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Best Care Anywhere: A Patient’s Guide to TV Hospitals

Sometimes, you’ve got to choose between good medical care and good drama

The people who work in hospitals around the world do their best to be caring and professional, and to make their accommodations as comfortable as possible. But let’s face it: We’d still rather not spend any time with them, either as a patient or as a visitor. Now more than ever, hospitals in the real world are strange and scary. They remind us how little control we ultimately have over our lives.

But television hospitals, on the other hand… They can actually be a nice place to escape to, week after week. For almost as long as TV has been around, viewers have loved medical dramas, sitcoms and soap operas, and will check in regularly with doctors and nurses who work everywhere from wartime field units to historic urban institutions.

If one of those fictional hospitals really existed, would you be less worried about getting sick? If so, where would you want to go? In the guide below, we’ve assessed some of the most famous fake hospitals in terms of their quality of care, the charisma of their staff and the likelihood that you might get randomly impaled or caught up in some nutty romantic melodrama.

Here’s what to expect when you’re admitted to some of TV’s best-known medical facilities…

The 4077th, M*A*S*H

Located somewhere outside of Uijeongbu, this army hospital is hardly picturesque. The conditions in the area are abysmal: It’s muddy outside and drab inside; it’s swelteringly hot in the summer, brutally cold in the winter and dripping wet when it rains; the food’s awful; and it’s hard to sleep with the sound of mortar shells over the horizon and helicopters coming and going at all hours. But the staff is top-notch — they’re always ready with a pithy one-liner, and will take heroic measures to save lives, even in defiance of direct orders.

Recommended? There are certainly worse places to wind up — if you happen to be fighting the Korean War. Plus, if you get wounded badly enough, there’s always a chance you’ll be honorably discharged and sent home. Win-win!

San Francisco Memorial, Trapper John, M.D.

Ignore the clunky old RV in the parking lot (and try not to think too hard about the lifestyle of the shaggy-haired maverick surgeon who lives inside it). Once you’re admitted to this clean, modern Bay Area facility, you’ll find that everyone who works here is pretty professional — aside from their weird predilection for giving each other nicknames. We’d go so far as to say that you could spend years here and nothing overly unpleasant — or indeed memorable in any way — would ever happen.

Recommended? The staff is very nice, but honestly, this is no M*A*S*H.

Port Charles General, General Hospital

Frankly, the medical care here seems like an afterthought. The doctors and nurses are either hooking up, talking about hooking up, obsessing over the rich folks in town or trying to stay out of the way of the mob. That said, the lighting is spectacular, the staff’s attire is surprisingly fashionable and there’s often soft, pleasantly droning music playing in the background.

Recommended? Sadly, no. The location is pretty swank, but the staff is very preoccupied. 

County General, Ben Casey

There are deluxe apartments on the market right now that aren’t as cushy as County General’s private rooms, where well-heeled sick folks can enjoy soft furniture, a nice TV, a veranda with a view, multiple fancy vases filled with flowers and even a bedside table with an ashtray — because apparently smoking is encouraged in 1960s hospitals. It’s hard to keep track of the doctors, though. It seems like there’s a new face in the rotation every week; and some of those employees have more problems than the patients.

Recommended? To get the best treatment here, it helps to be extra rich, but the ruggedly handsome neurosurgeon who’s the talk of the hospital often bucks the system to make sure everyone is handled fairly.

Rampart General, Emergency!

Residents of L.A. County are used to the excellent service they get from their firefighters and paramedics, who race to the rescue whether someone’s penned in by a gas-tank explosion, shot in a robbery or injured while climbing the surrounding mountains. That level of care continues once the ambulance arrives at Rampart, where the facilities are fairly bare-bones but the doctors and nurses are unusually mature.

Recommended? This place is clean and competently run, but maybe a little boring? It seems like a lot of the real action happens before you arrive.

New Amsterdam Medical Center, New Amsterdam

History buffs will enjoy spending time at this New York institution, which has been serving the city’s poorer citizens for generations. The facilities aren’t exactly state-of-the-art, but a fiercely committed staff puts in a lot of extra effort — like, an excessive amount — to compensate for their limited resources and their own personal shortcomings.

Recommended? That depends. Do you like innovation? The new medical director at New Amsterdam is open to just about any way-out ideas that will save lives — especially if he can share the costs and the effort with the people in the community. So be prepared — if you go looking for help here, you may end up getting your blood drawn in a nearby barbershop.

St. Eligius, St. Elsewhere

There’s a reason why this crumbling old Boston hospital has such an unsettling nickname: The admitting physicians take in the patients other hospitals won’t treat and the building is like a nexus for everyday moments of wild surreality. The doctors are phenomenally talented, though — many of them seem like they’re destined to become stars.

