During the current crisis in our world, we’ve all become even more aware of how valuable our healthcare professionals are. I have worked for a group of eye doctors for over 20 years, and I’ve seen firsthand the importance of compassion, knowledge and skill that is needed to be successful in that line of work.
Doctors have always been a huge part of all of our lives – we will all see one at some point, even if only for a regular eye or dental visit. Maybe that’s why medical dramas have been a part of our entertainment world, and from the earliest days of television, we have invited a number of doctors, of varying types, into our living rooms. The early dramas, such as “Medical Center,” “Dr. Kildare” and “Ben Casey” offered good-looking young doctors (setting the bar for the likes of George Clooney) usually clashing with an older, more experienced physician, while oftentimes also offering storylines about controversial topics relevant to that time. Some series have had a cultural impact, such as “Emergency!” increasing awareness of the necessity of EMTs, and “The X-Files” influencing young women to seek STEM-related careers. And some, like “Scrubs,” have offered comedy in the midst of medical emergencies.
Many of these programs have been huge on the awards circuit, with Golden Globe and Emmy nominations abundant among them. They have also been some of the most highly-rated and longest-lasting programs on television, often also delving into the personal lives of the characters, creating devoted fan followings. Many programs have multiple memorable doctors; for the sake of this article, only one doctor per program has been selected.
Enjoy touring our photo gallery featuring our best choices for the 40 greatest TV doctors of all time. Our list includes the top men and women from “E.R.,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “St. Elsewhere,” “M*A*S*H,” “House,” “Northern Exposure” and more. Our only rule was that we could select just one doctor for any given program. Did your favorite make the cut?
40. Picket Fences
Kathy Baker as Dr. Jill Brock
Married to the sheriff, this small-town doctor aids him as unusual happenings occur frequently in their hamlet.
Bernard Fox as Dr. Hubert Bombay
“Calling Dr. Bombay, calling Dr. Bombay. Emergency, come right away.” And the magical doctor would appear, with a hot nurse at his side, to cure any strange supernatural illness that a witch may have.
38. The Love Boat
Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam Bricker
Despite his womanizing ways, the physician of this ship is also compassionate, and usually the first one to notice when someone is in despair.
Bobby Troup as Dr. Joe Early
In the early days of EMT training programs, medical emergencies are supervised via radio with a doctor. Highly skilled Dr. Early is one of those physicians, making life and death decisions in the emergency room as he aids the paramedics.
36. Private Practice
Taye Diggs as Dr. Sam Bennett
This “Dr. Feelgood” has an excellent bedside manner, and manages to write a book, oversee his practice and remain at the top of his field despite numerous romantic entanglements.
Brad Dourif as Dr. Amos Cochran
Haunted by the horrors of the Civil War, Doc Cochran is upright and outspoken, often the moral voice of crime-ridden town. Despite any violence around him, Doc is untouchable as he capably cares for all citizens, including the prostitutes, without bias.
34. Medical Center
Chad Everett as Dr. Joe Gannon
This young surgeon clashes with his older, more experienced chief of staff at times, but shows compassion and intellect as not only a capable doctor, but also as the head of the Student Health Department.
33. The Incredible Hulk
Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner
While experimenting with the human ability to possess superhuman strength during a crisis, this scientist inadvertently creates an alter ego when he becomes enraged – a giant creature with superhuman strength. Fearful that this creature will cause harm, Banner flees, searching for a cure, but also learning that the compassionate caregiver and physician is always in him – even as the monster- as both egos want to help people in need.
Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson
Although he suffers from PTSD resulting from his military service in Afghanistan, Watson proves to be an invaluable friend and co-detective to the brilliant Sherlock Holmes. As a general practitioner, he has a wide range of knowledge in most medical fields; as an ex-solider, he is excellent with handling firearms and in unarmed combat-all of which come in handy while aiding the hard-to-please Sherlock.
Milburn Stone as Dr. Galen Adams
The beloved doctor on one of television’s longest running series has a colorful past and in his early years in Dodge City, is somewhat self-centered. However, as time moves on, he becomes the more compassionate caregiver of this western town.
30. The West Wing
Stockard Channing as Dr. Abigail Bartlet
As both a physician and First Lady of the United States, this doctor has to make a choice, and she chooses to hide her husband’s multiple sclerosis, risking her medical license by secretly treating him. She eventually volunteers to give up her license as long as her husband is in the White House; however she donates her skills in other ways, such as by giving vaccinations.
