Bioethics Blogs

The Knick by Gregory Clark

“The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same”

When I first watched The Knick two years ago, it seemed like a show about the past and the rapid pace of medical discoveries in the early days of modern medicine, before antibiotics, when patients were still brought into the hospital on an ambulance pulled by horses. When I watched the fictional Dr. Thackery using electricity for the first time in his operating room, I couldn’t help but sit back smugly and marvel at how far we have come since those early days of modern medicine.

Now, re-watching the first season of The Knick as a first year medical student in NYC, I’ve found myself focusing more on the similarities between medicine at the turn of the 20th century and today than the differences. Part of my excitement is particular to being in NYC. I get a thrill when I recognize street names, or when they mention the hospitals where I am slowly learning how to be a doctor. In a deeper way though, I no longer see the characters in The Knick as distant, historical figures. The problems that they confront are many of the problems we face in our medical culture today: the pervasiveness of racism; the stigma surrounding mental health issues; birth control rights for women; doctors becoming addicted to their own drugs; and even how to pay for the treatment of uninsured patients.

Now when I watch The Knick, I wonder how could it be possible that we are no closer to solving these problems a full century later.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.