Entertaining MDs: 8 doctors who became entertainers
Medicine is a wonderful profession that offers a comfortable life of professional and personal contentment to a vast majority of those inclined to follow it. Some physicians, however, have surprisingly chosen a different path—that of entertainer. A career in medicine is certainly demanding, rewarding and saves lives, but a career in entertainment can also be demanding and rewarding—and enhance lives with the gift of laughter and escape. Let’s look at some examples.
“Dr. Ken” has had a gangbusters career playing such cult favorites as Mr. Chow in the Hangover series, Señor Chang on the television show Community, and Wye Mun Goh (Awkwafina’s dad) in Crazy Rich Asians. Dr. Jeong was an internist at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Woodland Hills, CA, before he decided to pursue entertainment full time.
He attended Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, for undergrad, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, for med school, and did his residency in New Orleans, where he honed his entertainment chops playing comedy clubs. Dr. Jeong continued to do stand-up while practicing medicine, and left his practice to pursue show business full-time in 2007 after scoring a bit part in Knocked Up, a Judd Apatow joint.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Jeong recalled his bedside manner:
“I never let on I was a comedian. I never acted out. It was really important to me, like, to not be Patch Adams. I was so super serious as a doctor, I would bark orders to my nurses. I was hard-core. I wanted to make sure I did my job right. I was perfectly trained to be a physician. You know, it wasn’t a fluke. I worked hard at it.”
You’ve likely heard of The Kite Runner, a coming-of-age novel based in war-torn Afghanistan. This book was a monster bestseller and won all kinds of awards. It was also adapted into a well-received movie. The man who wrote it, Khaled Hosseini, is an internist. He attended the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, and completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Hosseini was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004. In 2006, he became a Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency and later established the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which provides humanitarian aid to residents of Afghanistan.
Michael Crichton was the bestselling author of various impeccably researched technothrillers, many of which were made into blockbuster movies, such as Jurassic Park, Congo, and Rising Sun. He was also a filmmaker and director. While a medical student at Harvard, Crichton sold the film rights to The Andromeda Strain and wrote novels under pseudonyms, garnering the Edgar Award for Best Mystery in 1969 for A Case of Need.
Although Crichton graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, he never practiced medicine, but later recounted how medicine helped make him be a better entertainer.
Per Crichton’s website: “A medical student always is in the position of not knowing how to do something. Medicine also got you into the frame of mind of dealing with very high-pressure situations, dealing with complex factors, emergencies. You often had to act and make fast decisions. Something is always going wrong in a movie, and that kind of experience is invaluable in salvaging a situation. Directing is really hard work.”
William Carlos Williams
In addition to being a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Dr. Williams was a long-time pediatrician practicing in Passaic, NJ. He was chief of pediatrics from 1924 until his death in 1963. Many of his poems were about medicine, including “By the Road to the Contagious Hospital,” in which he partook of the winter scenery of his commute with the same powers of observation he used on his patients.
According to critic Herbert Leibowitz, the poem
“listened to the acoustic properties of words with the same care and skill he devoted to the beating of a patient’s heart.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Dr. Doyle, who is best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, graduated from the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, with a medical degree in 1881. He wasn’t a huge fan of medical school, which was almost all lecture-based at the time, and described the experience as “one long weary grind at botany, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and a whole list of compulsory subjects, many of which have a very indirect bearing upon the art of curing. The whole system of teaching, as I look back upon it, seems far too oblique and not nearly practical enough for the purpose in view.”
After graduating from medical school, Dr. Doyle practiced for a time, but writing turned out to be his true calling. Interestingly, he based the Sherlock character after a mentor named Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell exhibited remarkable powers of observation and deduction while examining patients, which inspired Dr. Doyle.
Did you know that the Emmy-nominated host of American Ninja Warriors is a physician? Yup. Dr. Iseman did his undergrad at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, went to medical school at Columbia University, New York, NY, and then trained as an internist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO. After completing residency, he shocked his family and friends by striking out to Hollywood in pursuit of a stand-up career.
George Miller based the hit movie Mad Max on his experience with car crash patients while a resident at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. He raised the money for that seminal action movie by working as an emergency room physician. As if creating Mad Max wasn’t enough, the story writer and producer later directed Babe and Happy Feet, for which he won an Oscar.
Founding Monty Python member Graham Chapman may be best remembered for dying from cancer at the young age of 48. But during his brief life, in addition to changing the world of comedy forever, he trained as a physician at the School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England. This may put a completely new light on Chapman’s classic line: “T’is but a scratch.”
What’s the commonality shared by a comedian, a best-selling author, a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, a creator of Sherlock Holmes, an author/filmmaker/director, a TV host, an Oscar-winning director, and a Python? The fact that they all trained as physicians before starting these careers, and were able to successfully incorporate their medical knowledge and interests in diverse and unexpected ways. Impossible? Absolutely not.