K-Drama Dr. John Review (Controversial Issue Made Into a KDrama)

Dr. John

This show was really well made. It offers a good story and great characters.

Medically assisted death became legal in South Korea in 2018 and this show came out in 2019 and this is the main conflict in the show. It is a controversial issue in any country. Having worked in cancer research for several years, my personal standpoint is people should be allowed to choose when they die and medically assisted death offers a safe way to do it.

The story starts with Dr. Kang Shi Young (Lee Se Young) who starts working as a medic in prison. Some background, in South Korea, if you complete your intern year of residency, you can work as a paid doctor in a clinic. She dropped out of the second year of her anesthesiology residency because something traumatic happened. Her uncle works in a prison and offered her a job there. She met a prisoner who was skilled at diagnosing patients, Dr. Cha Jo Han (Ji Sung). The two of them end up meeting again. Dr. Cha’s prison sentence was done and Dr. Kang was able to re-enter her residency program.

The show takes place in a pain management clinic within a large hospital. The pain management team is made up of 4 residents, a fellow and an attending physician, Dr. Cha. Together they find sources of the pain of the patients that come into the clinic.

The show wasn’t as overly dramatic as most medical kdramas. The cases that they had were rare and any resident is not likely to see them but they were all really cool. The plot had a lot of unexpected twists.

It wasn’t clear what Dr. Cha’s stance was on medically assisted death. It seemed like he just kind of went along with whatever he was feeling that day. I found it odd and I would not want a doctor making my life and death decisions for me. I’m not a huge Ji Sung fan either. He is a talented actor but he just rubs me the wrong way for some reason and makes me cringe.

Dr. Kang is dealing with the grief of one of the decisions that she made for one of the most important patients to her. She doesn’t seem to have a strong stance on how to deal with end-of-life care and her character seems to be easily swayed by Dr. Cha. That’s ok though, she’s a second-year resident and learning.

Prosecutor Son Seok Ki (Lee Kyu Hyung) and Nurse Shin Dong Mi (Chae Eun Jung) are determined to take down Dr. Cha. Seok Ki is mostly because he honestly believes that Dr. Cha committed murder and doesn’t want to see him get away with it and Dong Mi has a personal vendetta against him.

This show was entertaining and worthwhile to watch. I don’t think people who work in medicine will enjoy it because it is a gross exaggeration of what actually happens and there is a lot of line crossing between specialties. If I was a resident, I would probably pick apart of everything and say, “That would never happen in the hospital!”

Spoilers Start

I didn’t understand Dr. Cha’s reason for the radio silence when he was in the US doing research on his condition. The man came back a year before he made contact with Dr. Kang who he said he loved. For me, this is also very disrespectful to the person he loves. He assumes that Dr. Kang doesn’t have it in her to deal with him while he’s sick. What if he died? This would have been unfair to her if he died and didn’t give her a chance to see him before he died. She would have to live with that forever. If it was supposed to be for the dramatic effect of the show, it didn’t work for me. Their reunion was not stellar. It’s another Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol ending for me. A little bit of a cop-out for the love story part of this story. It just shows that he is inconsiderate. Some might argue that he was only in love with his research and his love for Dr. Cha was only secondary. I don’t know why all kdrama writers almost ALWAYS separate the couple and reunite them years later.

The choice that Dr. Kang, her mom, and her sister had to make for her father’s extension of life was brutal. I don’t know how I would make this decision for a loved one. Her father still had brain activity but was unable to breathe independently and move on his own. Any choice that they made felt like it would be a wrong choice. Keeping someone alive who still has brain activity is probably causing so much pain for them yet, how do you know when the right time is to cut off life support and any life-saving measures?

Those weird scenes when they were going through the differential diagnosis when the characters having the discussion in a glass box inside a void, the show could have done without them. I’m not sure what the intention of that was but it made me laugh when it was supposed to be serious.

Dr. Cha always showed conviction in his choice when he decides to follow the patient’s medical directive or not. I’m not sure if doctors are actually allowed to do this anywhere in the world. This show touched on a sensitive and hot topic inpatient care. There are still some countries that don’t allow medically assisted death and it is a controversial topic. This show did show the complexity of making such a decision for anyone and it’s hard for doctors to really know when to make that call. Make sure you have a living will or medical directive so your loved ones do not need to make this decision for you.

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