29. The Fugitive
David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble
Respected pediatrician is on the run after being falsely convicted of his wife’s murder. A train wreck enables his escape from death row; what follows is one of television’s greatest manhunts, as the fugitive looks for the one-armed man he believes killed his wife while himself being pursued by a dogged police lieutenant. Audiences tuned in, eagerly waiting to see if the good doctor would be exonerated; they were not disappointed, as the show set the standard for a good “series finale,” and broke records for viewership at the time.
28. Ben Casey
Vince Edwards as Dr. Ben Casey
Young, brooding neurosurgeon is dedicated and gifted, and willing to fight the establishment for his patients in this edgy medical drama. His dark good looks caused women’s hearts flutter, paving the way for gritty medical dramas that feature handsome doctors.
27. Trapper John, M.D.
Pernell Roberts as Dr. John “Trapper” McIntire
In a rare move, a sitcom character transitioned to an hour-long drama. Years after serving in a MASH unit during the Korean War, Trapper is now Chief of Surgery , a caring doctor willing to violate policy for the betterment of his patients.
Ted Danson as Dr. John Becker
Despite the fact that everything irritates him, Becker cares for his patients in his small practice in a run-down Bronx neighborhood. Even though he can be cantankerous and stingy, the good doctor shows the utmost compassion in dealing with all his patients, even the ones who have difficulty paying.
25. Dr. Kildare
Richard Chamberlain as Dr. James Kildare
From a young intern to rising resident, the handsome young doctor sometimes ignores the advice of his mentor, while at the same time trying to earn his respect by excelling at his profession and taking care of his patients.
24. Diagnosis Murder
Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloane
Coming from a long line of police officers, this veteran doctor is not only chief of internal medicine, but also a consultant to the LAPD, often assisting his police detective son in solving cases.
23. Empty Nest
Richard Mulligan as Dr. Harry Weston
This kind-hearted pediatrician has his life turned upside-down when his wife passes away and his two adult daughters move back in with him. While his daughters take over his house, his wise-cracking nurse runs things at the office.
22. Marcus Welby, M.D.
Robert Young as Dr. Marcus Welby
In most medical dramas, the older doctor is usually the rule follower, and the younger one thinks outside the box; however, this is not the case with Dr. Welby. The kind family practitioner treats the whole patient, taking into account factors besides just physical ailments, whereas his young partner strictly follows the textbooks. Although the two often clash, they also earn each other’s respect.
21. The Bob Newhart Show
Bob Newhart as Dr. Robert Hartley
With deadpan humor, Chicago psychologist Dr. Hartley treats a variety of neurotic patients, from grumpy Elliot Carlin to the vapid Emile Peterson to the always-knitting Lillian Bakerman.
Matthew Fox as Dr. Jack Shephard
After his plane crashes on an island, this doctor must use his skills to help other survivors tend to injuries. His ability to take over makes him the natural leader for this group; however, despite his skills, he is plagued by self-doubt and as a man of science, often in conflict with the spiritual guide he meets along the way.
Julian McMahon as Dr. Christian Troy
Despite excessive womanizing, contending with a serial rapist and butting heads with other doctors, cocky Christian Troy is able to dedicate time to his talent as a plastic surgeon, which is sometimes a matter of moral debate.
18. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
William Petersen as Dr. Gil Grissom
Forensic entomologist Gil Grissom is a highly intelligent investigator who enjoys solving crime puzzles, working in his lab to bring justice to innocent victims. While his intense devotion to logic can distance him from society, he never veers from his goal – “Because the dead can’t speak for themselves.”
17. Chicago Hope
Hector Elizondo as Dr. Phillip Watters
Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Phillip Watters runs his hospital with quiet authority, while sometimes butting heads with his staff over hospital policy.
Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane
As host of his own psychotherapeutic radio show, Frasier treats a variety of personality disorders, while his ego and competitiveness with his brother Niles, a fellow psychiatrist, suggest he may need treatment as much as his patients do.
15. The Sopranos
Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi
For seven years, this psychiatrist is determined to help Mafia leader Tony Soprano, despite evidence that he is most likely an untreatable psychopath. Their relationship is at times antagonistic, with his issues of distrust and their inappropriate attraction often conflicting with his treatment.
14. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Jane Seymour as Dr. Michaela Quinn
In the mid-1860s, Dr. Quinn overcomes sexism to become the lone practitioner in a pioneering western town. Despite the citizen’s initial doubt of a woman’s abilities as well as “modern” medicine, she earns their respect with her knowledge and perseverance.
13. Quincy, M.E.
Jack Klugman as Dr. Quincy
Tenacious, crusading medical examiner Dr. Quincy frequently conflicts with his boss and the police when offering his theories on suspicious deaths – many times playing detective as well as examiner. This doctor led the way for the many forensic pathology shows that have followed.
