“Scrubs” and Wing of Zock: Parallels in Pop Culture

By Sarah Sonies

When we first began developing this blog, we considered each element carefully: content, contributors, mission. But one crucial element eluded us: a name. How do you pick a name for a new project that aligns with the vision, is not too esoteric, but is original?

No matter how many options we considered, nothing seemed to fit, except one: Wing of Zock. The background and history of the name encompasses our mission in the health care policy blogosphere. However, we editors had to embark on a mission of our own—finding out everything we could about The House of God and the Wing of Zock. The House of God was required reading material for our editorial staff. I found it fascinating; pseudonymous author Samuel Shem paints a vivid, and at times unnerving, picture of medical education in a time when American politics and health care were changing rapidly.

After reading the book, I decided to do some research into others’ impressions of The House of God. Imagine my surprise when my simple Google search for “Wing of Zock” turned  up the Wikipedia entry for the TV show “Scrubs. The show, a sitcom about three first-year interns at a large LA-area teaching hospital, offered a pithy take on academic medicine. The House of God provided inspiration for the show’s writers, who loosely based their basic plot outline and several episodes on the novel. While many doctors could argue that ”Scrubs” wasn’t very realistic, learning of its indebtedness to The House of God, seminal reading for many now-experienced MDs, may change their perception.

“Scrubs,” which was narrated by lead character JD (Zach Braff), made many references to the book, including common usage of some of its “rules” and slang terms  such as “turfing,” “bouncing,” and “Gomers.” In the episode My Balancing Act(around the six-minute mark), Dr. Cox quotes the “Zebra rule” almost verbatim, saying, “Newbie, do you happen to know what a zebra is? It’s a diagnosis of a ridiculously obscure disease when it’s much more likely that the patient has a common illness presenting with uncommon symptoms. In other words, if you hear hoof-beats, you just go ahead and think horsies — not zebras.”

Braff’s JD comes across as a calmer, modern-day Roy Basch. In every episode, JD shares his “fantasies,” during which he plays out an imaginary dialogue or scenario in his mind, much as Roy does in the book. There’s Dr. Cox, who could be the Fat Man; somewhat of a misanthrope and seemingly bitter but who drives home a major point in almost every episode that sometimes it’s better for the doctor and the patient to not always “play by the rules.”

“Scrubs” ran for nine seasons (2001-2010) on NBC and ABC, and became its own pop culture phenomenon, much like The House of God. Clearly, its depiction of life in a teaching hospital interested and touched viewers with its near-perfect combination of satire, wit, fantasy, and emotion.

—Sarah Sonies is the Associate Editor at Wing of Zock and an Innovations Fellow at the AAMC. She can be reached at ssonies@aamc.org. Follow her on Twitter @ssonies.

We’d like to hear from you: Have you read The House of God or watched “Scrubs”? Do med students still read THOG? Did you find it a realistic semblance of your medical school experience?

0 thoughts on ““Scrubs” and Wing of Zock: Parallels in Pop Culture

  1. I don’t know how many med students or residents still read The House of God. I didn’t even remember about the Wing of Zock until I was reminded. But there have been plenty of occasions when I wasn’t sure what to do and considered the “no-broccoli diet” as the best option.

  2. From my personal experience in Medicine (including time spent in med school and Internship year), I believe that everything described in House in God actually happened!
    For further enlightenment regarding medical school and post-graduate training, a la House of God, I strongly suggest reading Samuel Shem’s follow up book, “Mount Misery”. It describes the life and times of Roy Basch and colleagues during Psychiatry Residency. A must read.