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Hospital Romance May Largely Be Fiction

Life on the ward doesn't match plots of steamy novels, one doctor says

THURSDAY, Oct. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Is working in a hospital or doctor's office a prescription for passion?

If you believe the stories in the burgeoning and steamy genre of medical romance novels, the answer would be a resounding "yes."

But a psychiatrist writing in the correspondence section of the Oct. 27 issue of The Lancet did a study of these novels and claims the real world of medicine is a lot less torrid.

"The real ER is a lot less exciting, I regret to tell you," said Dr. Brendan Kelly, senior lecturer in psychiatry at University College Dublin in Ireland.

Others, however, beg to disagree.

"The potential for romance is high in emotionally intense settings such as hospitals," said Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, professor of medicine at the University of Michigan who recently found -- and married -- his true love at an academic medical center.

There's a caveat, though: "The dismal record for medical marriage longevity shows once again that fiction does not mimic reality," Fendrick said.

According to Kelly's letter, romance fiction rakes in some $1.2 billion in sales annually, accounting for almost 40 percent of all fiction sold in the United States.

The medical romance novel appears to be a major subgenre within this category. Kelly came upon his first medical romance (novel) some years ago and reviewed it for an Irish medical newspaper.

"I often write in Irish medical newspapers. Indeed, I write research papers, but this stimulated more response than all of my life work put together at the time," he said. "Many of my colleagues said, 'Oh, you've started writing for medical newspapers.' Well, I've been writing for years, but nothing stuck in anyone's mind except for this."

Kelly's initial review poked fun at "the dashing Italian hero who kept arriving upon emergencies in the street, and he would rip off his shirt and resuscitate the patient, who was always a lady. Why he needed to remove his shirt in order to do that was never clear, but he did every time. It was astonishing."

Kelly decided to look at more novels, 20 of them to be precise, during a recent two-week holiday.

All of the novels contained heterosexual plots with both protagonists involved in medical work. Most were set in primary care or emergency medicine settings (seven each), including emergency medicine departments (five) and airborne medical teams (two). The rest were set in general hospitals (three) and maternity settings (three).

All central male protagonists were doctors who worked in emergency settings (six), primary care (six), surgery (five), obstetrics and neonatology (two) or pediatrics (one).

Eleven of 20 central female protagonists were doctors who worked in primary care, obstetrics/neonatology, training or residency programs, surgery, anesthesiology or emergency medicine. The other female protagonists were eight nurses and one paramedic.

The most common match was male doctor with female doctor (11), followed by male doctor with female nurse (eight).

"All the doctors are brilliant, and the nurses are tough but caring, and all of the patients are seriously ill, but they all get better, especially the sick babies who manage miraculously," Kelly said.

The doctors also tended toward tall, muscular physiques and chiseled (often Mediterranean) features. Many also had personal tragedies in their past.

And while Kelly denies a Mediterranean heritage or chiseled features, he does fit one stereotype of these books: He is a (male) doctor who married a (female) doctor. Kelly met his wife of three years while in medical school and admits, somewhat chagrined, that his "no conflict-of-interest" statement to The Lancet was perhaps not quite accurate.

More information

There's more on becoming a physician at the American Medical Association.

SOURCES: Brendan Kelly, M.D., senior lecturer, psychiatry, University College Dublin and Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland; A. Mark Fendrick, M.D., professor, internal medicine, University of Michigan School of Medicine and professor, health management and policy, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor; Oct. 27, 2007, The Lancet

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