12. Star Trek
DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy
“I’m a doctor, not a . . .” In his unusual position as a physician to alien creatures as well as humans, Dr. McCoy often has to resort to unconventional treatments. A good friend and advisor to his captain, he provides a moral compass that clashes with the Vulcan Spock’s apathetic reasoning. In the end, Bones’s dedication to saving lives triumphs over any prejudices or differences.
11. The Good Doctor
Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy
Becoming a doctor is difficult – for an autistic savant, it is nearly impossible. A good bedside manner cannot be taught, and overcoming an aversion to social interaction, as well as the stigmas associated with it, is incredibly difficult. However, Dr. Murphy earns respect with his ability to think outside the box, and his determination to find a solution for his patients, while overcoming his own obstacles.
Donald Faison as Dr. Christopher Turk
Alongside his friend Dr. J.D. Dorian, Turk learns his profession, rising to become a respected surgeon, and ultimately achieving the rank of Chief of Surgery. Even though he and J.D. goof around and can be immature at times, Turk is extremely concerned about his patients, and is upset when things go wrong for them.
9. The X-Files
Gillian Anderson as Dr. Dana Scully
FBI Special Agent Dana Scully is a medical doctor who provides scientific logic and skepticism to counterbalance her partner Fox Mulder’s adamant beliefs in supernatural activity. Although her logic clashes with her partner’s convictions, Scully’s honesty and intelligence earns his respect and trust. The character has strongly influenced women going into STEM careers.
8. Doogie Howser, M.D.
Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Doogie Howser
Gifted with an eidetic memory, child genius Doogie Howser has completed his education, including college at Princeton University and medical school, becoming the youngest licensed doctor by age 14. Despite the fact that he’s entrusted with life-or-death patient care such as prescribing medications, the teenager also contends with all the angst and life experiences his peers must endure, such as being tested for his driver’s license and dealing with a girlfriend. A cheesy premise, but it launched a stellar career for the affable Harris, and created a cult icon that is still parodied today.
Emily Deschanel as Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan
With doctorates in anthropology, forensic anthropology and kinesiology, Bones is the leading authority in her field, working with the FBI to solve their most difficult cases. Her superior intelligence and brutal honesty make her socially awkward, and she is frustrated when her emotions surface. However, her devotion to finding the truth and justice through science, often when all she has are bones, or just fragments of bones, makes her lovable despite her arrogance.
6. Northern Exposure
Rob Morrow as Dr. Joel Fleischman
Legally contracted to work in Alaska to repay a medical school debt, this young Jewish doctor receives culture shock when he moves from New York City to his new assignment as the sole general practitioner in a small remote fishing town. Being fastidious and accustomed to immediate accessibility to any wants (such as a bagel), he spends much of his time trying to find a legal way to get out of this forsaken place, before learning to love its remoteness and quirky inhabitants.
5. St. Elsewhere
William Daniels as Dr. Mark Craig
Brilliant and skilled surgeon Mark Craig could easily have a successful career at Boston’s finest hospital, but chooses to stay at the decaying and disreputable teaching hospital, flinging insults at his interns. The arrogant doctor doesn’t hesitate to berate anyone-doctor, nurse, patient-he encounters. However, despite his skill, he has moments of failure that bring out his humanity and self-doubt.
4. Grey’s Anatomy
Sandra Oh as Dr. Cristina Yang
A cutthroat surgeon with incredible skill, Cristina is driven to the point that she sometimes comes across as cold and unfeeling in her reach for perfection. But in her friendship with Meredith, she shows her humanity, and that despite her competitive edge, she can also be a caring and loving person.
George Clooney as Dr. Doug Ross
His personal life is usually a mess, but this ER pediatrician is truly dedicated to his specialty, often risking his job or even himself to save a sick or injured child. His arrogance often causes conflicts with authority, but his intentions are always honorable. This is the role that established Clooney as a superstar, and helped make this one of the most successful medical dramas of all time.
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House
With an addiction to pain medication and a cantankerous bedside manner, House is nonetheless a brilliant diagnostician with a knack for solving medical puzzles. His often unorthodox methods can cause conflict, but his unfailingly instinct in detecting the true source of an ailment is unbeatable.
1. Alan Alda
Alan Alda as Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce
The most iconic character on one of the most successful and iconic shows of all time, Dr. Hawkeye Pierce is sarcastic, resents the war and prefers to spend his time drinking, womanizing and pranking his fellow officers. However, in a crisis, he is more than capable, and proves to be a compassionate doctor to the soldiers in his care.