Does anyone else ever get the urge to become a doctor when they watch a really great medical drama? No? Just me? Well, regardless of whether these dramas actually inspire you to become a doctor, they’re sure to pull you in and keep you entertained all the same. Plus, they might even deepen your appreciation for medical professionals and all that they do.
A special shoutout to the real-life doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers around the globe who have been working extra hard this year due to COVID-19!
Central to this drama are Ye Jin Woo (Lee Dong Wook), a warmhearted, patient-focused emergency room doctor, and the hospital’s new president, Goo Seung Hyo (Cho Seung Woo). While the former values life above all else, the latter would much rather the hospital turn a profit like any good business would, resulting in what at times feels like a battle between good and evil. But are good and evil really so clearly defined in business, or even medicine?
Although the primary conflict of saving lives vs. making money might seem straightforward at first, with one side consisting of heroes fighting for their patients and the other being made up of greedy villains, “Life” doesn’t limit its characters to being strictly good or strictly evil. Instead, it presents the characters and the challenges they face in a far more nuanced way, examining problems from multiple angles in order to illuminate the perspectives that each person brings.
“Golden Time” follows two doctors, Lee Min Woo (Lee Sung Gyun) and Kang Jae In (Hwang Jung Eum), as they begin their residency in an ER under the tutelage of trauma specialist Choi In Hyuk (Lee Sung Min). Together, the two learn what being a doctor truly means while having to operate within a system riddled with politics and injustices. The name of this drama comes from a term used in emergency medicine, “golden hour,” which is the vital period of time immediately following a traumatic injury during which treatment can be the difference between life and death.
Part of what makes “Golden Time” special is that, at its core, it’s not about seemingly infallible doctors who have seen it all, but rather about two newbie doctors who are still learning the ropes and are bound to make mistakes. This drama has been praised for highlighting Korea’s need to improve its trauma care system, which remains a challenge to this day. Fun fact: Choi In Hyuk is based on real-life trauma center doctor Lee Gook Jong, who risked his career to perform life-saving surgery on a Korean Navy captain back in 2011.
Start watching “Golden Time”:
This drama centers around five doctors, each with their own specialty, who have been the best of friends since their med school days 20 years ago and now work alongside each other at a hospital. Rather than closely following one particular storyline or overarching conflict, “Hospital Playlist” explores the intricacies of each character’s day-to-day life, depicting both their victories and their defeats as they do their best to save their patients’ lives.
“Hospital Playlist” feels like a breath of fresh air among the countless other medical K-dramas out there, with one of the key differentiating factors being that it takes a more slice-of-life approach, setting aside much of the melodrama usually seen in the genre. So you won’t find any convoluted power struggles, murder plots, or god-like physicians that can solve any medical mystery here. That’s not to say the story is mundane by any means though. In fact, it incorporates the perfect blend of humor, romance, angst, and more as the characters go about their daily lives, making “Hospital Playlist” an engaging watch from start to finish.
“Doctor Stranger” focuses on genius cardiothoracic surgeon Park Hoon (Lee Jong Suk). After spending his childhood trapped in North Korea with his father, who was called there to perform heart surgery on none other than Kim Il Sung, Hoon successfully flees the country as an adult. Upon his return to South Korea, he is hired by the country’s top hospital, where he showcases his brilliant surgical skills including his uncanny ability to quickly diagnose a problem simply by touching someone’s heart.
Though this drama is far from realistic, it’s definitely an entertaining watch, thanks to its thrilling (albeit fairly ludicrous) plot and solid performances by its cast. It’s especially interesting to see how “Doctor Stranger” handles all of the politics surrounding North and South Korea relations, the result being an added layer of danger and intrigue on top of an already intense storyline studded with vengeance, romance, and even high-stakes surgery competitions.
Watch “Doctor Stranger” now:
Seeking to discover medical breakthroughs for patients suffering from diseases with a less than 50 percent survival rate, Han Seung Jae (Joo Ji Hoon) establishes a group of elite doctors known as — you guessed it — the Medical Top Team. What might prove tougher for the team than treating rare illnesses and performing complex surgeries, though, is fighting against hospital politics, which prefers to put money first and patients second.
