok, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-Myeung, Jeon Mi-do

 Delightful musical numbers by the well-loved doctors of Hospital Playlist lighten the mood and are quite entertaining. Photo courtesy of Netflix

This drama is a story of five undergrad friends who are top doctors specializing in different fields at Yulje Medical Center. The group is made up of four men, namely: Lee Ik-jun, Ahn Jeong-won, Kim Jun-wan, Yang Seok-hyung, and the lone female, Chae Song-hwa. They all have their own backstories, some heartbreaking, but this “barkada” is cool. Though they excel in their jobs, they don’t necessarily excel in life. This doesn’t change the fact that they are great and compassionate people, though.

Like in all medical-themed dramas, it depicts the struggles and triumphs of patients, hospital staff, and other characters. There are tear-inducing scenes but these are balanced by light moments. Hospital Playlist is not heavy on the soul. I guess this is why it is so popular and well loved.

Why you should watch it: The musical interludes. I am not kidding. The five doctor friends formed a band and they sing great songs. There is a vocalist, guitar and piano players, and a drummer. As a stress-reliever, they play music in the basement of one of the homes. It’s a fun break and it lightens the mood, even for the viewers.

What makes it relevant to the times: Its humanity is what makes Hospital Playlist universally relevant. We can all relate to fear, pain of loss, family struggles, falling in love, being heartbroken. But it is also the “little” things that we identify with, like eating what we love, hanging out with friends without having to say much, inside jokes, and singing off-key.

Good Doctor

Netflix, Viu
Cast: Joo Won, Moon Chae-won, Joo Sang-wook, Cheon Ho-jin

 Overcoming life’s hurdles is an encouraging message of Good Doctor. Photo courtesy of Netflix

This 2013 K-drama has been remade in the US and Japan. Its main character is Park Shi-on, who is a savant on the autism spectrum. He is brilliant with a perfect memory, which led him to be a pediatric surgeon. The only problem is that he can’t “read the room.”

Shi-on has six months to prove himself before he is accepted as a resident in a hospital, but he has to overcome hurdles. He has a kind doctor mentor who has faith in him but most of his peers think he is like a robot and cannot feel for patients. They are wrong, of course. He just shows his concern in a different way. Other complications arise, like hospital politics, challenging patient cases, and the biggest distraction of all — he falls in love.

Why you should watch it: This drama opens your mind when it comes to autism or any developmental disorder. It seeks to remove any bias you may have, or any thoughts of limitation when it comes to others being different. Although sometimes presented in a melodramatic manner (hey, it’s a drama), people with this condition have feelings, hopes and dreams like you and me.

What makes it relevant to the times: It is uplifting to watch someone with a disability overcome challenges and it’s nice to be reminded that people are generally good.

It’s these encouraging messages that keep us going during this bleak pandemic. To quote the savant doctor, “I’m a little different than other people. My mannerisms are also a bit different, which is why I worked hard to overcome them. A lot of good people covered for me. Thank you for covering for me and for not avoiding me. And also, thank you very much for loving me.”


Netflix, Viu
Cast: Park Shin-hye, Kim Rae-won, Yun Kyun-sang, Lee Sung-kyoung

The heroine of this medical drama is Yoo Hye-jung, a tough and problematic teen who transforms into a compassionate and successful doctor. This transformation is due to Hong Ji-hong, her mentor and teacher. Because of him, the trajectory of her life changed for the better.

 In Doctors, troubled teenager-turned-successful professional Yoo Hye-jung eventually falls in love with her mentor, Hong Ji-hong.

Fast forward to 13 years where she is an accomplished professional and meets him again. Their love story then begins, intertwined with the lives of other doctors and patients. Like all hospital TV series, I get lost during the surgery scenes and don’t understand the medical terms used, but I don’t lose focus. I keep my eye on the lovers and see it to the end.

Why you should watch it: Doctors has a kickass first episode with the lady doctor subduing gangsters in the hospital. You get a glimpse of the tough background of Yoo Hye-jung from this scene. You don’t mess with her. She is not only pretty and smart but strong as well. The male lead character Hong Ji-hong is warm and endearing. These two main characters and their stories are the draw of this drama.

What makes it relevant to the times: Many people have lost their jobs during this pandemic but somehow reinvented themselves, and found different ways to make a living. Others who have had their careers for so long now wish for a simple and peaceful life. As in the case of Yoo Hye-jung in Doctors, one can always change his or her life. This just shows that not even the most terrible times in life are permanent.


Netflix, Viu, seasons 1 and 2
Cast: Han Seok-kyu, Yoo Yeon-seok, Seo Hyun-jin, Ahn Hyo-seop, Kim Joo-heon, Lee Sung-kyung

 In Dr. Romantic, you find troubled and struggling doctors get their second chance in a small provincial hospital. Photo courtesy of Netflix

After a traumatic incident in a city hospital, top surgeon Kim Sa-bu disappears, changes his identity, and moves to a small provincial hospital. It’s not as modern as his previous place of work. However, in exchange for the lack of medical tools are the most skilled doctors and nurses. Furthermore, the staff is dedicated to patients and stays away from the lure of money and power. He then reappears in Geosan University Hospital, the city hospital where he used to work, to recruit a general surgeon. Two unlikely doctors with a past join him in his small town hospital.

Why you should watch it: Second chances are given. The doctors in this drama are flawed. Kang Dong-joo’s success is held back because of his poor family background. Yoon Seo-jung’s guilt after the death of her boyfriend continually plagues her. Seo Woo-jin’s life is filled with struggles, including surviving his parent’s suicide, being in debt, testifying against his mentor in a case, and more. However, they are given a new shot in life by joining this small hospital in the province.

What makes it relevant to the times: These dramas show the human side of medical workers, which makes me appreciate them more. With all the illness around them, various stories of human frailty, and their own problems, our doctors, nurses and hospital staff still do not fail us. These dramas are just one of the many reminders of how honorable they are.