Recommended? Convalescing here can be a weird and hazy experience. By the time you’re discharged, you’ll may feel like your stay was all a dream.

County General, ER

This downtown Chicago institution is intense. Over the course of any given hour you could see gunshot wounds, drug overdoses, heart attacks, accident victims, infectious diseases and late-stage cancer… and that’s all just among the staff.

Recommended? Hard to say. We’ve not spent much time outside of the emergency room.

Chicago Hope, Chicago Hope

Some big personalities haunt the halls of this well-appointed Chicago charity hospital. The surgeons are risk-takers, who try to compensate for their own tattered personal lives by playing God with their patients. They have some amazing hair, though.

Recommended? Sort of. This place is like a classier, quirkier County General.

Gaffney Chicago Medical Center, Chicago Med

Not to be confused with Chicago’s fire department or police department (though the confusion is understandable), the Windy City’s latest emergency medical center is packed with strong-willed staffers whose cases always seem to be either gruesomely sensationalistic or relevant to what’s going on in the world today. There’s always a lot going on.

Recommended? Sort of. This place is like a busier, blander Chicago Hope.

All Saints, Nurse Jackie

The conditions aren’t the greatest at this old New York hospital. The wards are crowded, the equipment is old and there’s a handsome, conceited surgeon who can be a little… well, let’s just say “grope-y.” But the nurses are unusually energetic. 

Recommended? If you’re the sort of person who comes to hospitals looking to score drugs, you may find sympathy here.

Mount Palms Memorial, Getting On

Modeled after a relatively obscure NHS Trust hospital in the U.K., this low-rent Long Beach facility is primarily known for its geriatric ward, run by nurses who fashion themselves as efficiency experts, overseen by an academic who pays an uncommon amount of attention to patients’ excretions.

Recommended? The staff seems pretty frazzled and the patients are a handful, but in the end, everyone’s doing their best to take care of each other.

Kingdom Hospital, Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital

Borrowing its basic layout from Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet, this towering Maine institution functions a lot like an ordinary hospital most of the time, with the usual inter-office politics and daily medical drama. Also there are ghosts.

Recommended? This is a spooky place, but it has an undeniable attraction — even the patients who don’t make it out alive keep hanging around.

San Jose St. Bonaventure, The Good Doctor

The administrators spare no expense and show no prejudice in procuring the services of the finest surgeons around — even when those doctors exhibit atypical behavior. Their bedside manner takes some getting used to, but if there’s one thing this hospital represents, it’s the idea that it’s okay to be different.

Recommended? Absolutely. Besides, if you say anything negative about this place or its staff, someone will corner you and give a little speech.

Eastman Medical Center, Doogie Howser, M.D.

Everyone knows about Eastman, the hospital with the celebrity surgeon who finished medical school at age 14. But once you get past the absurdly young doctor with the raging adolescent hormones, the quality of care is very good, with a special focus on the patients’ personal problems.

Recommended? Sure! Who doesn’t like kids?

Sacred Heart, Scrubs

Classified as a “teaching hospital,” Sacred Heart is overrun with fresh-faced med students, interns and residents, eager to prove to their mentors that they know how to heal people. There’s a lot of trial-and-error involved with how they handle cases, but everybody means well. The facility is also relatively clean… but all the same, don’t make the janitor mad.

Recommended? So long as you don’t mind doctors spontaneously dancing, bursting into song or staring off into space as if quietly narrating their own lives, this place can be a lot of fun.

Community General, Diagnosis: Murder

The Chief of Internal Medicine here almost feels like an old family friend — like somebody who’s been a part of your life since before you were born. The actual day-to-day operations of his department, though, tend to be left to the doctor’s younger colleagues, while he hangs around with his LAPD detective son, helping him solve strange criminal cases.

Recommended? Absolutely not. No matter what you come in with, the case nearly always turns out to be terminal.

Princeton-Plainsboro, House

This hospital’s design aesthetic features a lot of low lighting and glass partitions, valuing stylishness over practicality. And the diagnosticians are — to say the least — unconventional. The doctors question patients’ honesty, pry into their personal lives and sometimes turn treatment itself into some kind of perverse competition. But damned if they don’t get results.

Recommended? Yes, if you have some rare condition no one’s ever seen before. No, if you have lupus.

Seattle Grace (a.k.a. Grey Sloan Memorial), Grey’s Anatomy

This whole operation is easy on the eyes, from the tree-lined exterior — with its stunning Pacific Northwestern vistas — to the attractive young surgical residents. It’s true that the staff does always seem to be dealing with some complicated interpersonal drama, often of the romantic variety. But sometimes they fall in love with the patients, so if you’re single, consider suffering some grievous injury in the Seattle area.

Recommended? Well, it’s an exciting place to convalesce, that’s for sure. Scarcely a week goes by without something absolutely bonkers happening.