By Juleah Williams
Among this season’s new fall line-up comes a new drama from the CW – Hart of Dixie – featuring surgeon-turned-country doctor Zoe Hart. Full disclosure: As can be expected from most CW programming, this show is geared toward a teenage audience and includes enough love triangles and “frenemies” to keep their attention. However, exposing this young population to the benefits of primary care and emphasizing the importance of having a relationship with a personal family physician is crucial to increasing interest in the specialty down the road.
As the story goes, Zoe graduated at the top of her class from medical school and seeks to follow in the footsteps of her father, a cardiothoracic surgeon. After residency she fails to be accepted into a fellowship because her superiors deem her “too cold.” Desperate, she decides to accept the offer of a kind stranger—who turns out to be her real father—to join his family medicine practice as a general practitioner in Bluebell, Ala.
Zoe moves from New York to Alabama to find that her real father has passed away and left her half of the family medicine practice. His former partner, Dr. Brick Breeland, resents the young hotshot doctor’s presence.
As a side note, while it’s technically correct that she can enter practice as a “general practitioner” without completing a residency, they refer to her later in the episode as a family doctor. Her patient population may include entire families, but she didn’t complete her three year residency in family medicine – and this is a little misleading for viewers.
Technicalities aside, the show’s characters find themselves in mostly-realistic, but dramatized medical emergencies that you might expect in a rural setting. And it’s in these moments that family medicine really shines. In the most recent episode, Zoe is nearby when a farmer’s arm is trapped under a piece of heavy equipment. Moving the machinery will cause him to bleed to death, so she must perform an arterial clamp in the field. However, she must call her indignant practice partner Brick for assistance because…wait for it…she was bitten by a snake earlier in the episode and only has one usable hand.
When he arrives, Brick doesn’t know how to perform the procedure and he refuses to let her talk him through it; he doesn’t want to be “her puppet.” Of course he relents for the good of the patient and together they save the farmer’s arm and life. As word spreads through the town, Brick receives all of the credit and Zoe (who has been trying her hardest to fit in) gets jealous.
This is the big moment: Zoe confronts Brick, saying that he couldn’t have performed the procedure without her. He replies with the fact that after the patient was out of danger, she left. He calmed the panicked patient, rode with him to the hospital in the ambulance, spoke to his wife and reassured her that their livelihood would be okay – all part of his comprehensive care after the initial encounter. This is the “ah-ha” moment of the show as Zoe recognizes that she has a lot to learn about being a primary care doctor.
So for now, the show portrays family physicians as the quintessential doctors – able to care for medical needs while adding an extra element of having a strong relationship with patients and a deep understanding of the community. That’s spot on. As the season continues, I’m intrigued about how the show will ultimately portray the small town family physician.
Juleah Williams is TAFP’s Student, Resident, New Physician, and Membership Coordinator.