Marcus Welby: Did He Set Us Up?

If you are of a certain age or older, then you remember Marcus Welby on TV. I spoke to a 20-something man yesterday and described Marcus Welby to him as everyone’s perfect doctor. His early 1970’s TV show was always popular, and we all KNEW he was the perfect doctor.

Compounding his image was the fact that at that time, doctors were venerated, as if they all stood on pedestals. Becoming a doctor was the ultimate, because one was promised reverance and beaucoups bucks, too.

While I was a major fan of Marcus Welby, MD, I can’t help but think today that perhaps one reason our healthcare system in the US has failed, is because we all still believe Marcus Welby exists, and is reincarnated in today’s doctors, too.

We’re wrong. He’s not. And it has become downright dangerous. We’ve been set up.


Marcus Welby (played by Robert Young) and his partner, Steve Kiley (played by James Brolin) were handsome, white, male, compassionate, paternalistic, and highly intelligent. They had perfected the concept of bedside manner, and they knew everything there was about every medical specialty. [Can you think of one single doctor who fits that profile today? There are many doctors who embody one aspect or another — but I can’t imagine there is a single one who embodies it all.]

Drs. Welby and Kiley were always right. [OK — don’t even get me started on this one!]

They took care of both physical and mental/emotional health issues. [Today, if you have a mental or emotional health issue, it’s probably dangerous to be treated by a physical health physician. Make sure you see a mental health professional to avoid getting yourself into treatments that may not be the best for you.]

I don’t recall that any of their patients ever had to pay for their care. No one ever raised the question. No matter who the patient was, how much care was needed, how long they stayed in the hospital, how many times they stopped by Welby’s office — no one ever had to pay for care. Not surprisingly, their patients never seemed to file for bankruptcy either! [Again — don’t get me started!]

I could go on and on — but you get the picture.

And just so you know I’m providing a balanced view — I do give them credit for showcasing who may have been the very first Latina-American actress as the person who ran their office — and perfectly so! Consuelo. She was crackerjack.

The problem is — just like we little girls dreamed of becoming princesses, and little boys dreamed of becoming firemen (and nowadays? vice versa!) — so many also embraced the idea that Marcus Welby represented their doctors, too. And for whatever reason, too many of us over that certain age, just can’t let go of that concept.

And — what if you are a doctor today? Granted, there are many of them who think they are Marcus Welby, and would want you to believe such. And I suppose there are even a few Welby-wanna-bes out there, too — but most? naw. Who on earth would ever want to live up to that TV perfectionist hype? They don’t ask for it, they don’t want it, and it’s not appropriate.

It’s time for Welby Worshipers to let go. Time to face reality. Time to realize that doctors are people just like we are, who pull their pants on the same way and have the same human attributes — including failings — as we do. And once we embrace that attitude, it will be a whole lot easier to understand why we need to advocate for ourselves and continually question our doctors and our care.

No more abdication of healthcare decisions to the likes of a doctor who really is NOT Welby, or McDreamy or McSteamy — or even House.

It’s time to take responsibility for ourselves.


On a very separate, but related, note: I’m headed out to see “Sicko” today. I’m no fan of Michael Moore as I believe he is inflammatory, but never offers positive alternatives. I hear this movie is bi-partisan — definitely a break with his tradition, but certainly appreciated. And, I suppose that he incites dialogue, too — in the case of healthcare, I see that as a plus.

So as much as possible, I promise to remain open-minded, and I’ll let you know just what I think.

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Trisha Torrey
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