New Exhibit Highlights Evolution of Doctors’ Roles in Popular Culture

September 19, 2019

  • WHAT: The Texas Medical Association (TMA) debuts its newest History of Medicine exhibit, “Playing Doctor: Portrayals of Medicine in Popular Culture,” on Austin Museum Day. Austin Museum Day is a city-wide event for the public to enjoy free access to exhibits and activities at Austin-area museums.

    The TMA History of Medicine Gallery display traces events that have shaped the public perception of the medical profession from the late 19th century to the present. It showcases doctors as featured in radio, film, and television. The exhibit also looks at how nurses and African-American physicians are represented in mainstream media.

    The display includes interactive activities and games.
  • WHEN: THIS Sunday, Sept. 22, noon-4 pm (special Austin Museum Day hours), then daily on weekdays, 8:15 am-5:15 pm through September 2020
  • WHERE: The Louis J. Goodman Texas Medical Association Building, 401 W. 15th St., Austin; first floor, Robert G. Mickey History of Medicine Gallery

In addition to the pop-culture references, “Playing Doctor” addresses the social stigma physicians faced before the modern era. Only after scientists made important medical discoveries and technological advancements in the late 19th century was the art of medicine widely respected. For example, perceptions of medicine started to change with French scientist Louis Pasteur’s breakthroughs on germ theory, the development of vaccines, and the cure for rabies. (TMA features a Louis Pasteur Microscope Set from the mid-1900s in the exhibit.)


A Louis Pasteur Microscope Set from the mid-1900s will be featured in the exhibit.

As mass media developed in the 20th century with the introduction of radio programs in the 1930s, society broadened its view of the physician as a person who cured health problems and dispensed wisdom and advice. An early example is a radio show inspired by the widely publicized 1934 delivery and care of the five Dionne sisters by Allan Roy Dafoe, MD – the first reported case of quintuplets surviving infancy. (A display of quintuplets games, paper dolls, and other popular-culture items is featured in the TMA exhibit.) The exhibit also shows how physicians were further popularized and regarded in comic books; board games like “Operation” and “Doctor, Doctor!”; Barbie dolls; and television shows ranging from Ben Casey, MD to House and Grey’s Anatomy. Visitors will even get to see how medical personnel and equipment are characterized in outer space, through the Star Wars and Star Trek film and television franchises.


 dionne quints  docs in tv

Paper dolls of the Dionne 
will be on display.

Television programs like ABC's
Ben Casey, MD and NBC's Dr. Kildare 
popularized doctors' roles in society.

On Austin Museum Day, TMA is partnering with Mathhappens, a local nonprofit dedicated to generating public interest in mathematics and math-based careers. Mathhappens will provide games for the public to play at TMA’s History of Medicine Exhibit on Museum Day.            

The exhibit continues through September 2020. Admission is free, and viewing appointments are not necessary.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing nearly 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. The TMA Foundation raises funds to support the public health and science priority initiatives of TMA and the Family of Medicine.


Contact:  Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320

Marcus Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336

Click here to follow TMA on Twitter. Or visit TMA on Facebook.

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Last Updated On

September 19, 2019

Originally Published On

September 19, 2019

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