Given its all-star cast and interesting premise, “Medical Top Team” had the potential to be a homerun. Sadly, however, this drama is a bit of a disappointment for many, largely due to its dense dialogue (which is often weighed down by medical jargon) and lack of notable character development. That said, the stellar acting and great chemistry between the cast alone make it worth at least giving this drama a shot.
Start watching “Medical Top Team”:
“Hospital Ship” tells the story of a group of doctors who find themselves working together on a medical ship that travels between tiny islands to provide free treatment to residents of rural villages. At the heart of this drama lie two characters with polar opposite personalities: cold and detached Song Eun Jae (Ha Ji Won) and kind-hearted Kwak Hyun (Kang Min Hyuk). Despite their differences, the two gradually grow and bond with each other as they are forced to grapple with their inner demons, eventually coming to see their lives in a new light.
A large part of what makes this drama interesting is that although its characters are highly technically skilled, they all leave plenty of room for personal growth, making “Hospital Ship” just as much about people dealing with their imperfections as it is about them resolving medical emergencies, if not more so. With each doctors’ flaws and past traumas so fully on display, one can’t help but be drawn in by this drama, anxious to see whether the characters will ultimately succeed in overcoming the things that have been holding them back up until now.
“D-Day” provides a fascinating look into the challenges faced during a natural disaster, portraying the lives of doctors and other responders as they deal with the aftermath of an unprecedented 6.5 magnitude earthquake that leaves Seoul in shambles. This drama zooms in on three doctors in particular, who decide to put their prestigious hospital careers on hold and team up to help those injured by the disaster, even if that means putting their own lives at risk as buildings and other structures come crashing down around them.
It’s hard not to be engrossed in this drama, watching with bated breath as the responders — many of whom appear selfless almost to a fault — do everything they can to save lives around the clock. And while the idea of an earthquake devastating Seoul in reality may seem unthinkable, it turns out that much of the city is indeed at great risk of sustaining damage in the event of a major earthquake. According to data collected by Seoul’s metropolitan government in 2017, less than a third of the buildings in Seoul were designed to withstand earthquakes.
Watch the first episode of “D-Day” now:
Kim Sa Bu (Han Suk Kyu) is back in the second installment of “Dr. Romantic,” this time with two new students to teach what being a doctor truly means: Seo Woo Jin (Ahn Hyo Seop), who would do anything for money, and Cha Eun Jae (Lee Sung Kyung), who gets nauseous every time she tries to perform surgery. In spite of being skilled doctors, both Woo Jin and Eun Jae have their own baggage preventing them from being as good at their jobs as they could be. Fortunately, with a little guidance from Kim Sa Bu, the two just might be able to break free of their problems.
“Dr. Romantic 2” is an enjoyable watch for a number of reasons, from its titular character — whom one can’t help but be captivated by — to its strong supporting cast. The drama’s use of real-life medical cases further adds to its appeal, giving it a nice touch of accuracy and authenticity. Also, don’t fret if you haven’t watched the first “Dr. Romantic” yet; although the second season isn’t completely independent of the first one, it’s totally watchable on its own. (Be sure to comment below which season you think is better!)
Watch “Dr. Romantic 2” now:
What’s a talented surgeon like Kim Tae Hyun (Joo Won) to do when he’s in desperate need of money to pay his sister’s medical bills? Supplement income from his hospital day job by performing clandestine operations on gangsters on the side, of course. That is, until he gets caught by the hospital’s chief surgeon, who coerces him into helping cover up the hospital’s illegal activities. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, soon after receiving his new assignment, Tae Hyun meets Han Yeo Jin (Kim Tae Hee), whom he awakens from a medically induced coma, only to wind up in an even more complex mess.
Fair warning: Out of all the dramas listed here, “The Gang Doctor” is by far the most loosely related to life as a doctor, despite its title. So if you’re looking for a truly medicine-focused watch, this one might not be the right pick. What “The Gang Doctor” does offer that still might entice you though is a female protagonist who veers away from the female lead archetype. Instead of being the optimistic, good-natured female lead seen so often in dramas, Yeo Jin is powerful, commanding, and willing to go to great lengths to exact revenge upon those who have wronged her. Even her own brother.
Start watching “The Gang Doctor”:
Which medical K-dramas have had you dreaming of wearing a white coat?
seheee is a software engineer by day and an avid K-pop concert goer by night. She also occasionally makes an appearance on Twitter (@_seheee).